In a rare show of support for conservation, the federal government in 2012 announced the allocation of funds to create a national park in the Greater Toronto Area. (The federal government is better known for dragging Canada down to dead last in environmental protection among 27 nations in 2013.)
In the wake of this announcement, Parks Canada initiated a public engagement program for the proposed Rouge National Urban Park in the GTA’s Rouge River valley region and received thousands of comments from Canadians.
The feedback on the concept will inform the legislative process, policies and a strategic plan for the park. Here are some edited excerpts from the vision document for the project.
Rouge National Urban Park will be a “people’s park” — a place to gather, enjoy, discover and learn about the Rouge Valley’s natural and cultural heritage. It will offer accessible experiences for all visitors, without entry fees.
Parks Canada will work to foster a culture which connects to nature through community and youth volunteering, engagement and partnership that will grow and continue once the park has been established. Rouge National Urban Park’s diverse environments — coastal freshwater marsh, rivers, forest, wetlands, rolling hills and valleys, farmland, etc. — as well as the stories associated with its wide range of past and present human uses create unique opportunities for visitors and residents alike to experience.
Parks Canada’s approach recognizes the importance of integrating actions like restoring natural habitat, while providing opportunities for engaging visitors to enjoy themselves and learn about these restoration activities. Fostering this culture of connecting to nature through community engagement and stewardship will be integral to the overall long-term protection and presentation of Rouge National Urban Park.
This approach has been adopted by many countries. In fact, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Society for Ecological Restoration International and the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are endorsing the application of the Parks Canada approach globally to help guide the restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity, and increase public awareness around the world. Parks Canada now has the opportunity to implement this philosophy here, where nature, sustainable agriculture and a rich cultural heritage can all be experienced by Canadians.