Atlantis Woods - Selby Plains

Atlantis Woods

This greenspace is located here:Atlantis Woods

Selby Plains

This greenspace is located here: Selby Plains Map

Application for Funding under the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation

Submitted by 

Westboro Beach Community Association

February 5, 2016

Objective

 To implement an urban re-forestation and naturalization project on two adjoining natural areas (referred herein as “the site”) in Westboro Beach community of Ottawa through community leadership and engagement and to increase community awareness of the value of trees in an urban community.

Background

Westboro Beach Community Association (WBCA) is a voluntary non-profit organization devoted to improving the quality of life for residents in the Westboro Beach area of Ottawa.  Run by a volunteer Board of Directors, the Association has a very small budget for which funds are generated by bake sales, donations at community events, and an annual tree and shrub sale.  The website www.westborobeach.ca provides further WBCA background.  Westboro Beach community is home to approximately 3500 people of mixed incomes living in diverse housing styles.  Its population will continue to grow due to on-going intensification through new development. WBCA was founded in September 1995 and incorporated June 3, 1998 (Ontario Corporation Number 1296156) and letter of patent June 3, 1998.

WBCA has a proven track record in effective administration and use of external funding to achieve results in the community.  This includes funding received from the City of Ottawa’s Community Tree Planting Program in 2008 to plant trees at Westboro Beach for which several members of the community watered the trees during the months after the planting.  Other examples include funding and in-kind donations from Telus, the United Way, and the Harry Ward Foundation.

WBCA’s website and its heron logo convey the Association’s commitment to the natural environment (see the website’s “About Us” section).  Of note also is the website’s section on “Nature” which is indicative of WBCA’s on-going commitment to trees, greenspace, and environmental awareness in the community.  Related on-going WBCA initiatives include: 

  • annual tree and shrub sale featuring indigenous species obtained from Ferguson Nurseries
  • fighting for the preservation of existing trees on infill development sites
  • participation in the Champlain Oaks project, including co-creation and co-ownership of an adult-sized tree costume used to engender tree awareness at community events
  • creation of an inventory of burr oaks in the Westboro Beach community
  • public environmental lecture series most recently focusing on: 1) global and local impacts of climate change and what residents can do and 2) a birding presentation by an internationally recognized professional birder on local bird populations, impacts of climate change on birds, and what residents can do to create bird habitat.  WBCA foresees a lecture on trees in association with the subject re-forestation project.
  • establishing a “green gateway” at the west entrance to the community.

The Site

The project site comprises two contiguous areas of significant ecological value but differing natural character.  Located within the Westboro Beach community near the Ottawa River corridor, the areas are commonly referred to as Atlantis Woods (forest) and Selby Plains (open grasslands).  Approximately ten hectares in size combined, they represent an opportunity WBCA has envisaged for sometime to restore as a model urban forest.  While these are relatively small patches of greenspace, they act as a vital urban refuge for numerous species of wildlife and are highly valued by residents who regularly walk, ski and snowshoe through the site. 

The Atlantis Woods area is wooded with deciduous trees and shrubs while Selby Plains is a grassy area with scattered shrubs.  It maintains qualities of an alvar ecosystem, a globally rare habitat that is known to occur along the Ottawa River Valley.  Both areas play host to a variety of birds that do not commonly occur in an urban setting such as great-horned owls, northern harrier, wild turkeys, bohemian waxwings, yellow warbler, northern cardinals, nesting ravens, and baltimore orioles, as well as more common (but no less important!) birds such as black-capped chickadees and red-winged blackbirds.  Both areas hold significant potential for WBCA’s annual spring community bird walk and WBCA foresees featuring the site, once restored, as an element in its bird walks. Both areas have been noted in the Richmond Road/Westboro Community Design Plan as crucial to preserve as greenspace and as being highly valued by residents. The overall site is within or adjacent to the boundaries of the globally significant Lac Deschenes Important Bird Area.

Strategic re-forestation of the site would support the creation of a natural corridor from the Atlantis Woods to Selby Plains to the Champlain Forest to the east.

The site faces a number of pressures, including alien invasive species, continued loss of connectivity due to residential intensification, and the loss of important mature ash trees from the Emerald ash borer.

Vision

WBCA has long targeted Atlantis Woods and Selby Plains for enhancement to firstly, restore and then maintain the natural heritage of this special urban area which encompasses two different habitats and the associated biodiversity and secondly, to provide a peaceful natural area for the enjoyment of residents and the education of children.  WBCA has had a preliminary plan prepared toward this goal but until now there has never been a catalyst to get this going.   WBCA’s vision is to benefit from the TDFOE funding to undertake re-forestation and implement a complementary education program in the community.  WBCA envisages that, once completed, the re-forested site could serve as a demonstration project regarding what can be done to enhance urban forests and how local residents can be engaged to support and benefit from such a forest.  Ecology Ottawa and, it is hoped the City of Ottawa Forestry Department no less, would play a part in making this project known for the broader benefit of the city of Ottawa.  It is also foreseen that the site could serve as the locus for on-site environmental education purposes by nearby schools.

