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.
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:
- What are the challenges in providing human use of the Carp Barrens?
- How could these challenges be addressed?
- What do you think about the Carp Barrens accommodating both human use and conservation? Why? How?
- What do you think should be the most important goals of a City policy for managing its natural areas? Why?
- 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.
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.
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.
Only three comments were made about the need for funding for signage or for building a parking lot.
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.
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.
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 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.