Carp Barrens Trail Study – Phase 1 Report

Consulting ecologist Holly Bickerton carried out Phase 1 of the Carp Barrens Trail Study in May and June, and is just wrapping up her report.  Her focus was on determining the extent of the trail network, physical impacts, and the presence of early breeding birds

Holly had volunteer help from FCH, from bryologist Cassandra Robillard (Canadian Museum of Nature), and from the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club Bird Committee.  Experienced birders Bob Cermak (Committee Chair) and Bernie Ladouceur surveyed for night calling birds between 3:30am and 5:30am on one day and in late evening on another.  Thank you!

Early results confirm that the Carp Barrens provide critical habitat for Species at Risk:

  • Significant numbers of Eastern Whip-poor-will (Threatened) and Common Nighthawk (Special Concern) were observed.  A Nighthawk nest was found near a trail.  Both birds are ground nesters and easily disturbed by human traffic.
  • Blanding’s turtles (Threatened) and Snapping turtles (Special Concern) were found on both north and south sides.  The area is likely used by Blanding’s turtles for nests, which we will look for in Phase 2.  Turtles were easily disturbed during many observations, even from a distance.  Repeated disturbance of turtle basking by human traffic disrupts thermoregulation and increases energy expenditure.
  • Eastern Wood Peewees (Special Concern) were heard on multiple occasions.

A number of regionally rare plants were also confirmed as was the presence of non-native species along the trails.

Holly’s costs were covered by donations from individuals (over $1500 received), a donation from the Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club, and by a research grant from OFNC.  Phases 2 and 3 will be covered by a City of Ottawa grant and by the OFNC grant (see article below).

Background information about the study and its purpose are available at:  Carp Barrens Trail Study.

Carp Barrens Trail Study

Update on July 2019:

WE REACHED OUR FUNDRAISING GOAL!

We’ve received over $1500 from individual donors.  Your donations allowed us to start the research in May and June, a critical time for turtle and ground nesting bird observations. Thank you!

The Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club has awarded us a research grant to help with study expenses.

We received a generous donation from the Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club.

We received a Rural Community-Building Grant from the City of Ottawa, which will cover the remaining costs.


The City of Ottawa owns approximately 1,000 acres on the north and south sides of Thomas A. Dolan Parkway called the Carp Barrens. The area consists of Canadian Shield covered by delicate lichen and moss mats, forests on thin, easily eroded soils, and provincially significant wetlands. It provides habitat for numerous species at risk, and is a candidate for the designation of Provincially Significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (Life Science).

In the last three years, public use of the Carp Barrens for hiking, hunting, mountain biking, dirt biking, birding, field naturalist outings, orienteering, snowshoeing, and skiing has increased substantially.  Users have created and marked new trails without authorization by the City. The sensitive vegetation and wildlife of the area have experienced damage and disturbance. Parking on the narrow shoulder of Thomas A. Dolan Parkway creates a safety hazard.

The Friends of the Carp Hills (FCH) have an agreement with the City of Ottawa to maintain low-impact recreation trails for public use in the Carp Hills.  In this capacity, the FCH hosted a meeting in June 2018 to solicit feedback about human use of the Carp Barrens.  Councillor Eli El-Chantiry and Senior Planner Nick Stow from the City’s Resiliency and Natural Systems Planning Unit attended.  At the meeting, Dr. Stow stated that the area could not sustain the same level of use as the South March Highlands due to the thin soils and lichen-covered rock terrain.

As a result of the public meeting and of the feedback that the FCH received about the Carp Barrens, the City of Ottawa instituted Interim Conservation Measures to protect the land that it owns in this ecologically sensitive area.  On 13 September 2018 the City sent a letter outlining these measures to organizations connected to or known to use the Carp Barrens.

The letter recognizes the agreement that the FCH has with the City to assist with stewardship of city properties in the Carp Hills.  

The Human Impact Assessment

Another outcome of the public meeting was the need to conduct an environmental impact assessment with a focus on the areas around the unauthorized trails. FCH has agreed on the terms of reference with the City and will contract Holly Bickerton, a professional ecologist, to carry out the assessment.

The study’s purpose is to provide information about the impact of unauthorized trails constructed for mountain bike use and also used by hikers: should they be closed, moved, made official, limited to seasonal use, etc.  A report will identify any trail locations that pose a risk to the ecology of the area, describe the risk or issue, and recommend how it can be mitigated to protect species; e.g. close the trail, modify the trail, move part of the trail, allow seasonal use, etc.  This information will be provided to the City of Ottawa for consideration.

The focus of the assessment will be the land around the trails with respect to nesting birds (particularly ground nesters like whip-poor-will and common nighthawk), turtles (basking and nesting areas), rare plants, and any other habitat issues.

