Bending Willow Creek

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Meandering Through Minesing

It was the summer of 1982, and I’d just finished my first of three years in the Fish and Wildlife Technology program at Sir Sandford Fleming College (since, re-branded as Fleming College) in Lindsay Ontario. I’d been offered a summer job with the Metro Region Conservation Authority – MTRCA (since, re-branded as Toronto Region Conservation Authority – TRCA) on a crew of four that would spend the summer conducting Stream Surveys and Rehabilitation projects along two reaches of streams, located within the M.T.R.C.A’s jurisdiction. I was in heaven.

 

Fast forward to late spring of 2015, and while perusing the various projects that theNature Conservancy Of Canada (NCC).was planning, within a short driving distance of my home base of Toronto, my eyes fell on an opportunity to reprise that wonderful summer. The event was described as River Bends on the Mend, and the waterway requiring our help was Willow Creek, which flows through the Minesing Wetlands. Minesing is of Ojibwe origin, and means “island”, referring to an island located within Lake Edenvale, which encompassed the present-day wetlands and surrounding areas, and is recognized internationally as a significant Ramsar Boreal-Wetland.

 

Minesing’s very existence depends on the careful management of the numerous waterways feeding it’s sensitive ecosystems; waterways that naturally meander as they follow the path of least resistance, flooding depressions, overflowing and hugging contours as they slope toward ever larger bodies of water. Short-sighted alterations to our physical environment, usually impact negatively on natural systems that support a variety of plant and animal life, which have evolved over time to depend on them. It really is A Fine Balance.

 

Our objective for the day was to reintroduce a few curves to Willow Creek, along a stretch which flows adjacent to George Johnston Road, for a few hundred metres. This length of the creek had been historically, straightened, dredged and over-widened, to ostensibly improve drainage of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, it also compromised the geomorphology of the creek, the dissipation of sediment and altered habitat features.

 

Despite the rainy forecast and probability of getting wet, whether in or out of the creek, over a dozen volunteers, eager to contribute their brawn to the effort, met at the rendezvous point, where we were welcomed by Laura Robson, Acting Coordinator, Conservation Biology Georgian Bay-Huronia Sub-region, for the NCC.

 

Together with Shannon Stephens, Healthy Waters Program Coordinator for the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA), Laura described how we would build temporary, artificial, wing-deflectors, at several points along the stream banks, thereby, introducing new curves in to the creek’s flow.

 

The deflectors were constructed from Scots Pine, donated by Somerville Nursery, which had been destined for the Christmas Tree market, but no longer needed for that purpose. The trees were layered, along the river bank, with the stumps pointing slightly upstream at a 45′ angle, and secured in place by driving and anchoring a heavy gauge cable, with a swivel-lock on the end, deep into the riverbanks, and the other end wrapped around each tree and secured with a crimped metal-clip.

 

In time, not only will the intertwined nature of these structures trap sediments suspended in the water column, that would otherwise blanket the creek-bed further downstream, but will also, as a result, provide an organically rich seed-bed, upon which vegetation will take hold. Earlier, I referred to these structures as temporary, because over time, they will become permanent, over-hanging river-banks, a feature that is critically important to fish species seeking shelter from the hot sun, and overhead predators.

 

As these structures gently protrude into the creek, they will gradually, help to narrow the waterway, thereby, increasing the rate of flow, flush suspended solids, deepen the watercourse, cool the water temperature, raise oxygen levels, improve the overall conditions for a variety of invertebrates, and provide a healthier habitat for aquatic and terrestrial life, alike. It really is A Fine Balance.

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This Collection of photographs of Stream Rehabilitation Work was produced along Willow Creek in the Minesing Wetlands in June of 2015

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