Today’s story comes from Alistair MacKenzie, natural heritage education and resource management supervisor at Pinery Provincial Park.
I started my career saving lives. It was hard work. The working conditions were terrible. I was constantly asked to bend and twist what someone else needed me to do. They dragged me through the mud and beat me with sticks, they even burned me with hot embers.
Despite these difficulties, I loved some aspects of the job, but eventually I couldn’t keep up and was taken back to base for some tests. Unfortunately, I failed and was unceremoniously stripped of my field approvals and cast aside.
I thought it was all over, until they put me in a box and sent me to Pinery Provincial Park.
I’m a firehose, and when I couldn’t take the pressure (i.e. water pressure) anymore, I thought I was headed to the dump.
Fortunately, Pinery called me for a new task: I could still save lives, but this time it would be rare sand dunes and unique flora and fauna.
I was destined to become the backbone of a rolling boardwalk., helping visitors walk to and from the beach sustainably.
About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the state of Michigan to visit several of its national, state and municipal parks.
The first stop on the tour was at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a site I’ve always wanted to visit because of the similarities between it and Pinery. Where I work.
The visit did not disappoint and in a short time I saw and heard about innovative solutions to some of the problems we were also facing. Issues such as managing a popular recreational site with several fragile ecosystems that provides habitat for many at-risk species.
By far the biggest reward of my trip was learning about moving walkways. Before explaining what it is, I should let Alistair tell you a little about sand dunes.
Pinery is a large freshwater coastal dune complex formed by beach sand with unique vegetation, perfectly adapted to the harsh conditions of this undulating landscape.
At most other coastal dune sites (including Pinery), habitat is created as a littoral cell.
Littoral cells are areas along the coast of a body of water where material, sand and pebbles (in this case), move from a source site to a sink site.
Over thousands of years, sand and pebbles were eroded from the land north of present-day Grand Bend and moved south to be deposited on the shoreline between Grand Bend and Kettle Point by the water currents of Lake Huron.
Once the waves wash the material onto the shore, the breeze picks up the sand from the mixture and bounces it onto the beach.
Once these grains of sand fall, the most important Pinery plant takes over. Marram grass (Ammophila breviligulata) grabs loose grains of sand within its roots and shoots, and holds them in place allowing dunes to form.
Marram Grass is perfectly designed for life in the dunes. The grass is able to withstand being buried in up to a meter of sand, poor nutrient conditions, and extreme heat in summer and cold in winter.
Despite being well adapted to the natural conditions of dune life, Marram Grass falls one way into Pinery; That is, it is very sensitive to trampling. When thousands of people visit Pinery Beach and other dune sites, their collective footsteps kill the grass and release trapped sand to be washed away.
He Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act establishes that maintaining ecological integrity is the first priority in the planning and management of Ontario’s protected area system.
Additionally, Ontario Parks aims to permanently protect representative ecosystems and biodiversity across the province, while providing opportunities for ecologically sustainable outdoor recreation.
So how do we protect the Pinery Dunes while allowing for sustainable recreation?
The answer to this question is complex and many tools were used to try to find this balance.
Recently, a group of dedicated park administrators joined me and several other Pinery staff members to build a solution: namely, a rolling boardwalk.
The rolling boardwalks are designed to be installed during peak summer visitation periods. They can then be removed at other times of the year to allow the dunes to ebb and flow naturally, settle and erode, move from side to side and act naturally.
These boardwalks are also very cost-effective as they do not require the support structures of more elaborate elevated boardwalks nor do they typically have railings.
In our case, we recently field-tested a new construction method using decommissioned fire hoses from the Aviation Wildfire and Emergency Services (AFFES) division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Countless kilometers of fire hoses are used each year to protect Ontarians from wildfires. After a while, the hose begins to fail and eventually fails to meet the necessary performance standards.
After trying to build moving walks several years ago using expensive metal cables, it occurred to me that the fire hose selected could be the profitable solution we need. Once the hose is acquired and used for various purposes within the AFFES division, we could use it to create moving walkways at Pinery and beyond in Ontario Parks.
The Rolling Boardwalk Recipe
We began by building a template that would allow us to build numerous sections of the boardwalk efficiently and consistently.
Next, we prepare the wooden boards by cutting them to size. Loose boards were placed on the template and two lengths of fire hose were stretched along the template, ready to be nailed to the underside of the boards using fence staples.
Then we gathered a friendly group of caring souls around Pinery and wanted to give something back to the protected area system in gratitude for all it gives us: health and wellbeing, memories, biodiversity, clean air and water. , insects, turtles, flying squirrels… I could go on.
In two hours of work, these dedicated volunteers assembled nearly 20 boardwalk sections for implementation at Pinery.
Once they started working together, like a well-oiled machine, many tasks were completed and the project moved forward. We loaded our tools and headed to the field to deploy the seawall. Each section was implemented and linked to the next. Loose sand was then raked into the spaces between each board.
In areas of active dune formation, specifically those closest to the coast, sections can be rolled up for the winter season and ready to be rolled up again next summer.
Thank you volunteers!
There is much more to be done to ensure this measure leads to the sustainable operation of Pinery Provincial Park. We can’t thank our volunteers enough for their time and effort.
We know that each of them will proudly walk to the beach along the newly implemented boardwalk, knowing that they helped Ontario Parks in our 125th anniversary year.
Ontarians will be able to enjoy the park for decades to come, and the Pinery will continue to provide ecological services and live up to its current ecological integrity.
Thanks to our dedicated volunteers, the Friends of Pinery Park and the great staff of the Aviation Wildfire and Emergency Services division of MNRF that helped make this rewarding project possible.
It turns out that the fire hose was perfectly designed for the task.
We are already planning our next boardwalk building session. Maybe next time you visit Pinery there will be one available for you. fair like a red carpet.
To help celebrate the 125th anniversary of Ontario Parks, parks across the province are hosting 13 stewardship programs to help protect biodiversity in provincial parks.