With regard to this vision WBCA has requested and received the (non-financial) support of the National Capital Commission (NCC) being the owner the property.  This adds two additional elements to WBCA’s vision: firstly that the site, once restored, would be integrated into the NCC’s proposed Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway (SJAM) Linear Park which is currently in the preliminary concept stage and secondly, that the site would be integrated into the formal groomed cross-country ski trail system along the Ottawa River that WBCA is working to establish with the support of the NCC and Nakkertok Ski Club.  The site itself has potential to be included in the groomed ski trail network which, in phase one, will start at the nearby Westboro Beach.

In support of the above vision, it is to be noted that three of the six elements of WBCA’s stated overall Vision Statement (source: www.westborobeach.ca) relate to nature as follows: building on our “green” credentials, retaining and enhancing our recreational and greenspaces, and protecting the Ottawa River for both our own community and the rest of the citizens of Ottawa. The Vision Statement also provides for building on Westboro Beach as a focus for active outdoor living and linking our active outdoor greenspaces to other areas for the benefit and enjoyment of all Ottawa residents. 

Action Plan

Action items for the project would include:

1. The WBCA Board will inform and engage community residents to establish a team of volunteers to meet the initial and on-going work requirements of the project. There is a core group of residents living near the site who are standing by to take this on.

2. undertake an inventory of current tree and shrub species and densities on the site.   This would be done informally using local expertise or if funds were available more formally using a professional forester or arborist.

3. prepare a re-forestation plan to indicate where and what species should be planted and in what quantities.  Species would be obtained from Twigs Nursery.  Selection of species would take into account the characteristics of each of the two areas.  We are hoping for advice from an arborist.  For Atlantis Woods possible trees to be planted include red maple, sugar maple, shagbark hickory, American beech, and burr oak.  Trees will have to be of sufficient size as to maximize the prospects of survival, for example to access sunlight and out-compete the invasive buckthorn.  We would favor fewer larger trees than many smaller trees for this reason. For Selby Plains we foresee planting a small number of dispersed shrubs appropriate to the existing soil and drainage conditions and which would provide habitat and food sources for wildlife.  Such species might include highbush cranberry, scarlet hawthorn, and eastern red cedar.  Quantities would have to be determined in the context of Action item 4 below and in consideration of how many trees can successfully be nurtured and maintained by community volunteers.

4. site preparation in accordance with the characteristics of each site. For Atlantis Woods planting locations would have to be cleared and prepared amongst the existing tree and shrub cover.  Existing cover includes alien invasive species such as Manitoba maple and buckthorn.  It is not considered feasible to cull or thin these species at this stage though this could be a long-term goal.  Rather, planting sites would be chosen, cleared, established and maintained among the existing forest. For Selby Plains planting locations are more readily available and would be chosen with a view to creating habitat and food sources particularly for birds, while maintaining the area’s alvar-like qualities.  Skills, equipment and safety procedures will have to be provided for.  We foresee support from a heavy equipment company with connections in the community.

5. preparation of a tree/shrub maintenance plan to maximize the on-going success of the plantings.  This action item will be oriented to implementation by community volunteers.

6. preparation of an interpretation and education action plan to focus on: interpretive signage on the site and in the community*; a leaflet to be promulgated through WBCA’s electronic, poster and mail-drop communications tools; a public lecture as part of WBCA’s environmental lecture series; liaison with local schools to inform them of the project and discuss associated educational opportunities; and liaison with the City of Ottawa Forestry Department to discuss publicizing the project as a model urban forest.

* If funds permit interpretative signage will be prepared to identify particular species, mention tree facts of interest (e.g. traditional use by native peoples), and foster better knowledge and appreciation of the value of urban forests and specifically the role they play with regard to wildlife habitat and food, air quality, health, shade, and beauty.   These signs would be placed strategically on the site and elsewhere the Westboro Beach community.

7. monitoring of the project to assess the success rate of the plantings, to observe noticeable changes in wildlife populations, and to consider further stages in advancing the Atlantis Woods/Selby Plains urban forest.

Budget:

Funding from TDFOE is estimated to be in the range of:

  • $ 600 for the services of an arborist for action items 3 and 4
  • $ 2400 for the purchase of trees and shrubs
  • $ 2000 for the design and production of durable signs for action item #6.  One of the core group of residents mentioned in Action item #1 owns a professional sign company and it might be possible to obtain reduced costs for signage.

In-kind support from the community would include: 

  • labour associated with the above action plan item #4
  • hand tools and small equipment needed for action item #4
  • donated support from a heavy equipment company re action item #4
  • overall leadership, organization and services (e.g. communications) from WBCA for all action items 
  • painting of a mural on the SJAM parkway underpass near the site to convey the presence and value of native trees, birds and aquatic life in the area using funds from another external funding source