Thursday, October 26, 2006

defending a fen

Johnson Geo Park, submitted to St.John's City Council

Small wild spaces in the city are rare. For that alone, they should be heralded, celebrated, defended. Some are so beautiful, one can't imagine anything ever happening to them.

There's a wetland, a fen, on Signal Hill, of significant size that lies in a valley between the Johnson Geo Centre and Signal Hill National Park. Few who have walked or driven up Signal Hill could fail to be moved upon seeing the fall flash of colours, or notice the sweet mélange of bird song drift up from this valley. It is, miraculously, a place as yet untouched by Tim Horton coffee cups, or rocks marked ‘Dave loves Deb.’

Now, backhoes, stakes, and metre-plus deep crushed rock and gravel are scarring this urban wildspace. Undoubtedly, these other emblems of ‘civilization’ will soon follow.

The sad thing is, this is being done in the name of conserving and enjoying our natural environment. It is being done by a group that has done so much for the City of St. John's: The Johnson Family Foundation and the Grand Concourse Authority. They have brought us about 100km of urban trails, a system that is heavily used and appreciated by residents and visitors.

But there are and should be places that simply do not require, nor should be developed for, a trail system. This extraordinary wetland is one of them. It is a habitat that should never be opened up. Nor is there any need for it. Both the beautiful valley, and its inhabitants, including a variety of water fowl, can be viewed from both Signal Hill Road and the old Burma Road.

This wetland road-grade 'trail' is but one faulty part of a scheme called the Johnson Geo Park that includes miles of wide gravel 'trails,' signage, stoneworks, building facades, lighting, contoured meadows, manmade ponds and water fountains.

I believe that the intent of this Park is for the public good, but I suggest that the advice provided to the JFF is quite poor. Take a piece of urban wilderness, with its outcrops and dense shrubbery, a warren-like age-old maze of tiny paths worn by curious children and others over time and turn it into a hard-surfaced, lit, man-made park. One is left questioning the thought-processes of the architect.

Our own City council and staff might have picked up on the problems - only they no longer have an environmental advisory committee - that's been defunct for the past three or more years.

You know, I love the trails around our City but, well, too much of a good thing, like too much medicine, can be a poison. I think we've found the dosage.


Bob said...

I've been aware since your first post in this stupidity, just swamped with work and then a trip to the US to help my folks. This pillaging of Signal Hill makes me sick. I will write a letter. I do not live in St Johns or pay taxes there anymore (Outer Cove now) but I will write to St Johns City Council and perhaps an MP. We I have a 10ft X 10ft bog on our property and we would go ballistic if someone so much as disturbed it.

squidink said...

I hope more people will follow your example and consider expressing their opinion and concern to St. John's City Council. They need to hear that people are dismayed, if not shocked, but such developments. I have a nagging feeling that no councillors or staff have actually seen the site to review the potential damage.

Scott Walden said...

You're absolutely right about this. I've admired that fen since I first noticed it back in the summer of 2000. One of the very special things about the walk around the North Head Trail and the Burma Road is the wide variety of natural landscapes you encounter in the space of a couple of hours. I can't think of any other sizable Canadian city in which this is the case. I must say, I'm surprised that the JFF has gone ahead with these plans--they've shown excellent sensibilities and (very good taste) in the past. I'm sanguine that with a quarter turn of the mind (nudged along by you) they will see the fen differently, and stop the depredations. Please keep us posted!

squidink said...

Scott, thanks for your comments. You might want to also email the JFF and/or Grand Concourse - I'm certain they're under the assumption that this is what people want.
Email them at: or