The New Year is a time to take stock of where we are and where we are headed. Most of us have made resolutions to change behaviors to start fresh in 2021: quit smoking, eat healthier, or exercise more.
Do you consider parks and protected areas when you think about your New Year’s resolutions?
Taking care of the environment on your own can seem overwhelming. There have been successes in the last 50 years, like Earth Day and recycling. But those projects are bigger than a single person. So how can you make a difference on your own?
Experts say adopting just one new behavior at a time is the recipe for success.
Here are 10 actions you can take to make a difference in your life and the health of the parks.
try something new
- The more you know, the more you appreciate. So, branch out and explore some new parks. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite!
- There are more than 340 parks in Ontario, each protecting different natural and cultural features. We have more than 18,000 car camping areas in every corner of the province. Whether you’re traveling a few minutes or a few days, there’s a park waiting for you.
- Try camping in a different season! Each season has its charm.
Drive as little as possible
- Cars and trucks contribute to air pollution. They put pressure on park infrastructure and impose a significant impact on animal populations through road mortality.
- When visiting parks, limit the use of your vehicle. Ride your bike or walk to the comfort station or the beach.
- Many parks offer equipment rentals so you can rent a bike or canoe to get around.
- This is better for the environment and for your health and fitness goals.
Stick to the trails
- Staying on designated trails ensures that areas or species of interest are not negatively affected.
- In many cases, existing trails are in the best locations to witness amazing views, natural events, and the power of water. Trust the choice of Ontario Parks and follow the path.
- It only takes a few people to create an unplanned path or “shortcut.” Although it may seem harmless, these spontaneous traces can damage sensitive areas.
- If you follow the beaten path, you will leave fewer footprints and have less effect on the environment.
Volunteer or donate to park projects
- Friends Groups are non-profit organizations that enhance the programs and services offered by Ontario Parks. They support research and education, organize park cleanups, obtain grants for park projects, and help Ontario parks in many other ways.
- The Friends operate largely with the support of volunteers, so lending a hand to help them in their efforts goes a long way to improving your favorite park.
- You can donate money, supplies, or volunteer your time to help.
Contribute to citizen science
- There are many dedicated staff working for Ontario Parks, but with a park landscape twice the size of Switzerland, it’s a big job to inventory and monitor our shared lands.
- Reporting your observations helps create a database of information to inform park management, at-risk species recovery efforts, research projects, and capital development projects.
- Despite current research, we still know relatively little about where species are found in our parks. More data will help us make better decisions!
- Apps like iNaturalist make it easy to become a citizen scientist. Download today and start documenting!
Walk a trail every week
- Ontario Parks has over 2,000 km of trails to explore, offering a variety of levels from light hikes to challenging overnight trips. These trails will take you through some of the most scenic areas of the province.
- Hiking is for all seasons, so why not commit to hiking a trail every week? In spring, you can take walks through hardwood forests lined with wildflowers.
- Spend the summer on boardwalk adventures through swamps or marshes surrounded by cattails and dragonflies.
- Take a walk through a rainbow of fall colors that will take your breath away.
- Finally, listen to the crunch of snow under your snowshoes in an evergreen forest.
- Hiking is good for you too! You will experience a host of health benefits from your time in nature.
pack the garbage
- Challenge yourself to pack up everything you brought to the park, plus at least ten extra pieces of trash.
- Leaving a place in the same or better condition than when you arrived will encourage others who follow you to do the same.
- When visiting parks, be sure to put trash and recycling in its place, or consider taking home any waste you generate. Too often, missorted recycling ends up in landfill.
Use refillable water bottles
- Drinking bottled water generates unnecessary plastic, which may not end up being recycled.
- There is an alternative: travel with reusable containers and use gas stations or taps located in the parks.
- Our tap water is strictly regulated by Health Canada and the Ontario government. Park water is tested weekly to ensure safety.
- If we stop buying single-use water bottles, we will use less energy to produce and transport bottled water.
Take a friend camping
- If you experience nature, you are more likely to value and protect it.
- There are many Ontarians who have never had the opportunity to sleep under the stars, fish, paddle a canoe, climb a tree or swim in a lake.
- If you know someone like this, invite them to your next outing to the park.
- You can also tell them about our Learn to Camp program!
Creating the next generation of green stewards
- Recent research shows that if children ages five to ten are given an immersive experience in nature, they will develop a lifelong love of the environment and a sense of stewardship of the land. You’re also likely to produce more creative thinkers!
- It’s okay if you’re not at the level of Bob Izumi or Jane Goodall. Check out our educational programs, Discovery drop-ins, and Ontario Parks in the Classroom programs!
- No matter where you live in Ontario, there is a provincial park within reach. Use our park locator to find a park near you!
Here’s to 2019!
Let this be the year to prioritize spending time in nature and protecting it for generations to come.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi