Fowler Construction has donated 166 acres of land to Muskoka Conservancy, allowing the conservancy to take on its 47th property now known as the Sage Creek Nature Reserve.
Muskoka Conservancy works to maintain and protect over 3,218 acres of land and over 51,000 feet of sensitive shoreline. Their new nature reserve is located in the Macaulay ward of Bracebridge where Sage Creek flows into the north branch of the Muskoka River. The donation has been a long and involved process, as is often the case with land acquisitions, requiring a variety of assessments, surveys and zoning considerations. Fowler first approached the conservancy about the land back in 2010 and James Gordon, materials manager at Fowler Construction, has been involved in the donation from the beginning.
“It was apparent to us just visually looking at it not only how beautiful the land was with the walking trails and falls [but also] we thought it was something environmentally special,” Gordon said. “Obviously the conservancy agreed with us.”
Though Gordon said it was a pleasure to work with the conservancy, the team at Fowler is happy to finish the project and make the protection of the land official.
“It’s the right decision for this parcel of land to be in the stewardship of an organization that can protect it in perpetuity,” Gordon said. “It’s a great thing. We’re pretty proud of it.”
Larry Wilson, president of Fowler Construction, said it was important to the company to preserve such a beautiful and unique piece of property. As a business with 70 years of history in Muskoka, they’re honoured to make the donation in support of the environment and the community.
“It’s a feel-good thing for the company and it’s a feel-good thing for our employees too,” Wilson said. “Everyone that works here is pretty much part of the local community, so I think it makes them proud as community members that they can be working for a company that’s doing this for the community.”
Part of what makes the new reserve special is it contains a portion of the Sage Creek subaquatic fan, which was designated a recommended heritage site in 1994.
“This one was designated because it’s a good example, or an undisturbed representation, of subaquatic fans,” said Aaron Rusak, land stewardship coordinator at Muskoka Conservancy. “Many of the other subaquatic fans in the district have been disturbed because they are a primary source of aggregate within the district, so this was one of the few good examples.”
The subaquatic fan is a fan-shaped deposit along the east bank of the river, likely formed by falling Huron basin water levels. It’s made up of sand and gravel and the area offers potential habitat for brook trout.
“It’s such a unique piece of Muskoka,” Rusak said. “Having an undisturbed site like this is so unique. This was identified as pretty much the only one, so being able to protect that is pretty significant.”
The property is also a possible breeding ground for regionally rare dragonfly species, he said, and the forested areas could be home to bird species at risk such as the Canada warbler or the eastern wood-pewee. The conservancy is hoping to offer some public access at the reserve, but it depends on what they find during their initial monitoring.
“We can’t really make any good management decisions without having a really good sense of what we’re managing,” Rusak said. “For example, if there’s a species of bird that breeds in June, we obviously don’t want to have a large amount of disturbance at the nature reserve in June. The absolute first steps will be figuring out exactly what’s there and making some management decisions to best protect those species.”
Though Rusak will be taking the lead on the assessment, two conservancy volunteers played key roles in acquiring the land. Longtime volunteer Bill Dickinson died in July this year, but before his passing, he was the lead naturalist on the conservancy’s Technical Advisory Group, which assessed Sage Creek for its conservation value. He worked alongside Allyn Abbott, who’s been a passionate supporter of the Sage Creek project for years.
“Bill played a pivotal role in bringing in key experts in fields of biology, ecology, botany, geology and more, to ensure that Muskoka Conservancy’s limited resources are focussed on protecting the highest value natural areas possible,” said Muskoka Conservancy Executive Director Scott Young. “Allyn Abbott has been the president of both the Muskoka Heritage Trust and Muskoka Conservancy, and has been a long time champion of land acquisition as a means of protecting nature in Muskoka.”
Along with recognizing Dickinson and Abbott, Young wants to thank Fowler for giving the conservancy the land and allowing it to be protected forever. Since he became involved in the project in 2015, Young said there’s been a keen mutual interest in protecting Sage Creek and its unique ecological features.
“Fowler Construction is a large company that is focussed on heavy industry, often transforming landscapes,” Young said. “They did not have to gift this land to a nature conservancy, but Fowler should be acknowledged for looking up from its development work long enough to recognize that nature is important—that nature is what makes Muskoka special.”
For more information on Muskoka Conservancy, visit their website.