The assessment will address the following:

  1. Cover three seasons – spring, summer, and fall – in 2019.
  2. Map the trail network.
  3. Document significant, rare, and uncommon plants in the vicinity of the trail. Provide an assessment of the impact of human use on these plants.  Identify Species at Risk (SAR). A complete flora inventory is not required.
  4. Document wildlife in the vicinity the trail and how the wildlife uses the habitat. Provide an assessment of the impact of human use on the wildlife.  Identify SAR.
  5. Document evidence of habitat disruption and describe its impact; e.g. movement of rocks, berms built in wetlands, erosion, off-trail use, invasive species introduction, etc.
  6. Identify trail locations that pose a risk to the ecology of the area and describe the risk. Provide a recommendation on how this damage can be mitigated to protect species; e.g. close the trail, modify the trail, move part of the trail, allow seasonal use, etc.
  7. Provide three reports, one at the end of each season.
We need to raise $6000 to pay for the study.  We are raising the funds in three ways:
  1. donations from organizations,
  2. grant applications, and
  3. donations from individuals like you.

Carp Barrens: Interim Conservation Measures

As a result of the public meeting we held and the feedback we received about the Carp Barrens, the City of Ottawa has instituted Interim Conservation Measures to protect the land that it owns in this ecologically sensitive area.  On 13 September the City sent a letter outlining these measures to organizations connected to or known to use the Carp Barrens.

City of Ottawa Interim Conservation Letter (PDF)

The letter recognizes the agreement we have with the City to assist with stewardship of city properties in the Carp Hills.  Our next step is to conduct an ecological assessment with a focus on the areas around the unauthorized trails.  We will provide updates as this proceeds.


Trail cutting through orchids.

Carp Barrens Feedback and Survey Results

In June we asked people for feedback about human use of the Carp Barrens and we held a public meeting where we facilitated discussions about a set of questions related to conservation and human use.  Councillor Eli El-Chantiry and Senior Planner Nick Stow from the City’s Resiliency and Natural Systems Planning Unitattended.  At the start of the meeting, the FCH and Nick Stow presented information about the area’s ecological significance and the effect of increasing human use on the sensitive landscape and wildlife.  Dr. Stow stated that the area could not sustain the same level of use as the South March Highlands due to the thin soils and lichen-covered rock terrain.  We also asked meeting attendees to fill in a survey.  We divided people into six groups around separate tables. FCH facilitators walked each group through a set of questions.  We recorded the discussion and comments.

We had 75 people attend the meeting, which does not include ten people from the FCH or the City.  Fifty-two people filled in the survey.  On our sign-in sheet, 41% of attendees self-identified as mountain bikers by designating themselves as being from OMBA or MV Trails, but we had more than that attend our meeting who mountain bike according to the survey; i.e. 22 people who self-identified with a mountain bike organization filed in the survey, but 28 people indicated they bike on the Barrens.

Nineteen survey respondents provided additional comments on the back of the survey.  Twelve people who could not attend the meeting sent us comments via Facebook or email.

We have provided all of the survey information, feedback, and notes from the public meeting table sessions to Councillor El-Chantiry and Nick Stow.  City staff will consider feedback from this meeting in a review of its management practices for sensitive habitats.  We thank everyone for taking the time to attend the meeting, write us emails, and fill-in the survey.

Survey Results

Most of the survey questions were not multiple choice, so respondents could provide any information they wished in response.  Some only answered a few questions and left others blank.

Most survey respondents go to the Barrens for hiking (31) and biking (29).  Other uses include snowshoeing/skiing (13), birding (4), and other nature appreciation (6).

Eight people said that parking on Thomas Dolan Parkway is dangerous, but 37 said they had no problems there.

 

We asked people how important it is to protect the animal and plant life (multiple choice).  71% said it was very important, 27% somewhat important, and 2% provided no answer.

 

 

49% think the Barrens should be more accessible for recreation, 33% said noit should not, and 14% said maybe with the remaining providing no answer.

We asked what activities should and should not be permitted.  Respondents could list as many as they wished.  Respondents only supported human-powered activities:  hiking (45), winter pedestrian sports (42), biking (36), and nature appreciation (5).  Motorized vehicles (40), hunting (10), biking (5), and horses (4) were the top activities that should not be permitted.

Public Meeting Table Comments

We asked each table to discuss the following questions:

  1. What are the challenges in providing human use of the Carp Barrens? 
  2. How could these challenges be addressed? 
  3. What do you think about the Carp Barrens accommodating both human use and conservation? Why? How?
  4. What do you think should be the most important goals of a City policy for managing its natural areas? Why?
  5. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss about the Carp Barrens?

Following the meeting, we divided the comments into 9 categories and provide a summary below.

City and Planning

The common themes were that the area should be protected from development and population pressures, the City should have different policies for different areas, the City should look at what has worked elsewhere for mixed use, and it should look at the big picture for the Carp Hills, not just the Barrens.

Conservation

All tables recognized that the Barrens are ecologically sensitive and should be protected.  Protection suggestions ranged from closing it entirely to setting aside zones for recreation and for conservation.  Some suggested that bike use should be taken off the Barrens and moved to another designated area in the Carp Hills.

