A Report on our Year-Long Silver Creek Stewardship Initiative

By Rebecca Ferguson, project manager of the Silver Creek Stewardship Initiative

Another year is coming to a close—and with it ends the Silver Creek Stewardship Initiative. The vision for the Stewardship Initiative began in the spring of 2015 at Feast in the Forest. Kolapore Springs Fish Hatchery kicked off the project with a generous donation of $5200, the net proceeds

of the Feast. This past February, Watershed Trust received an Ontario Trillium Foundation Seed Grant of $60,700 that allowed us to complete the project. The Initiative’s major objectives were: inspire landowners to be excellent stewards of their land; locate potential restoration projects; educate landowners and the community on environmental issues; and last, map vegetation communities in the Silver Creek Watershed. An additional objective led by the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority has been to provide an update on the wetlands, forest cover and water quality in the Silver Creek Watershed. Stewardship and education were accomplished through liaising with landowners and assessing their properties. Site visits allowed us to recommend stewardship options and promote conservation assistance programs such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program. People of all ages learned more about the creek at the First Annual See the Salmon Run event. Additionally, I had the opportunity to teach aquatic ecology to ages 4-6 at Red Tailed Hawks Forest School. The delivery of this project has resulted in a better understanding of the Silver Creek’s water quality and ecology, new relationships formed with landowners, increased awareness for watershed health and habitat enhancement.

Stewardship is an interesting field of work, as every new landowner and property is different from the next. Stewardship is a way for landowners to learn more about environmental best management practices. At the same time, landowners share their knowledge—their property’s history, changes they have seen in the creek and objectives they have for their property. The best candidates for safeguarding any creek are those that have direct access and enjoy it every day. Building relationships with these landowners will help preserve the creek we all share.

The Silver Creek Story

Silver Creek is approximately 15 kilometres long, dropping 300 metres in elevation from its headwaters high on the Niagara Escarpment to Nottawasaga Bay. The total catchment area is  about 27 square kilometres, and includes both intermittent and permanent flow tributaries. The main branch of Silver Creek originates in Castle Glen south of Grey Road 19 from groundwater seeps on the Escarpment. Many of these seeps flow into Lake of the Clouds, a man- made lake that was created in 1966 by damming a section of Silver Creek. The Creek reforms at the north end of the lake as water is drained through an outlet structure, beginning its cascade down the Escarpment.

The dominant Escarpment forest canopy over Silver Creek consists of Sugar Maple forests, which provide excellent shade and stabilization as the creek falls down steep slopes at rapid speeds. Logjams are prevalent in this section. They can create small waterfalls and plunge pools, but also act as barriers for fish.

Once Silver Creek reaches the bottom of the Escarpment, it travels through the Simcoe Lowlands, which is the area from 6 th Street to the Silver Creek Wetland at Highway 26. The velocity slows, forming meanders. These meanders provide excellent habitat for fish and benthic invertebrates as they create riffle and pool sequences. The canopy cover throughout this last section of Silver Creek is still fairly good considering the proximity of houses. Throughout this stretch of the creek there are different land uses, rural residential, farming and vacant land owned by developers. Silver Creek enters into the Silver Creek Provincially Significant Wetland and then discharges into Nottawasaga Bay.

Project manager Rebecca Ferguson, left, with two of the landlords who own properties along the Silver Creek where we helped plant trees and shrubs. Barb Stransky in the middle, Maria Lamon, right.

Participation from landowners and residents in the Silver Creek Watershed including homeowners, developers, farmers, businesses and municipalities, has been vital to the success of this Initiative. Getting landowners to participate was challenging due to the seasonality of this area, with 55% having permanent addresses in the GTA and 19% of land being owned by developers or numbered companies. Regardless, we had a 42% success rate, connecting with 44 out of 104 landowners along Silver Creek. Some landowners own multiple parcels of land. In total, we assessed 49 of 128 properties, which is 38% of properties along the Creek.

Properties in the Town of Blue Mountains fall under the regulations of the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP), which therefore limits landowners in what they can do on their property. After seeing many of these Escarpment properties, the only applicable restoration projects would be removing severe logjams to assist with fish migration and flow.

Once Silver Creek reaches the Simcoe Lowlands, the NEP does not have jurisdiction over land use. Here, the houses that front Silver Creek are in close proximity to the Creek and there are no restrictions on property activities. A common issue is the lack of riparian buffers as a result of landowners cutting their lawns right up to creek edge. Riparian buffers are essential for a healthy aquatic system, as they filter runoff from the surrounding landscape, soak up excess water during spring freshet, stabilize banks and provide food and habitat for wildlife. Given the age of these houses, another concern is the lifespan of their septic systems and the potential for leachate to contaminate Silver Creek.

Additional topics of discussion with landowners were invasive species, applying fertilizers and use of surface water for irrigation systems.

Communicating our initiative

Over this year there have been many opportunities to promote the Initiative and to create awareness of Watershed Trust. Communication with Silver Creek landowners was completed through letters, brochures and canvassing. Information on the project and creating awareness of our large community event, See the Salmon Run, was accomplished through social media, articles in the Enterprise Bulletin Summer and Fall Guides and in Escarpment magazine, as well as advertising on Peak FM. Additionally, we were fortunate to have our own episode on Generation Green, a show on Rogers TV Barrie; to be interviewed on Rogers Daytime; and to be featured on CTV News with Roger Klein.

Planting in the Silver Creek Watershed

One of the objectives of the Initiative was to plant trees along Silver Creek to increase canopy cover and enhance habitat. During the first week of October, 29 science students from Collingwood Collegiate Institute planted 353 trees, shrubs and flowers. In total, we planted on 12 properties from Osler Bluff Road to Mountain Road. We seeded one property on 12th Sideroad with wildflowers, which will create a pollinator habitat and assist with spring runoff.

Future Steps

The goal of a pilot project is to test out an idea, gain results and then make improvements for future projects. We set ambitious goals for a year-long project and came close to meeting them.

Now that the Silver Creek Stewardship Initiative is almost complete, ongoing monitoring of water quality data and fish populations is needed. We need a continued effort to maintain positive relationships with landowners along the Creek and to expand our reach to other creeks in the Blue Mountain Watershed. With strong landowner involvement for each creek and river Project Manager Rebecca Ferguson plants trees with CCI’s grade 11 science class in the area, we can complete more stewardship projects and gain more knowledge of the watershed.

The Town of Collingwood is implementing a Natural Heritage Plan, which will create larger setbacks from waterways and protect significant features. Looking forward we need more collaboration between municipal planners, developers and local environmental groups to include Low Impact Development (LID) in their designs and to designate land as protected green space.

Reaching out to landowners to promote Watershed Trust and offer resources is an excellent way to gain trust and support from the community. After delivering this Initiative I have learned that people are skeptical of environmental groups. I found that the best way to form relationships is to knock on peoples’ doors and introduce yourself, get out into the community and have others introduce you to people they know. I found that some people just don’t know the best option when it comes to the environment and there is a real need for small environmental groups to provide guidance and education. If we all share our knowledge and work together on issues both small and large we can make positive changes to our environment.