Article for Trillium Magazine
Submitted by Debbie Thomas, DHS Past-President
Thompson Creek Eco Centre
The Dunnville Thompson Creek Project was started over 20 years ago by a group of organizations headed by the Dunnville Bioregion Association. It was one of many possible projects identified at a week long workshop organized to develop a sustainable development plan for the Town of Dunnville. The project involved the restoration of a 45 acre site that included Thompson Creek which was seriously degraded and in need of remediation.
It was identified as an ideal opportunity to rehabilitate the creek as well as plant a Carolinian Arboretum, establish a Wetland Complex and Tallgrass Prairie Plantation. Together these four ecosystems would be used as an outdoor education facility for local schools as well as providing a naturalized walking trail system for the community. Over 800 trees were planted by volunteer groups, all Carolinian species were represented in the Arboretum. A riparian zone was restored along the creek banks, and Ducks Unlimited Canada restored a wetland in the 35 acre field, and planted that field with native Tallgrass species and native wildflowers.The local Ducks Unlimited committee built the existing pavilion on site, in hopes of it becoming an outdoor classroom.
However the original plan stalled allowing Mother Nature to take over. The Carolinian trees grew, the Tallgrass flourished, the Wetland regenerated and the Creeks health improved. Fast forward to 2017, with the Dunnville Horticultural Society fresh off the success of the Dunnville Centennial Park and Fountain restoration. DHS was approached by Dan Mckay one of the original members of the Bioregion Association. Dan felt DHS was the perfect organization to take on the challenge of completing the original project and to finish the trail system.
Dunnville Horticultural Society secured permission along with a partnership agreement from Haldimand County and Ducks Unlimited Canada. A Community Partnership Grant totalling one third of the proposed budget from Haldimand County was secured, and fundraising efforts began spring 2017. DHS Past President Debbie Thomas co-chaired the ambitious 2 year project with Dan Mckay.
DHS brought in many specialists to assist on this project as it is a sensitive area for threatened wildlife, migratory birds and plants. Also dealing with changing seasons and mother nature were all considered.
The removal and eradication of invasive phragmites was undertaken fall of 2018 followed by a controlled burn spring 2019 of 23 acres in the Tallgrass Prairie. The goal was to halt the growth of invading non- native species and to rejuvenate the native Tallgrass ecosystem. This was followed by a mass planting of native wildflowers.
Trails were thoughtfully planned and laid out throughout the four distinct ecological cells. Impressive educational signage was installed along the naturalized trail system, with large colour information panels describing each of the cells habitats, ecology and its wildlife residents.
The trail throughout the Tallgrass Prairie is 1.5 km, with views of the wetlands. Also found along the trail is the newly designated heritage tree by Forests Ontario, a great White Oak that has stood sentinel for over 250 years. The other trail areas are shorter, providing for all hiking levels and enjoyment. The Carolinan Arboretum was under-brushed to assist in removing invasive species, and identification signage added for the tree species. The pavilion to be used for outdoor education is filled with plaques identifying the species located throughout the Centre’s 4 cells.
A large scale map ( 8’X16’ ) was erected at the entrance to Thompson Creek Eco Centre, directing the public to the various eco cell locations, as well as the amenities within Centennial Park (including the iconic Muddy the Mudcat, the 1967 Centennial fountain and the link to Lions park trails.)
The Grand opening of Thompson Creek Eco Centre took place Wednesday, September 23rd 2019. DHS chose a weekday, as their vision for this park is to be utilized by school children as an outdoor education centre, destination. We wanted to draw attention to that.
All five of Dunnville’s schools were invited to attend, and as an added incentive DHS issued a challenge. The school that had the highest attendance would be given a Carolinan tree to be planted at their school. The turnout was amazing with in excess of 800 students and teachers walking the trails, along with hundreds of others. A highlight of the grand opening was DHS providing a people mover for residents of the neighbouring seniors facility Grandview Lodge, enabling them to view the Tallgrass Prairie and Wetlands all while interacting with students walking the trails.
Since Grand Opening interest and usage of trails has been brisk.
DHS is proud to have been involved in this tremendous project, and even prouder to have received the OHA Community Improvement Award for our efforts at the July 2019 Convention. If you are interested in touring this jewel in Dunnville, it is open to the public year round, with no admission cost.