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Cattails at Bear Creek Eco Park cause concern for nature lover

With Ferndale Drive park being zoned environmental protection, city official says 'the area is left to evolve through natural processes'

While the Bear Creek Eco Park has long been a place of beauty for nature lovers to observe on a walk, it has caught the eye of one Barrie resident for another reason. 

Pierre Millette says he has been going to the natural area on Ferndale Drive for the last 20 years and has become increasingly worried with what he has been seeing over the last couple of years. 

“I’m concerned about the life of the painted turtles and how they inhabit the park,” Millette told BarrieToday. “The area is being taken over by an overgrowth of cattails. I fear that by the end of this summer there will be no areas of any kind to swim in for them. There is not much as of now.”

Millette wondered what, if anything, the City of Barrie could do to help curb this issue and make sure the area, located just south of Tiffin Street, doesn’t disappear.

“The City of Barrie should correct the problem before it is too late," he said. "It holds a lot of different wildlife, which would be a great loss for the City of Barrie.

"There was a big controversy about construction of the road through the swamp. I feel it is the city's responsibility to correct this matter so future generations will have this wonderful area.”

Kevin Rankin, the city's manager of parks and forestry, said the land is zoned environmental protection and, as such, the city doesn’t actively manage the natural wetland. 

“The area is left to evolve through natural processes,” Rankin told BarrieToday. “The water levels can change yearly, and seasonally, and cattails growing in wetlands are common within wetland areas in Ontario.”

Rankin added: “Any interference of the wetland would have to be approved by the conservation authority, and alterations of a wetland could pose a risk to the species living there.”

David Hawke, who writes a weekly outdoors/nature column for BarrieToday, said painted turtles are no longer listed as a species of concern. 

“For a few years they were, but recent research has proven that this turtle's population, as a species within Ontario, is strong and self-sustaining,” Hawke said. “I believe there are snapping turtles in this wetland, and that species remains as a special concern, which is not yet endangered but population trends are dropping in the province.”

He did say he knows the area well and echoes Millette's concern.

“I know the Bear Creek Eco Park and have visited there often. He is correct in that the open water surface area is diminishing due to cattail growth and expansion,” Hawke said. “This is common to every managed wetland. If the water level drops — drought or re-route of water — the lower levels will encourage faster cattail growth.”

He says a bigger threat is the invasive phragmites reed, which, left unchecked, “will indeed 100 per cent dominate the wetland.” 

“I am not sure if the reed has shown up yet in this park. It has shown up in many other areas of the larger Bear Creek wetland,” Hawke added.