Greenbelt Tour of September 2019
This past year EcoSpark launched its first ever Greenbelt Youth Ambassador program! With influence from the Youth Charter program of 2015, the Youth Ambassador program aims to provide high school students around the GTA with the opportunity to experience, celebrate, and speak out on behalf of Ontario’s Greenbelt.This free program consists of a series of one-day workshops and summer weekend retreats spanning across three years!
Figure 1: The Greenbelt gang attempting to be photogenic at the Koffler Scientific Reserve.
Featuring the Greenbelt tour mascot, Gustav the gnome (can you spot him?)
Through the program, Youth Ambassadors will gain volunteer hours while learning about the processes that shaped the GTA’s fertile and rich landscapes.They will explore issues about land use, the impact that policy and planning has on urban growth and local communities, and how development impacts flora, fauna, and their habitats. Finally, students will develop the skills to share their knowledge and youth-centric perspectives with their own communities and local governments.
The first workshop kicked off on September 28th, with a bus tour to various sites located within the Greenbelt. In addition to being guided by EcoSpark staff, the tour was also supported by some amazing volunteers from Fleming College’s Ecosystem Management Technology program.
Figure 2: Fleming students from the EMX program: (from left to right) Manjot Kaur, Riley Lepp, Jessica Daze, and Caprial Purdy
For our first stop on the tour we explored the beautiful landscape of the rehabilitated gravel-pit located at Glen Major Forest. The land was initially farmed until the early 1960s, followed by aggregate extraction for 40 years. The site was eventually handed over to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), who manages the property in partnership with the Glen Major Walker Woods Stewardship Committee, consisting of local community members. The restoration of this former aggregate pit is an excellent example of collaboration to achieve success around a shared vision. The site now has long-term sustainable land use and public recreation opportunities.
Figure 3: A view from the edge of the gravel pit. Goldenrods galore!
While we were there, the Youth Ambassadors discussed a variety of issues: the relationship between the aggregate industry and the environmental sector, the decline of native pollinators, the presence of invasive species in Canada, and even the possible link between lichens as indicators of air quality.
Figure 4: Fleming students geeking out to the discovery of lichens at Glen Major Forest!
For our second stop, we landed at Joker’s Hill for a private tour of the Koffler Scientific Reserve (KSR), owned by the University of Toronto. As most of Jokers Hill’s 350 hectares are blanketed by a mosaic of wetlands and forests, including Ontario’s largest remaining stand of old-growth hardwood, the KSR is used as an ecological observatory wherein scientists monitor, measure, and analyze natural processes as they unfold. The site has become internationally recognized for its cutting-edge research and education in biodiversity, ecology and conservation biology. In fact, the Province of Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources designated the Koffler Scientific Reserve as both an Earth Sciences Area of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI) for its unusual patterns of glacial deposit, and a Life Sciences ANSI.
Figure 5: Station manager Kate Brown giving us the scoop about the latest environmental research being conducted by scientists at the KSR
During the tour, Youth Ambassadors also had the opportunity to engage with graduate student Cameron So. They learned first hand about his research in evolutionary and ecological genetics involving the effect of contemporary climate change on population genetics and adaptation.
Figure 6: Cameron So explaining how he controls his experiments, and how they relate to climate change
Our last and final stop for the Greenbelt tour took place at the Circling Hawk Honey Farm. A third generation family farm, they specialize in farming honeybees to produce natural, local, raw, and unpasteurized honey, with the aid of the abundant wild flowers and alfalfa on and near the farm. Circling Hawk doesn’t spray any pesticides on the property and always use non-GMO organic seeds, products, and methods.
Figure 7: Youth Ambassadors trying to find the queen bee within her hive. Did you know the queens are marked with a little spot on their back (thorax), based on colour coding used internationally in the beekeeping industry?
During our time there, Youth Ambassadors were taken on a private tour by farm owner and head Apiarist, Gregg Scott. Using one of his calmer swarms (the dropping temperatures that week made the bees a bit unfriendly), Gregg was able to explain how the bees are managed and housed. Everyone was able to have a close up view of how bees interacted with each other, and how a queen bee manages her hive.
Figure 8: Even though the bees were extra cranky that day, some of our Youth Ambassadors were still brave enough to get up close and personal with the main hives!
And finally, after moving to a secured building to view how the honey gets harvested and extracted, the tour came to an end with some amazing taste-testing of beeswax, native pollen, and the different types of honey that differ based on which plants the bees frequent.
Figure 9: Pollen taste test! Ingesting native honey and small doses of native pollen may help your body develop a stronger immune system.
Interested in being a part of the next cohort of Greenbelt Youth Ambassadors?
To learn more about the program, click here.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the next workshop/bus tour in the May!
With a passion for conservation and wildlife at an early age, Sara pursued a BSc. (Honors) in Wildlife Biology and an advanced diploma in Ecosystem Management Technology. She also has an intense passion to travel, experience new cultures, and learn many languages. In her fight to protect the environment and develop a sustainable future, Sara believes it is vital to engage communities with the natural world around them. Through the Changing Currents program, she is excited to exercise her certification in the Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network (OBBN), while captivating the youth about the importance of some of nature’s aquatic creepy crawlies.