Vice-President, West Rouge Community Association
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about nature deficit disorder and how a lack of connection with nature can affect our physical and emotional well-being. Luckily for us, Rouge Park (soon to be Rouge National Urban Park) is right at our doorstep. The Rouge Park currently spans more than forty square kilometers and extends from Rouge Beach in the south to the Oak Ridges Moraine in the north. It contains a rare Carolinian (deciduous) forest, a variety of flora and fauna, waterways, historical sites and agricultural land, and it provides the setting for an array of recreational activities.
Historically, a number of community groups have fought to protect the Rouge valley. In 2012, the federal government promised more than one hundred and forty million dollars over ten years to transform Rouge Park into Rouge National Urban Park. If realized as planned, the park will be one of the largest urban parks in the world. Four discovery hubs are planned that will inform park-goers about the park and will enhance the visitor experience.
The federal government has been working toward finalizing the transfer of land in Toronto, Markham and Pickering to Parks Canada that will form the national park. However, in September, 2014, the Ontario government indicated that it would not transfer over its large parcel of land if park legislation did not meet or exceed environmental protections provided by the province.
The Rouge National Urban Park Act, also known as Bill C-40, received Royal Assent in April, 2015. This Bill formally establishes the park but offers environmental protections that are different than those of the other national parks. Bill C-40 requires that the natural ecosystem of the park be “taken into consideration”. Environmental groups have voiced their concerns that the federal legislation does not prioritize nature conservation. At the same time, the federal government and Parks Canada maintain that they will provide the strongest protection ever for the park. It’s hard to know which side to take but following the recent change in federal leadership, there seems to be renewed optimism that a compromise between the federal and provincial government will be reached.
People have lived in and enjoyed the beauty of the Rouge valley for around 10,000 years. Today, you’re bound to find at least one activity in the park that interests you and will help you connect with nature. Consider participating in one of the following activities:
Swimming – Is it really safe to swim in Lake Ontario? Lake Ontario Waterkeeper thinks so! Many of Toronto’s beaches have become blue flag certified, meaning that they meet high ecological and quality standards. Download the Waterkeeper “Swim Guide” app for apple and android to discover local beaches and to get daily updates during the summer about which beaches are safe for swimming.
Fishing – If you head down to Rouge Beach during the summer, you will usually see at least a few people fishing in the Rouge River. In order to fish anywhere in Ontario, an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources fishing license is required. This license can be purchased at the Canadian Tire store on Rylander Boulevard.
Canoeing, Kayaking and Stand Up Paddleboarding – In 2012 led by a guide from Toronto Adventures, I kayaked the Rouge River from Glen Rouge Campground to Rouge beach and back. It was the most amazingly serene experience. For your own paddling expedition, rent equipment from Silverstone Paddling Company in Frenchman’s Bay, or participate in one of the programs offered by the Pickering Rouge Canoe Club.
Hiking – Visit the Rouge Park website at www.rougepark.com for information on guided walks through the park led by knowledgeable volunteers. If you would rather explore the park at your own pace, you can request a trail map online at www.rougepark.com/explore/adventures/request_map.php. The beautiful trails are well marked and easy to navigate.
Cycling – While cycling off-road is not permitted in the park, there are many roadways on which you can cycle. For a map of cycling routes in the park, visit the Rouge Park website.
Geocaching – Geocaching is an activity that is quickly gaining in popularity. Geocaching involves the use of a GPS-enabled phone or device to locate hidden treasures. Refer to the website www.geocaching.com for information that will help you find geocaches in the park that are waiting to be discovered.
Tree Planting – I have participated in a few tree planting events in Rouge Park and those experiences were truly rewarding. I have taken pleasure in watching the trees grow and knowing that people will enjoy them for generations to come. For information on how to get involved in tree planting initiatives in Rouge Park, visit the website www.10000trees.com or contact Sheryl Santos, the Stewardship Coordinator for Rouge Park, at email@example.com.
Special Events – “Rouge Days” is an event that is held every June in Rouge Park. For more information on this annual celebration, visit www.rougedays.ca. You can find out about other family-friendly events that take place in the park throughout the year by visiting the Rouge Park website.
These are just some of the many ways that you and your family can re-connect with nature and each other in Rouge Park. In addition to fostering positive mental and physical health, you will create memories that will last a lifetime.