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article imageHanlon Creek protesters host family fun day Special

By Stephanie Dearing     Aug 1, 2009 in Environment
Guelph, ON - It's 3 pm on day 6 of the occupation by protesters of an environmentally sensitive area that will soon be home to a new business park. I have finally made it to the site for the rally I thought was to take place today.
Instead, I found that the information I had gotten late yesterday was wrong. The protesters were hosting a Family Fun Day. There were quite a few people going in to the encampment, which was also the center of the Fun Day. The Family Fun Day might not have been as well attended as other Guelph events, but under the circumstances (location, illegality of the occupation), the fact that an approximate 50 or so people came out for the event is significant.
As I was walking in to the camp from Downey Road, I stopped a couple with a dog who were leaving. They'd been there for about an hour or so, they said. They had toured the woods and warned me that the mosquitoes were bad. We talked about the protest, and the woman said that she hadn't known the forest was home to such old trees prior to the protest. We talked about turning the property into a real park, not a business park, with camping sites near the roadway and educational tours of the forest.
Family Fun Day at protest site
Visitors and protesters mingle at protest encampment August 1st.
Stephanie Dearing
The festive mood of today was in stark contrast to yesterday's tension. Some of the activists told me that it took them quite some time yesterday to feel calm again after the injunction was served. There were more protesters present today, notable by the chores they were undertaking around the camp. Some protesters keep their faces covered with kerchiefs, and I noted that more protesters continued to arrive throughout the afternoon. I found media liaison, Will. Will told me that the group didn't want to give interviews, as they were still formulating their response to the injunction. Apparently a small body of protesters is off-site, going over the injunction that was served July 31st with legal counsel. Will told me that the group is supposed to be in court this coming Tuesday morning.
Visitors sitting on a wood chip pile
Tammy, Teal and Shawn are sitting on a pile of cedar wood chips left from the shredding of trees on the construction site, which is home to an old growth forest.
Stephanie Dearing
Events the group had planned for the public included tours of the woods, face painting, a drumming circle, tree and plant identification, crafts, games, story telling and a potluck supper, along with an unplanned tree planting. I spoke with the tree planting coordinator, "Amy" (not her real name). She said the planting was partially ceremonial and partially to help protect the cold water creek, stressing that it was important to replant as quickly as possible. She had some dogwood trees and other bushes to plant. "Amy" also said that the group planned to rebuild the silt fence, as it was not properly installed.
Trees to be planted along stream
The trees brought to be planted along the stream by protesters, to help replace the trees cut down by Drexler Construction.
Stephanie Dearing
Amy was standing with a group of people, who were waiting to tour the old growth forest. I read them the press release the City had issued July 31st that states, "There is evidence of damage at the environmentally sensitive site, including large trenches being dug, structures being put up, logs being cut and moved, and debris and waste being left at the site, in addition to the destruction of a silt fence barrier that was put in place to protect the stream bed. The injunction is being sought to secure the construction site, protect against environmental damage and ensure public safety." There were several snorts over the accusations of environmental damage as people looked at the tree trunks and piles of wood chips on the site, as well as the naked portion of creek. "Amy" gave us all a lesson on silt fences, telling us the group planned to rebuild the fences. "Amy" told us that the material was on the wrong side of the fence, for starters, and the material had not been 'entrenched,' she said. Entrenched, she explained, is burying the bottom of the material in the ground to anchor the material and help prevent silt from washing into the creek during a rain event. Once back home, I googled how to build a silt fence and found this document from the U.S.A. that clearly instructs to have the material on the upstream side of the fence. Drexler has the material on the downstream side of the fence, as you can see in the photograph below.
Silt fence
A portion of the silt fence installed by Drexler Construction. You can also see the stumps of cedars that had been cut down by the construction company as they prepared to install a four lane roadway over the creek.
Stephanie Dearing
In terms of the structures erected, those put up by the group are not permanent, unlike the more permanent buildings and roadways that the City is planning to have built on this site over the next few years. Some of the roads will consist of up to six lanes in some areas. "Amy" went on to say that she thought that when a waterway is to be diverted so that construction can take place, it was customary to first construct the trench to house the flow of the redirected waterway, then divert the water, then begin the work where the stream once was. Again, a quick google informs me that "Amy" is correct, as you can see from this document on how to create a temporary stream diversion from New Zealand. There is absolutely no evidence at the site that Drexler was even going to put in a diversion channel, although they had erected the silt fence all around the existing stream bed. I cannot tell from looking whether or not Drexler had cut down the trees before erecting the silt fence. Drexler had also laid two large metal sheets across the creek, which act as a bridge. "Amy" said that approximately 20 large and 100 small cedars were cut down by Drexler along the creek banks.
The creek
The creek as seen from the side where the protesters were camped.
Stephanie Dearing
I went out on the brief tour of the old growth forest. The 500 year old hop hornbeam (also known as an ironwood tree) was pointed out, as well as a huge old black cherry tree and some old beech trees and some young blue beech trees (which are actually known as American Hornbeams). The mosquitoes were thick, but the group was sizeable (about 20) and so the mosquitoes were bearable. The picture below shows the bark of the hop hornbeam, and you'll notice the legs of some of the tourists in the background. One of the other tourists in the group says, "Just imagine how many human lives have come and gone over the hundreds of years that these trees have been here." It is a sobering thought.
Hop Hornbeam
The bark of the hop hornbeam, said to be about 500 years old.
Stephanie Dearing
Our tour guides were careful to have the tourists stay to the pathway. They used the tour to tell us that the forest is very sensitive to changes in the landscape around it, and while the City was not planning to cut down the actual forest, it will be putting in a six lane roadway around the forest. In addition, the Hanlon Highway (Highway 6) will eventually have cloverleaf exit/entrance ramps installed for Laird road, and this would also change the area. The changes of most concern are those that would change how water moves through the landscape. Once pavement covers the soil, water will not flow the same way. This excellent article published in The Scientific American, Gauging Biodiversity by Listening to Forest Sounds explains some of the impacts that human developments, such as cities, have on the wildlife inhabiting forests.
As I was leaving, I asked about facilities. There is an outhouse that the construction company brought, which is close to the creek. Will told me that the group has installed a composting toilet. The group also has set up a small compost in the field behind the camp. As I was walking out of the site to head home, the sight of a boy and a young man filling in the potholes in the lane with wood chips served as a final reminder that while the protest might be illegal, the protesters are trying to take care of the land.
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