SNC provides breath of fresh air

Around the Nation

A column by Tom Van Dusen

While we’re handing out kudos to everyone from first responders to grocery store clerks and truckers for helping us through the pandemic, let’s not forget to thank certain environmental protection agencies for a job well done.

I’m thinking particularly of South Nation Conservation based at Finch which oversees a 4,440 square-km territory in our neck of the woods! SNC went above and beyond the call in providing us outdoor places to hide at least briefly from the pandemic.

With a board made up of directors representing 16 Eastern Ontario municipalities, SNC is one of 36 similar bodies across the province, their main duties being to manage flooding and drought, preserve and restore fisheries, forests and habitat, reduce pollution in their respective watersheds, and educate their constituencies on the beneficial merits of those duties.

Before I go on, I must issue this disclaimer: I’ve been involved with SNC for at least 25 years, as a past director representing Russell Township and long-time member of the communications committee. I’m an official “Friend of South Nation” with the plaque to prove it, and I’m a Tri-Valley Conservation Award winner with the ceremonial paddle to prove it! So, yes, I do have a bias.

But I contend it’s a good bias. I support natural protection and enhancement, reforestation, shoreline restoration, programs to teach kids at a young age to be aware of their outdoor surroundings… is that so wrong! And my bias doesn’t matter because the facts speak for themselves.

SNC deserves praise for permitting continued access to several of its conservation areas scattered across the region when overkilling authorities citing conflicting COVID-19 rules were ordering such refuges closed. This was at a time when locked down citizens needed to suck in some fresh air and hug a tree more than ever. Nobody has scientifically proven you can catch COVID in the woods.

The province barred its parks; locally, the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville closed the gate at 14,300-acre Limerick Forest where one would think social distancing is like a walk in the park; to its credit, the Municipality of North Grenville kept the trails at 1,100-acre Ferguson Forest Centre accessible; but 27,000-acre Larose Forest with even more room to distance and operated by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell shut down.

I know people who snuck into Limerick and Larose the back way. But that isn’t the point! These pristine places should have remained open to the people who pay for them at a time of crisis, when being cooped up under COVID was possibly more debilitating to body and soul than the virus itself.

After thoughtful discussions, careful planning, adopting the premise that park users will behave responsibly, and posting COVID regulations at each entrance, SNC kept its smaller, cozy preserves open to all. I personally benefitted from access to the Tweed and Burton conservation areas in Russell, and Two Creeks east of Iroquois where I literally hugged several trees.

Other SNC parks have remained open for passive recreation throughout the pandemic including at Ormond, Glen Stewart, Berwick, Crysler, and Limoges, and all other specific use recreation areas operated by SNC reopened May 19. Amazingly, in the middle of the crisis, the agency announced creation of a new conservation area in Augusta Township on nine acres along the South Nation River.

So thanks for the memories SNC! When I think back on the pandemic, the images won’t just be about masks, plastic gloves, sanitizer and the toilet paper shortage. The images will also be about taking leisurely, restorative walks in the woods, reassuring myself I might survive another day.

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