A Ripple Effect
Once the drought of July 2018 ended in downpours it was a good year for planting native trees, shrubs, and perennials here in Ontario’s cottage country. It was a good year to bring a biodiversity boost to privately owned shorelines throughout Muskoka, and it was a pretty good year to be a volunteer with a shovel because the rewards were three-fold:
- Spending quality time by the lake with families and friends;
- Planting new roots for natural habitats and
- Delicious lunch rewards and great conversations.
2018 was also a good year for Muskoka’s watersheds because the Muskoka Watershed Council was awarded funding from the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund to bring the Restore Your Muskoka Shore (RYMS) initiative to ten waterfront landowners on six Muskoka area lakes—with each lake representing one of the six Area Municipalities in Muskoka. Each successful applicant received 50 native shoreline plants along with the expertise, resources, and a crew of volunteers to help install the material into their waterfront properties. 2018 was a good year for making new friends—and planting some too.
Now that there is plenty of snow on the ground and the shorelines are coated with ice, we’re taking some time to reflect on the data gathered throughout the RYMS project. While looking through frosted windows with the numbers in front of us, we can’t help but remember the good times in the sun, the warm welcomes, and the volunteer camaraderie Restore Your Muskoka Shore brought to the District of Muskoka.
In this blog we’re looking back on Muskoka Watershed Council’s shoreline planting season of 2018 to measure whether or not the RYMS initiative made a splash in Muskoka.
SHORELINE PLANTINGS: 10 PRIVATE SHORELINES
Why did the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund back the Muskoka Watershed’s initiative to install more plants along privately owned shorelines throughout Muskoka? Well, it is truly—and scientifically—all about community. It is about our human waterfront community; so that our lakes here in Muskoka stay healthy, swimmable, and potable, but it is also about our fish and wildlife communities that share these shoreline spaces with us.
It is proven that vegetated waterfront shorelines that hold a robust and biodiverse array of plant species are healthier shorelines, and healthy shorelines make for healthier watersheds. An intact riparian biotic community, rich in biodiversity, improves site value and improves quality of life for all parties involved, including the cultural (human) parts of an ecosystem.
Humans are naturally attracted to aesthetic places and clean water—and so are the creatures we share this land and water with. The riparian zone (where water meets land) and the littoral zone (the submerged area of shoreline where sunlight still penetrates through to the lake bottom) is also called the ‘Ribbon of Life’. 70% of all of Ontario’s wildlife depends on shorelines for many aspects of their survival—and this ribbon is key. They use these shoreline areas to find food, water, shelter, to reproduce and raise their young, and to sunbathe, after all, who doesn’t like to get some sun every now and again? As waterfront landowners, and stewards of our shorelines, we need to keep these creatures and their needs in mind as well as ours.
Not only do waterfront trees, shrubs, and wildflowers embellish our cultural shoreline aesthetic and experience, they work with the abiotic parts of an ecosystem too—for example plant roots retain the earth and soil on which we walk to get to the lake to go for a swim. Waterfront plant buffers and shoreline gardens maintain and improve water quality by reducing the incidences of soil erosion and sedimentation, therefore protecting fish habitat. Waterfront vegetation slows water flow over land and filters over-land pollutants through roots and shoots. Plant branches and blades disperse water runoff and absorb excess nutrients, such as phosphorous, which can produce algae blooms in waterways. Shoreline plants provide oxygen to aquatic ecosystems. One could think of it this way: waterfront plant buffers are like eyelashes to our lakes: they keep the grit and goo out.
LAKE ASSOCIATIONS: 6
AREA MUNICIPALITIES: 6
Lake Associations were crucial in helping Muskoka Watershed Council make waves across the District of Muskoka and they proudly represented for each Area Municipality:
Stewart Lake Association – Township of Georgian Bay
Muldrew Lake Cottagers’ Association – Town of Gravenhurst
Three Mile Lake Association – Township of Muskoka Lakes
McKay Lake Association – Town of Bracebridge
Lake Vernon Association – Town of Huntsville
Moot Lake Cottage Association – Township of Lake of Bays
Lake Associations, or Ratepayers Associations, are groups that rely on membership and they are very important entities to each and every municipality, as they represent our waterfront landowners. Lake Associations are essentially the stewardship representatives for our lakes. They keep their fingers on the pulse of our watersheds and they keep an eye out for their individual lakes. Each association has a board and sub-committees which cover all aspects of waterfront living and waterfront community. They bring neighbours together, encourage dialogue, lend an ear, and make suggestions. Muskoka Watershed Council was so happy to have had these lake associations cheering for the Restore Your Muskoka Shore initiative.
