75-hectares permanently protected in Ramara Township

In Media Releases, Nature Reserves & Easements, News by couchiching

The Late John Pitts and Kathleen Milligan honoured at Sweetwater Farm Nature Reserve unveiling ceremony

Wednesday, June 28, 2023, Orillia, Ontario –

Supporters of the Couchiching Conservancy, including family and friends, celebrated the unveiling of the Sweetwater Farm Nature Reserve. The 75-hectare (185-acre) property in the heart of Ramara, located 23 kilometres east of Orillia, is now protected in perpetuity.

John Pitts and Kathleen Milligan purchased the property in the 1970’s and homesteaded there for decades. They grew their own food, lived lightly on the land, and nicknamed their farm “Sweetwater” because of the Sugar Maple trees. Sadly, Kathleen passed away in 2012, and John carried on living there on his own. John made his intention to have the property protected known to The Couchiching Conservancy, but unexpectedly passed away in 2018 before he could realize his dream. Knowing his intentions, his family worked with the Conservancy to secure and protect the land in 2019.

The Sweetwater Farm property contains mixed hardwood, wetland and high-quality alvar with a variety of species. The property provides ecosystem goods and services to the community, including carbon storage, the removal of air pollution and flood water storage. By storing carbon and buffering local communities from the impacts of increasingly severe weather events, the property is an excellent example of the nature-based solutions needed to help combat climate change.

There are many species who rely on this landscape, including Monarch Butterfly (special concern), Golden-winged Warbler (threatened), Eastern Milksnake (special concern), and Eastern Whip-poor-will (threatened).

This project was made possible by the Government of Canada through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund. Additional support was received from a bequest from John Pitts, support from the families of John Pitts and Kathleen Milligan, numerous community members, The Echo Foundation, The Consecon Foundation and The Gosling Foundation.

A portion was donated to the Couchiching Conservancy under the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program. This program provides enhanced tax incentives for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically significant land.


“Only by engaging in a whole-of-society approach can we tackle the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. By working with partners such as the Couchiching Conservancy and the Pitts and Milligan families, we are helping to protect the natural environment in Ontario and across the country. Protecting land, such as the Sweetwater Farm Nature Reserve, plays a vital role in carbon and flood-water storage, while helping remove air pollution. Through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program and the Ecological Gifts Program, the Government of Canada is making progress toward its goal of conserving 25 percent of land and water in Canada by 2025, working toward 30 percent of each by 2030.”

– The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

« Ce n’est qu’en adoptant une approche mobilisant toute la société que nous pouvons régler la crise des changements climatiques et de l’appauvrissement de la biodiversité. Avec le concours de partenaires comme l’organisme Couchiching Conservancy et les familles Pitts et Milligan, nous contribuons à protéger les milieux naturels en Ontario et partout au pays. La protection des terres, comme celles de la réserve naturelle de la ferme Sweetwater, joue un rôle déterminant dans le stockage du carbone et des eaux de crue, tout en aidant à éliminer la pollution de l’air. Grâce au Programme de conservation du patrimoine naturel et au Programme des dons écologiques, le gouvernement du Canada se rapproche de son objectif de conserver 25 p. 100 des terres et des eaux au Canada d’ici 2025, pour atteindre 30 p. 100 d’ici 2030. »

– L’honorable Steven Guilbeault, ministre de l’Environnement et du Changement climatique

“Protecting this mix of forest, wetland, and headwaters benefits us all, and adds another essential piece of wilderness to our network of nature reserves,” said Dorthea Hangaard, Executive Director of The Couchiching Conservancy.

“The 2 kilometre public trail on Sweetwater is an opportunity to enjoy the unique crossroad between rural & wilderness found in Ramara township,” she added.

• The land is located at the southern extent of the Black River Wildlands corridor, identified in our most recent acquisition strategy as high priority for protection.
• 25 vegetation communities that are still being documented.
• A highly vulnerable aquifer provides significant cold water recharge.
• The property has an active quarry to the south west and buffers a large wetland connected to the Head River.

The Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program (NHCP) is a unique public-private partnership to support new protected and conserved areas by securing private lands and private interests in lands. The program is managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). Federal funds invested in the program are matched with contributions raised by NCC and its partners, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the country’s land trust community.

To learn more about the Ecological Gifts Program, please visit http://www.ec.gc.ca/pde-egp/.
The Couchiching Conservancy is a non-profit, non-government land trust powered by a community of people, businesses and foundations dedicated to protecting nature for future generations. You can take action for nature by becoming a member, volunteering or donating to power local efforts to safeguard wilderness in our region. To learn more, please visit couchichingconserv.ca.

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Tanya Clark
Fundraising & Engagement Manager