staff and volunteers plant a tree

Trees for tomorrow at Sandbanks

Nothing says Canada like a maple leaf. That’s why Sandbanks Provincial Park planted 150 Sugar Maples this spring.

And those maples are part of a bigger plan. Over the past ten years, this Picton-area park has planted a whopping 100,000 trees! This year alone, Sandbanks “grew” by 36,000 trees.

Why so many trees?

When Sandbanks opened in 1962, it was half the size it is today. Four kilometres away was Outlet, another small provincial park. Ontario Parks knitted the two parks together by buying up the 150 hectares of agricultural land that separated them, farm by farm.

historical aerial photo of park
Photo: Friends of Sandbanks Provincial Park

Until the first settlers cleared it, that farmland was woodland. Slowly but surely, Sandbanks is restoring the trees.

A different crop

It should be easy to reforest farmland, right? Wrong.

Park Superintendent Robin Reilly explains: “Unlike most parks, which start out pristine and try to keep it that way, we were starting out with agricultural land. Land that’s been farmed for 150 years tends to be pretty poor quality. It’s hot and it’s dry.”

Enter Forests Ontario. Its 50 Million Tree program helps landowners with large-scale tree-planting.

The Friends of Sandbanks provided the funds and Forests Ontario provided the seedlings and machinery.

Little trees all in a row

“These are typically six-inch conifers, able to survive dry conditions. They’re mostly pine, spruce, cedar.

tree seedlings in blue bin

“The trees are mechanically planted by a machine that unzips the ground. Someone sits in the back and drops the seedling in, then the machine zips it up again. Forests Ontario can plant 10,000 trees a day like that.”

mechanical tree-planter
Photo: Friends of Sandbanks Provincial Park

There’s just one drawback. It doesn’t look very natural. The seedlings are all the same species and the same age, and they’re all planted in straight rows.

Ground-breaking work

These tiny trees play an important role. As they grow, they shade the soil, keeping it cool and moist. This keeps down the grass and allows the surrounding trees to seed in between the rows. As time goes on, naturally seeded trees break up the straight lines.

“To speed that up a little bit, we hand-plant one or two thousand larger trees and shrubs each year. We choose a wide variety of species, such as hickory, dogwood, elderberry, maple and birch, to encourage ecological diversity, and we space them irregularly, like Mother Nature.”

“Great oaks from little acorns grow”

“We’re always looking for reasons to plant trees,” says Robin. “Two years ago, we tried something new.’

Staff and volunteers gathered up 3,000 acorns and asked a Kemptville nursery to look after them.

After all, Red Oak is a quality hardwood that grows well in the Prince Edward County park. Why let all the acorns on their trees go to waste?

The homegrown solution paid big dividends. Sandbanks put an extra 2,800 Red Oak seedlings in the ground this spring.

Canada 150 planting

staff member planting a tree

Most of these plantings are designed to blend into the landscape. But the Friends of Sandbanks wanted the Canada 150 project to stand out. The park came up with an idea that would create a lasting landmark, and lasting memories as well.

The park chose a section of the Woodlands Trail, close to the brand-new West Lake Campground. Then the Friends of Sandbanks purchased 150 Sugar Maples, assisted by funding from the TD Bank Friends of the Environment program and the County Community Foundation.

On May 9, 2017, 35 students from Prince Edward Collegiate Institute and local volunteers joined the staff and Friends on the trail. The day began with a tutorial on the hows and whys of planting trees. Then the students headed out with their shovels to put what they learned into practice.

Living landmarks

group tree planting along a trail

The winding trail is now lined with sugar maples, planted 20 metres apart. It begins and ends with a circle of trees.

In 50 years, when Canada celebrates its bicentennial, a promenade of maples will canopy the trail. The two circles will have grown into shady outdoor classrooms, with seating and interpretive signs. And every autumn, the leaves will blaze as red as the Canadian flag.

Want to help?

group shot of tree-planters and Friends of Sandbanks

The park plans to add another 30,000 trees next year. If you “dig” tree-planting, leave your name and number with The Friends of Sandbanks. They’ll contact you when they break out the shovels.