C/O Travis Nguyen

What does conservation look like during a pandemic?

By: Kate O’Melia, Contributor

Throughout the last year and a half, Canadians have had one solace that has been relatively cheap, recentering and unifying: the great outdoors. Outdoor activity is an industry that has been thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a 2020 report from Park People, it was reported that 82% of Canadians saw parks and trails as an important part of their mental health. Hamilton is no exception. During the pandemic, the Hamilton Conservation Authority reported a large increase in volume in their conservation areas and trails.

“If anything, [the pandemic] has brought the role of the Hamilton Conservation Authority, and specifically our lands, to the forefront because for a long time during the pandemic the only thing people could do really was to get outside and go for a walk,” said the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of the HCA, Scott Peck. 

During the pandemic, the HCA found themselves with a surplus in their budget following the popularity of conservation areas. They’re now able to put that surplus towards the Saltfleet Wetland construction and other upcoming projects.

The Saltfleet Conservation Area Project is part of an ongoing effort to improve the Hamilton Watershed’s Report Card grades, which ranked poorly in forestry for some of Hamilton in a 2018 report compiled by the HCA. 

Joel Konik, who is in charge of grants and volunteer opportunities at the HCA, commented on the Saltfleet Wetland Project.

“So right now, we're trying to buy [the land] up so that we can save it and create a wetland and then store water up there so that when it rains, it doesn't like you know, flash flood the lower part of Stoney Creek which is heavily urbanized,” said Konik.

Konik says the pandemic has also changed what volunteering looks like at the HCA.

“We do an annual cleanup along the Rail Trail. We have planting teams that would schedule different events in our different parks. Those would happen like throughout the year, primarily in the spring and fall. Because of COVID, everything had to be put on hold,” said Konik.

Some of the events that had to be canceled were the invasive species removal and group trail cleanups, as well as cultural events such as the Christie Vintage and Antique Show and Christmas shows at both the Pioneer Village and Westfield Heritage Village.

Since they couldn’t meet up in person, Konik said volunteers were encouraged to take the initiative to do independent cleanup along trails while hiking.

“[I]nstead of doing [cleanup] as a group, people wanted to walk the trail and they're like, I'm walking anyway, maybe I can clean up some litter on the way,” Konik explained.

Over the course of the 2021 spring and summer seasons, 16 volunteers collected 77 bags worth of garbage from trails around Hamilton. Konik said there are approximately 300 volunteers with the HCA, with around 30 McMaster University students involved.  Following the pandemic, spots for volunteer events have been filling up quickly as people are ready to get back to volunteering and engaging with their community.

Konik added that students can also help do cleanup on their own. 

“Right now, the easiest thing to do is, if [students] wanted to do the litter cleanup, they can do that on their own at any time. And some of the areas that are in constant demand are the Rail Trail. So behind University Plaza . . .  it’s a high use area, a lot of litter collects there,” said Konik.

Students can access directions for locating the Brantford to Hamilton Rail Trail at: https://www.grandriver.ca/en/outdoor-recreation/Brantford-to-Hamilton-Rail-Trail.aspx.   Another easy access point for a nature trail near campus is Chegwin Trail, found on the right side of the Brandon Hall residence building. For a longer hike, check out Sassafras Point Lookout found on the Ravine Road Trail leading out of campus beside McMaster’s Alpine Tower. Students who are off-campus and are interested in conservation areas can head to https://conservationhamilton.ca/ for more trails.

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