Fundy National Park of Canada
Steering a Green Course
The staff at Fundy National Park is busy with a number of projects that take Parks Canada's mandate of ecological integrity literally. It's work that leaves most visitors seeing green.
The purpose of these projects is to restore parts of the park to a more natural state, an aim that is an increasing priority in parks. “The ecological integrity mandate represents an evolution in Parks Canada's thinking,” explains Renee Wissink, park ecologist. “Our national parks were originally referred to as ‘islands of civilization in a sea of wilderness,' a reflection of the purely recreational intentions for the use of the land. Increasingly, Canadians recognize that these areas represent some of the last vestiges of unimpaired natural habitat in the country, and Parks Canada has set a course towards either keeping them that way or returning them to that condition,” Wissink says. “Today, the parks are more like islands of wilderness in a sea of civilization.” Some of the changes that are part of this turnaround are dramatic, while others are more subtle.
McLaren Pond sits at the base of “the bowl,” a large, cupped lawn in front of the visitor information centre. “You'll notice that there's a wide zone around the pond where the grass isn't mowed,” says Wissink. “This area is known as the riparian zone. It's home to many animals whose habitat spans aquatic and terrestrial environments. Keeping the grass long provides protection as well as a source of food for animals that would not survive here if it were mowed.” On cue, a frog croaks from somewhere among the rushes that skirt one side of the pond. “In their natural state, ponds are usually ecologically diverse and teeming with life,” Wissink points out. “Leaving a 10- or 15-foot strip around the pond may not seem like a big deal, but it has significant biological benefits.” This is a small project. Others in the park are larger.
In contrast with the natural splendour of McLaren Pond - and most other parts of Fundy National Park - is a lovely nine-hole golf course, a manicured reminder of an era when intensively reshaping a park's landscape for human purposes seemed more acceptable than it does today. While it is commonly believed that golf courses are anything but natural, nowadays, this particular course is greener than most. “Over the past several years, to improve ecological integrity, we've changed a number of things we do around the course” says Rod Lutes, golf course grounds and trails supervisor for Fundy. “We stopped raking and removing debris along the edge of the course, and that promotes a more natural wildlife habitat. We also reduced our use of pesticide, and in fact none has been used for the last number of years.” Lutes says the greens at Fundy are top-dressed with a compost and sand mixture instead of pure sand, a move he believes reduces the need for pesticides. “The natural microbial action of the compost helps keep the greens disease-free,” says Lutes, who draws on his training as a horticulturalist to come up with innovative ideas for greening Fundy's golf course.
Halfway up the bowl, Renee Wissink turns to take in all of McLaren Pond. “This pond has reeds and dragonflies,” he muses. “It has algae, mosquitoes and frogs, and the bottom is a slurry of rich mud bursting with invertebrate life. If we can keep it that way and help people understand why it must stay that way, then I'd say we're making real progress on this new, green course we're steering here at Fundy National Park.”