If you snowshoe to the big rock overlooking Boyd’s Creek on the Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserve, and you stop to listen to the silence in the trees, you’re touching something big.
Washago is lucky to have two large nature reserves owned by The Couchiching Conservancy in the vicinity. A second spot on the south side of the Trent-Severn Waterway gives residents another oasis: the Thomas C. Agnew Nature Reserve. Again, when you set foot on this property, you’re touching not only a lovely landscape, but a big idea.
Among the things that Europeans introduced to North America was the concept of turning land into money. As John Riley points out in his outstanding book, The Once and Future Great Lakes Country, if you can divide land up into parcels, you can turn it into wealth, by buying and selling it.
The concept was foreign to the First Nations who held the land under a different system where ownership, though fiercely defended, was held in common — much the way Canada now treats its waterways, lakes and oceans. In the transfer of knowledge, technology and microbes that followed, much was lost, including a wise approach to the land use.
We can learn from history, and over the last century and a half, there have been efforts to remove some lands from the monetary system, transforming them from “real estate” to wild spaces held for the common good. National, provincial and municipal park systems blossomed. But for many, governments weren’t moving fast enough as more and more land was transformed under bulldozers. Citizens came up with their own solutions: land trusts.
They take many forms, but the concept is essentially the same: acquire real estate that has natural and cultural heritage value and remove it from the market to hold in trust for the public, now and forever. The land trust movement holds that a healthy natural world is essential to human health – physically, mentally, spiritually. More than 40 land trusts, including The Couchiching Conservancy, protect and steward over 80,000 acres in Ontario today. When you walk on the Alexander Hope Smith or Thomas C. Agnew reserves, you’re touching some of those 80,000 acres. You’re also touching a global movement to save the last wild spaces of the planet before they are gone.
But we’re in a race. While 80,000 acres is a fantastic story, it’s sobering to know that according to a 2009 article in Scientific American, an estimated 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest was being destroyed every day. Canada’s boreal region is similarly under threat, and only a few stands of wild lands are left in existence at all in Central and Southern Ontario.
Standing in the silence on the rock overlooking Boyd’s Creek, you may understand that here at least, there is still time to save some of the places we love.
Written by Mark Bisset.