Education and Communication

Many users did not know that their activities could disrupt wildlife and that moving rocks destroyed habitat.  There was a strong consensus for better communication about the ecological sensitivity of the Barrens and for signage; e.g. “stay on the trail”.  One innovative suggestion was to require users to buy a pass for each season, which could only be obtained after attending an education session.  

Environmental Assessment

There was also strong consensus on the need for an environmental assessment to determine the location of sensitive areas.  The existing trails were made without conservation consultation or regard to habitat, and may need to be moved or closed.

Funding

Only three comments were made about the need for funding for signage or for building a parking lot.

Parking

There was no consensus on parking.  Comments included building a parking lot that would limit the number of users at any one time, widening the shoulder, reducing the speed limit, and leave it as is.

Signage

There was a broad range of comments on signs:  no signs because they ruin the wilderness experience, signs only at TD Parkway, signs explaining the sensitivity of the area, interpretive signs, private property signs at boundaries, “no-go” zones signs, and signs warning hunters about trail users and vice versa.

Trail

Most of the comments were about the need for trail maintenance by a recognized group and making boardwalks to replace the berms constructed in the wetlands.

Use Management

Use Management had by the far the most comments, many related to the concern about attracting more users to the site.  Comment themes were:  prohibiting use at certain times of the year (e.g. breeding season), allowing only winter use, closing trails, keeping people on the trails, restricting the number of users at any one time, having separate trails for hikers and bikers, formally monitoring and managing to prevent over-use and new trail creation, establishing trail use rules, and prohibiting motorized vehicles.  Bikers commented that the area is popular in the spring, because it dries up quickly when the South March Highlands are still wet, and it offers easy to medium level difficulty in unique terrain.

Summary of Feedback – Our Interpretation

The vast majority of people who provided comments and came to the meeting want to protect the plant and animal life of the Carp Barrens.  There is also strong support for human-powered activities on the Barrens.  These two views may be at odds:  conservationists believe the area is too fragile to allow significant human use while others advocate that staying on a trail protects the ecology.  There is a fear that formalizing a trail system will attract even more people and make the problems worse.

There is also a divide between those who want to experience peaceful appreciation of nature without the distraction of bikes and those who believe that both pedestrians and bikes can co-exist peacefully and respectfully.  South March Highlands was cited as both a negative example by the former group (“I don’t go there any more to enjoy nature because of the bikes”) and a positive example by the latter group of successful shared trail use.

There is a need to conduct an environmental assessment for particularly sensitive habitat; e.g. bird nesting areas (particularly ground nesters), turtle nesting areas, turtle basking areas, and locations of rare and sensitive plants (e.g. orchids, lichens, etc).  It should focus on the areas around the current trails.  We are in discussion with the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club about helping with this assessment.  Information would be provided to the City.

Education of all user groups is essential.  Self-policing is the most effective way to regulate rogue use and prevent new trail creation.

We need to work with the City to erect some signs near trail entrances on Thomas Dolan Parkway that are inconspicuous from the road, but clearly visible to people entering the area.

Looking forward a hundred years from now, everyone wants this beautiful area to remain natural and as unaffected by human use as possible.

Carp Barrens Public Meeting

The Friends of the Carp Hills (FCH) invites you to a public meeting at the Huntley Community Centre Mess Hall at 2240 Craig Side Road, on 11 June at 7 p.m. to share your views on the conservation and use of the Carp Barrens on land owned by the City of Ottawa. Councillor El-Chantiry and City staff will be on hand to participate and answer questions.

The FCH has an agreement with the City of Ottawa to maintain low-impact recreation trails for public use in the Carp Hills.  The FCH has offered to host the meeting in this capacity and as a community organization and will publicly post feedback from the meeting on its website.

In the last two years, public use of the Carp Barrens for hiking, hunting, mountain biking, dirt biking, birding, field naturalist outings, orienteering, snowshoeing, and skiing has increased substantially.  Users have created and marked new trails without City authorization. The sensitive vegetation and wildlife of the area have experienced damage and disturbance. Parking on the narrow shoulder of Thomas A. Dolan Parkway creates a safety hazard.

The City’s policies for its natural lands do not distinguish between more and less sensitive habitats in regulating uses. City staff will consider feedback from this meeting in a review of its management practices.

Please come and tell us how you see the future of the Carp Barrens for the preservation of nature and the enjoyment of people.
 
The Carp Barrens
 
The City’s property in the Carp Barrens consists of approximately 1,000 acres on the north and south sides of Thomas A. Dolan Parkway (see map).  The area consists of Canadian Shield covered by delicate lichen and moss mats, forests on thin, easily eroded soils, and provincially significant wetlands.  It provides habitat for numerous species at risk, and is a candidate for the designation of Provincially Significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (Life Science).

For more information see our web page about the Carp Barrens.

The Carp Barrens property owned by the City of Ottawa is shown in purple.
(Note: The subdivision plan shown in the area south of Thomas Dolan Parkway relates to an old proposal that is no longer in effect.)