Today’s post comes from Alistair MacKenzie, Resource Discovery and Management Supervisor at Pinery Provincial Park.
As we begin a new year, many of us make personal resolutions to try to improve or help our families and communities.
I’ll be making several personal resolutions (damn sour cream glazed donuts!), but in addition, I’m choosing 2024 as the year to make some resolutions for parks and protected areas.
While I work and play in the incredible landscapes of Ontario parks, most of my efforts will take effect there, but I don’t plan to limit my efforts… I’ll include any green space I can find!
I’m just one person, so I encourage you to help.
You may want to create a different list for yourself, but our parks could certainly use the help, so consider contributing to our protected areas.
So here goes my list of ten resolutions for Ontario parks:
1. Park once
Whenever I visit parks, I go to practice Park once concept to limit the use of my vehicle.
Cars and trucks contribute to air pollution. They put pressure on park infrastructure and impose a significant impact on animal populations through road mortality.
Instead, once I get to a park, I will explore more areas by foot, bike, and canoe or kayak. Don’t forget that many parks offer equipment rentals so you can rent a bike, skis or jet skis to explore…and walking is free!
This resolution should also help me with some of my personal health and wellness resolutions.
2. Become a “friend”
I’m going to renew my membership with The Friends of Pinery Park, and every time I visit other parks, I’ll consider becoming a member of their Friends group (or at least buy a ticket for their charity raffles).
Members of the Friends of Mashkinonje for a path without barriers
Friends of the parks are non-profit charitable organizations that complement and enhance the educational, recreational and resource protection activities provided by Ontario Parks, such as organizing park cleanups or obtaining grants for park projects.
The Friends operate largely with the support of volunteers.so I am going to lend a hand through financial and other support to help them in their efforts.
3. Practice community science
The old saying that “many hands make easier work” could not be more appropriate for community science.
There are many dedicated staff working for Ontario Parks and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, but with a park landscape twice the size of Switzerland, the work of inventorying and monitoring our shared lands is immense.
I’m making a resolution to observe, record and report every species and natural phenomenon I witness during my travels this year.
I will make use of the many existing community science initiatives that are available (see the registration in Ontario Nature or our post on community science applications). Whenever I’m on Pinery, I use the Explore Pinery app that Friends of Pinery helped produce.
Reporting your observations helps create a database of information that will inform park management, at-risk species recovery efforts, research projects, and capital development projects. Despite the volume of effort already invested, we know relatively little about where species are found in our parks and even when we do… more data allows for better decisions!
I will take lots of photos and notes, and if I can’t identify something, I will use #AskanOPNaturalist on Twitter to get some answers.
4. Pick it up
Every time I visit parks, I will return with at least ten pieces of trash. There seems to be an endless supply of trash in our parks, especially on our beaches and coastlines.
I’ll make sure it’s not there when you visit me the next day. If we all did that, our parks would be healthier.
When visiting parks, be sure to put trash and recycling in its place or consider taking home any waste you generate.
5. Invest in children
I have two growing children who love parks, but I am going to make a resolution to take more children to the parks to experience nature and witness some of the wonders our parks have to offer.
If you’re an educator, check out our Discovery team’s virtual programs and request a reservation to bring nature into your classroom.
6. Stay on track
When visiting parks, I will stay on the official trails. Much planning goes into how to provide sustainable recreation while meeting the primary goal of protecting the ecological integrity of the parks.
Staying on designated trails ensures that you do not impact areas or species of interest. In many cases, existing trails are in the best locations to witness amazing views, natural events, and the power of water; I’ll trust Ontario Parks’ choice and follow the trail.
7. Respect personal space
I’m sure that for almost all of us, one of the most important reasons to visit parks is to see wildlife. I am making a resolution to give wildlife the necessary space they need when I find them.
In today’s age of digital photography and video, it’s exciting to encounter a moose, black bear, or some smaller member of our biodiversity and want to capture the entire encounter at close range.
Animals are expert body language communicators, but we often fail to understand their subtle signals. Getting too close to animals causes stress and can be dangerous…and also causes the animal to start behaving unnaturally.
I’ll be sure to have my telephoto lens handy and enjoy distant views of wildlife.
Let’s keep them wild and feeling free.
Humans rely heavily on sight, but people who are visually impaired have taught me some surprising things: If you stop and close your eyes in parks, you will hear the most wonderful recipe for stress-relieving sounds.
Take a moment to stop and listen.
In the spring, amphibians have a fever to try to find a mate.
Soon after, migratory and resident birds begin singing to defend their territory while fighting to raise their young.
If you sit quietly by a fire or on the shore of a lake in late summer, you may be rewarded with the soulful call of a wolf. The characteristic crunch of fallen leaves under your feet on a fall walk and the silence of a frozen lake in February are incredible experiences that you can live with your eyes closed and ears open.
I’m determined to be quiet when I’m in the parks this year more than ever.. I’m going to respect my campmates and all of nature by keeping the volume down.
9. Slow down
I mentioned earlier that I’m going to “park once”, but I’m also going to slow down in my car.. It seems like we are all getting busier and life is hectic.
I think when I visit parks, I often don’t completely slow down when I enter the front door. And driving too fast in parks has many negative consequences.
First and foremost, we put our fellow visitors and park staff at risk, but we also risk impacting the very elements of nature we drove so far to see.
I’ll try to stop when I get to a park, after the long drives it often takes me to get to my favorite places, and take a deep breath.
By driving slower, I will be rewarded with more incredible views and will be protecting my fellow campers, park staff, and wildlife.
10. Help, do not hinder
Invasive species are becoming a growing threat to our protected areas. I’m going to make sure I’m part of the solution.not the problem, making sure not to spread invasive species.
I will wash my car and bike before visiting the parks, and I will wash my boots frequently or at least remove any mud that could contain seeds from the soles. I’ll leave firewood at home and buy it at the park.
I will ensure that my boat does not drag aquatic invasive animals from lake to lake. I will also report invasive species to park staff when I find them (you can also use Early Detection and Distribution Mapping Services).
So far in my life, I’ve had some amazing personal experiences in parks…
This year I plan to give back a little more when I visit.
I’ll still swim and laugh, marvel at animals and sleep under the stars, but while I’m at it, I’ll have a personal plan to make sure Ontario’s parks are a little better come January 2024.
I hope you include parks on your own list of resolutions for 2024, and if you do, as a member of the nature-loving Ontario community, I will thank you in advance for your efforts.