The Couchiching Conservancy files on the Church Woods are thick. This charming little 25-acre woodlot in Shanty Bay stands waiting today for anyone who has the inclination to wander through it, thanks to the enormous effort of a small group of neighbours who made it their business to protect it almost a decade ago.
This month, the final details were sorted out to create a short trail connecting Ridge Road to these ecologically important woods — the last puzzle piece needed to enhance this green gem that was first protected in 2007. Oro-Medonte Township Council has transferred ownership of a small strip of property to the Conservancy to make the trail possible. When it is completed, the trail will allow people to enjoy a woodland walk right in the heart of the village.
The Church Woods files are thick because protecting this property has not been easy. There were deals to make, family negotiations to navigate, hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise, government support to rally, neighbours to convince.
Thumbing through the story contained in those files, one name comes up again and again and again: Tim Crooks.
Crooks’ family has been a presence in Shanty Bay since the early 1800s. He grew up playing in the woods, which got its name from its proximity to the historic St. Thomas Church in the village. He loved the trees and wildlife of the woods, and when it came time for the far-flung descendants of the original owners to sell the property he became its champion. He pushed hard to see it brought under protection, so that generations from now, people will still be able to wander under its canopy.
But even before the property was protected, Crooks was dreaming about additional possibilities. He had his eye on that road allowance for a trail to connect the woods to Ridge Road, making it more accessible to villagers and visitors. In a deputation to council in 2006, Crooks asked them to imagine a simple walk: he began at the village store and took in some of the rail trail before crossing Ridge Road to a trail that would wind through Church Woods. Perhaps you could carry on to the public dock on Kempenfelt Bay to have a swim before taking in a picnic at Gowan Station Park. If you weren’t from Shanty Bay, perhaps you could settle down for a stay at a bed and breakfast.
He made other arguments that night in an effort to convince township council to partner with the community and the conservancy to protect the woods. He talked about its value as habitat, its proximity to Lake Simcoe and the role it plays in slowing and absorbing runoff from residential development all around — and he won the day; Oro-Medonte Township has been a key partner ever since.
But it is Crooks’ clear vision of the sort of place in which he wanted to live that stands out.
It’s an example of the kind of thinking that has made him a leader in ecological action in this region. Modest almost to a fault, he will be the first to tell you the Church Woods, and now the adjoining trail, were protected thanks to the actions of many. That is true; the community won the woods.
But Tim Crooks won the community.
Eight years after he made that pitch, his imagined trail will soon open, and it will lead to the protected Church Woods, a testament to the importance of people who spark the rest of us to make a difference.
Written by Mark Bisset.