Showy Lady Slipper
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The OFNC Conservation Committee's
Response to Petrie Islands Assessment


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The Conservation Committee of the OFNC prepared the following brief (below) in response to the report Natural Environment Inventory and Interpretive Concepts Assessment of the Petrie Islands Study Area of December 1999, by Dan Brunton, which was commissioned by the City of Cumberland and the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton.

We support the preservation of Petrie Island as a natural area and have been working with the Friends of Petrie Island to ensure that development does not occur on this site. The report by Dan Brunton contains useful information on trail designs and interpretive concepts which will help visitors understand the natural values of this remarkable site. We had reservations about some of the proposals but fully supported others as the brief indicates.


Response to the Proposed Trail Designs, Interpretive Trail Themes and Draft Environmental Inventory

by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club, Conservation Committee
17 January 2000

The Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club (OFNC) offers the following comments on the proposed trail design and layout, interpretive signage and draft Environmental Assessment.

DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT

On the whole we find the report well conceived and responsive to the environmental values of the Petrie Islands. We would like to ensure that that section of the island west of the causeway and south of the sand operation, described as Maple Mineral Deciduous Swamp and Mineral Deciduous Swamp maintain its designation as one of the Representative Ecologically Significant Areas (Figure 20). The recently built trail which runs along the eastern edge of this section has already wrought some changes but we believe that the rest of this area should not be considered for intensive recreational purposes.

TRAIL DESIGN AND LAYOUT

It is encouraging that the consultants acknowledge the ecological sensitivity of the Petrie Islands, and in particular the diversity of significant plant species present. Given this, we expect trails and interpretive signage to be located away from sensitive areas, respecting the environmental values of the site.

Location of Trails

While we concur with Brunton (p. 65) that "only passive, non-motorized (pedestrian) travel is ecologically appropriate on land beyond the physically disturbed portion of East Island..." we do have major reservations about some of the proposed new trails. In particular we are very concerned with the potential loop trail which will cut through the hackberry stand and wind back across the south side of Turtle Pond. Our primary concern is that a trail, even a narrow, "low-impact" one will lead to degradation of this site. In particular we are concerned that vegetation trampling and soil compaction from increased pedestrian traffic in this area will not only affect the hackberry stand (trampling of hackberry seedlings, thus compromising the ability of the stand to regenerate), but all of the unusual plants which grow in this habitat. While a trail may channel the majority of visitors through the area, deliberately opening up the hackberry stand to incursion could conceivably lead to creation of multiple footpaths and subsequent damage as outlined above. We would rather "be safe than sorry".

Another concern with this proposed loop is the potential for disturbance to nesting turtles and birds. At present only very small numbers of people explore the south side of the Turtle Pond. We feel that the increased traffic in and degradation of this area will result in increasing invasions of alien plant species further diminishing the suitability of the habitat for wildlife and rare plant species. As an example, purple loosestrife which is common along the north side of Turtle Pond where the traffic is, is rare on the south side, as it is rare on the south side of North Island where the cardinal flower is most abundant. Away from the shore glossy buckthorn will gain a greater foothold in the hackberry stands displacing native shrubs and seedlings as well as other significant plant species.

We understand the appeal of having a loop trail, rather than making visitors return the way they came. But we question whether this is important enough given the potential for damage to the ecological integrity of the site as discussed above.

Bicycle usage

From our own observations it is evident that bicycle usage could inflict damage on some of the more sensitive vegetation, compromising the important environmental features. Mountain bikes in particular, with the propensity of the riders for off-trail travel can be very damaging. We would prefer to see main trail on the North and West Island entirely off limits to bicycles. We agree with Brunton(p.65) that "the more intensive recreational uses (picnic areas, major interpretive signage, bicycling facilities, etc.) could not be undertaken in the relatively pristine upstream areas of North, West, Centre and South Islands without significant ecological impact."

We anticipate that the trails will be sited accordingly, but urge that new trail development proceed with caution.

Trail width and composition

We are also pleased to note that the trail width as shown in the maps produced by Thakar Associates, in many cases does not exceed 0.5m in width. We would, however, prefer to see the primary island trail have a width not exceeding 1m rather than the 1.5 m proposed. We feel that this is wide enough to allow comfortable walking but not so wide that it impinges on the natural greenscape of the island.

Trail surfaces can be intrusive or benign, and we prefer to see the trails remain much as they are now, natural and hard-packed by wear, with perhaps the slight widening indicated above. Given the flood conditions on the site, most traditional surfacing materials would not anyway be appropriate, as indicated in Brunton (p.66).

The old cottage road in the development area at the northeast end of the islands provides a wide wheelchair-accessible trail that is several hundred meters long. This could be maintained in the present condition to provide a hard surface trail available to everyone, without any further impact on the natural features of the islands. It gives excellent viewing of the hackberry forests to the south of Turtle Pond as well as wildlife viewing in the Pond. Interpretive signage and initiatives taking place here will be available to all visitors and will not further impact on the most delicate habitats on the islands

Recreational facilities

We agree that passive recreational facilities (picnic areas, shelters, toilets, and signage) such as those already implemented by the Friends of Petrie Island can be safely accommodated in the area of the East Island adjacent to the sand extraction operation. However, we are concerned that other recreational facilities may be thought suitable for this section because of the already degraded nature of the sand extraction operation and adjacent land. We reiterate again our opposition to the location of a marina or any such facility on the Petrie Islands. The spillover effect from such facilities can be extremely negative on the ecological values of the rest of the island.

We believe that a canoe and kayak route could be an interesting addition to exploring the natural values of the islands, so long as disruption of nesting wetland birds is not a factor.

INTERPRETIVE SIGNAGE

We concur with the proposed themes and messages as outlined in the plan for interpretive signage, and have no concerns about this.

We would suggest, if resources and personnel permit, the addition of seasonal signage. This could be as simple as a plexiglass covered bulletin board containing information of a seasonal nature changed 3 (or 4) times a year. Leaflets such as the brochures produced by the FOPI on birds and on the island's ecology would be a useful addition. For the main trail on the North Island a self-guiding trail brochure highlighting significant features might also be considered with small, non-intrusive, numbered posts along the trail corresponding to numbers in the brochure. Visitors could be encouraged to return the brochures (rather than throwing them in the garbage) if they do not wish to keep them.

In sum, we are pleased with the Environmental Assessment and with the exception of our concerns outlined above, with the provisional trails and plans for interpretive signs as given in both the Brunton report and the maps produced by Thakar Associates.

Thank you for allowing us to express our comments.

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