As the caretaker of some of the most beautiful, unspoiled, yet in some cases threatened, natural wonders in Canada, Ontario Parks has taken an innovative approach towards achieving greater environmental sustainability and enhancing visitor experiences.
By partnering with private industry (companies such as Swish Maintenance, a manufacturer and distributor of sanitation and maintenance supplies, and outfitter Mountain Equipment Co-op, for example), Ontario Parks has been able to leverage the combined brainpower and resources of both entities and achieve some pretty cool results.
Voyageur Provincial Park
This year, Swish, based out of Whitby, Ont., chose to help Voyageur Provincial Park continue to eradicate a highly disruptive invasive species known as the European water chestnut. The company has donated money to hire staff and buy equipment.
For the past 15 years, Swish has supported Ontario Parks for various conservation projects including Blanding Turtles at Algonquin, Rattlesnakes at Killbear and bird studies at Pinery to name a few. The Voyageur eradication is their 2014 project.
“Helping Ontario Parks fulfill its mission helps us fulfill ours as well,” says Tracey Caville, an account manager with Swish. “Environmental sustainability is a fundamental pillar of our company and one that is very important to us. We take our commitment to the environment very seriously and feel as a company we must support the protection of our ecosystems and keep our natural resources safe and pollutant-free wherever we can.
“I have personally visited many of the parks we support and seen the projects underway. It is absolute joy to meet with staff in such a beautiful, calm environment.”
What is a water chestnut?
Anyone who has paddled the Ottawa River near Voyageur has probably seen the dense blanket of water chestnut leaves that covers the surface of the water in some of the bays. Although the plants may look pretty and inviting, similar to lily pads, they are invasive aggressors that make paddling or swimming through their tangled underwater web a challenge, to say the least.
Voyageur is the only provincial park in Ontario with water chestnut plants. The warm, shallow bays, are a very hospitable environment for the water chestnut, says Superintendent Darryl White.
“The water chestnut was first discovered here in 2005 and has become a concern because of its prolific growth. When the seeds from this annual plant germinate, they send up a stem that forms a rosette of leaves when it hits the water surface. These rosettes float on the water and eventually form a thick, dense mat of leaves. The seeds that are produced can remain viable on the substrate of the river for up to 10 years.”
The Rasputin of aquatic plants
The water chestnut is truly invasive because it never gives up. Even when the tops are cut, the roots of the stems (which measure up to five metres long) remain and try to shoot up more rosettes of flowers. The cycle continues as older seeds continue to mature and create new flowers, starting the process all over again.
Every summer since 2008, Voyageur staff use cutter and collector boats, plus canoes, for pulling, cutting and collecting these aquatic space invaders in an attempt to quash the annual invasion. Other techniques currently being used are hand-pulling, raking, and cutting and collecting. On your next visit to Voyageur, watch out for staff using chest waders, canoes, rakes, weed-whippers, and four specially modified boats. In addition, a floating barrier is installed around the main infestations to prevent cut plants from starting new populations elsewhere. These mechanical techniques have proven to be effective in reducing the seed bank by 95% after five years of control.
How problematic are they?
- Water chestnuts choke out native plants in the area
- Reduce oxygen levels in the water and alter the nutrient cycle for fish and other organisms that depend on the water for life
- Provide few nutrients to wildlife, thereby putting them at risk
- Severely reduce recreation opportunities for boaters, anglers, swimmers and nature enthusiasts
- Produce hard, sharp seeds that are a safety hazard on beaches and shorelines
White says with the help of the resources provided by Swish, progress is being made to eradicate the water chestnut.
“The reason we are so appreciative is that the bays we have at Voyageur would be completely choked with water chestnut plants without the staff and equipment who work to control it. We would gradually start to lose a lot of our native species that are found there and it would also be almost impossible for people to manoeuvre a boat through.
“Our biggest fear is that if we don’t contain the problem at Voyageur, the seeds could get picked up and transported elsewhere and cause infestations in other parts of Ontario. So our partnership with Swish is extremely important to the successful eradication of the water chestnut and we are extremely grateful. We’re making real progress.”
Want to get involved?
Ontario Parks invites corporations to get involved with supporting environmental initiatives in Ontario Parks and their surrounding communities. Corporate social responsibility is about giving back to the community for the benefit of all and there are many ways corporations can help.
If you would like more information on how you can support Ontario Parks environmental initiatives as a corporate sponsor E-mail us at: email@example.com