The proposed Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is an opportunity to protect and restore an important ecosystem in Canada’s largest urban centre, and to provide millions of Canadians with the chance to directly experience wild nature without leaving the city. In such a busy urban landscape, assuring the long-term health of the park will require strong management tools that prioritize conservation and provide clear guidance for visitor use.
As one of the best examples of Carolinian forest and one of the last intact watersheds in the Western Lake Ontario basin, the natural heritage of the Rouge is irreplaceable. Over 1,000 species of plants and animals inhabit the Rouge, including 23 species at risk. The area also has a rich cultural heritage, important to Aboriginal peoples and to European settlers whose legacy of farming continues in parts of the Rouge today.
Announced in the 2011 federal Speech from the Throne, the creation of the Rouge National Urban Park is now well underway. In May 2012, the federal government announced federal funding to establish and manage the National Urban Park. The same month, Parks Canada released a proposed “park concept” for consultation. CPAWS submitted recommendations to strengthen the conservation focus of the proposed concept.
Creating the Rouge National Urban Park is just the latest step in a decades-long effort to protect the unique and rich ecosystem of the Rouge. The Rouge was saved from urban sprawl through the efforts of dedicated local citizens who, for decades, fought to protect the Rouge Valley, and by the Ontario provincial government who responded by creating the present-day Rouge Park. As responsibility for the Rouge passes to Parks Canada, it is important that the management model reflects the ecological significance of the area, and honours the conservation legacy of the citizens who fought to protect the Rouge.
CPAWS is recommending that the legislation and policies for the Rouge National Urban Park very clearly prioritize ecosystem health as the overarching management goal within which nature-focused visitor experiences will be encouraged. Education and stewardship activities that directly connect people with nature, such as volunteer restoration and monitoring programs, should be prioritized, rather than a broad suite of recreational activities widely available elsewhere in the city. This approach will help distinguish the National Urban Park from other urban parks and green space, and establish a solid precedent for future National Urban Parks.
In July 2013 in the proposed Rouge National Urban Park, CPAWS Wildlands League Chapter is launching “Get Outside Ontario”, a collaborative youth leadership program focused on fostering an enduring connection to nature and the outdoors. For more information click here
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