Our volunteer crews were amazing! With crews as small as four to as large as 15, the average planting would start at 10 in the morning and be wrapped up by noon, just in time for lunch—which was happily provided by the landowners. On average, it took us just under two hours to install and mulch 50 plants of varying sizes. We had fresh new babies and grandparents present for the plantings on Muldrew Lake and we even had a four-year-old photographer documenting at those sites. We ate wonderful food and had interesting conversations in which we learned a lot about our participants. A key word we kept using throughout the project was family, and it really was about family. The plantings were a great reason for assembling family and friends and we always parted waving back at families sharing food, tidying the kitchen, and beaming with a sense of accomplishment. By the time we’d get packed up they were ready for a swim (except for those plantings in late October where a hot beverage and baked goods over a game or a good book were preferred).
PLANTS INSTALLED: 501
PLANT SPECIES: 48
Throughout the Restore Your Muskoka Shore project, Muskoka Watershed Council and the participating Lake Association volunteers planted 501 plants including 48 different species. There were 26 trees consisting of 7 different species, 246 shrubs consisting of 22 different species, and 229 wildflowers and ferns consisting of 19 different species.
There were many reasons why participating waterfront landowners contacted MWC. Some applicants wrote in because they needed the new plants to slow runoff and mitigate erosion, some hoped to improve their shoreline plant community after several large trees were lost due to violent storms or fire, pretty much everybody loved the idea of more butterflies, and one couple wanted some shoreline shrubs planted to protect an existing majestic maple tree from wave erosion.
LENGTH OF SHORELINE RESTORED: 182 meters
AREA OF LAND RESTORED: 786 square meters
Aside from the 786 square meters of riparian areas receiving a biodiversity boost, one of the great results of the project was the ripple effect it had on the volunteers and the lake associations—and the interest it stirred up to continue to do more. At each planting we were asked the question ‘How can we register for this ourselves?’ because the members of the lake associations who had volunteered to plant were thrilled with the initiative. They expressed their hopes to participate in similar projects in the future–and perhaps to receive a planting project of their own. Several of our Three Mile Lake participants were repeat participants throughout the program and went on to discuss the possibility of starting a shoreline planting resource crew for their lake, where they would create a communication hub for fellow lake association members to access tools and like-minded volunteers to help plant their shorelines if ever desired. There were some fast friends made on that lake throughout this project.
In reflection, it seems as though the Restore Your Muskoka Shore initiative really did make a splash. At each planting we were always greeted with enthusiasm and pride for the new plants, welcomed as though new family members were arriving. We noticed that the landowners were treating the plants like new members of the family! One landowner spoke sweetly to his new plants as he tucked their roots in to place, like they were grandchildren. This warmed our hearts and gave us hope that projects like 2018’s Restore Your Muskoka Shore initiative will build momentum and carry forward towards boosting even more shoreline area throughout the district, whether it be through programs like this, or through a landowner’s own gumption and desire to do so.
Muskoka Watershed Council will keep planting the seeds for waterfront stewardship. Through projects like the RYMS initiative, MWC is here to assist waterfront landowners in gaining a better understanding as to why our shorelines need to hold on to their plant communities for watershed health and longevity. Muskoka Watershed Council can provide the tools and resources required to grow this knowledge. Remember that some ripples can turn into waves if the wind is right, and if your shoreline is well planted, waves can be beautiful to watch.
2018 was a great year for Muskoka’s watersheds!
For more information contact the Muskoka Watershed Council by email at email@example.com or by phone at 705-645-2100 x4387.
Written by Rebecca Krawczyk, an environmental horticulturist and ecological interpreter specializing in native plants, ecological and shoreline gardens, ethnobotany (plant food, medicine, and utility), and the wild lands and inhabitants found in and around Algonquin Park. Her business, BarK Ecologic provides biodiversity improvement and ecological education to landowners along the waterfront and in the forest, by introducing new natural elements to sites through the use of native plants. These native plants are genetically indigenous to Parry Sound, Muskoka, Haliburton and the Kawartha Lakes regions.Along with the educational, consulting, and landscaping elements of the business, she and her family operate a native plant nursery that services the Muskoka, Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, and Nipissing districts of Ontario.