November 30, 2011

Eden Mills really is going carbon neutral

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, it is important to look for ways to take action locally. Perhaps Erin could borrow a few ideas from Eden Mills, a village of 163 homes on the Eramosa River near Rockwood, where they have made much progress in making their community carbon neutral.

It started with the Millpond Conservation Association, which for more than 20 years has managed their local historic millpond property as a public conservation area.

They have done dam upgrades, dredged the pond bottom, strengthened the shorelines, maintained a beach, preserved wetlands through a stewardship agreement with landowners, promoted environmental education and paid for insurance so the public can use the area for things like swimming, canoeing and skating.

It is difficult to imagine such a thing in Erin, where most of our shorelines are not readily accessible to the public. That, however, is not today's topic.

In 2007, Eden Mills Going Carbon Neutral was a new project for the Millpond group, with the goal of becoming the first carbon neutral village in North America. It is an example of grass-roots action – not waiting for governments to take the lead.

Linda Sword spoke on behalf of the Eden Mills project at the recent "Making Erin Greener Than Our Shamrock" event, co-sponsored by the Environmental Advisory Group of Erin and the Climate Change Action Group of Erin.

"I am excited to meet another community working together to make change," she said. "Going carbon neutral means emitting no more carbon dioxide than we absorb, and that means both reducing our use of fossil fuels and increasing our absorption of CO2."

Of course, it is not possible to completely avoid emitting carbon, especially in our oil-driven economy. But Eden Mills has shrunk its overall carbon footprint by 12 per cent in three years, half by capturing more carbon with thousands of newly-planted trees, with help from the Wellington Green Legacy Program. The other half is from conservation and increased use of green energy sources. The project was praised at the annual international symposium of the Canadian Institute of Planners last year, as a model for others to follow.

"We can see the results of one person’s change rubbing off on another," said Sword. "While one neighbour replaces appliances, the next stops using the clothes dryer, choosing air drying. While one neighbour buys food at the local organic farm, two other families join up to manage a vegetable garden in their backyards and share the produce. The examples are many, and the financial savings are often significant."

The process relies on getting good technical advice, to estimate how much carbon is stored locally and how much more can be captured through tree planting. The local carbon footprint (emissions from households, businesses and travel), is estimated using household surveys (done every two years).

Fourth year students from the University of Guelph Environmental Studies program helped calculate the baseline carbon sequestration rate, while graduate students from the School of Forestry studied the relative sequestration rates of young trees. Students continue to help with the design and analysis of the surveys. About half of the households provide full information, which remains confidential, since the students provide direct feedback to the residents, but only totals and analysis to the organization.

The baseline was an annual emissions footprint of 4,621 tonnes of carbon, with lack of public transportation being a key factor. That's been reduced by six per cent. The baseline of sequestration was 2,608 tonnes – emissions already being neutralized every year by trees and vegetation. That has been increased by six per cent.

To achieve the carbon neutral balance, they started with a goal of neutralizing just over 2,000 tonnes, and now have 1,367 to go.

Sword is the author of a handbook called So You Want to Go Carbon Neutral? It takes a Village, one of several resources available through the Education section of the group's website, They offer DVD-based workshops and host guest speakers.

Eden Mills resident Richard Lay, a professional engineer with Enermodal (Canada's largest green building consulting firm), has been a key player in the village's environmental progress. He founded the Millpond Conservation Association, volunteered professional advice for Going Carbon Neutral and did a full energy audit of the Community Hall.

Last month he was awarded the 2011 Engineering Medal of Achievement for the University of Guelph. A few weeks later, he accepted the Tree of Life award on behalf of his firm, from the association of Canadian Consulting Engineering Companies.

Last week, the Millpond association and the Eden Mills Community and District Club announced that they have been awarded a Trillium Foundation grant of $120,000, and a $50,000 incentive loan from the Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures Development Corporation. It will help pay for reductions in the carbon footprint of their community hall, installation of solar panels and improved accessibility.

November 23, 2011

CVC enlists landowners to battle "super weeds"

As published in The Erin Advocate

Just because a species of plant is green and healthy does not mean it will be welcome when it moves into the neighbourhood, especially if it is an immigrant from Asia or Europe. An aggressive campaign has been mounted against invasive species, which can overwhelm native plants and take over large tracts of land.

Human activity has severely disrupted the slow, natural evolution of local ecosystems, creating opportunities for the invaders. Conservation authorities are now attempting to manage forests as one might tend a garden. It seems we must weed the wilderness if we want it to serve our needs.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) warns that aggressive new species can destroy the balance of ecosystems and reduce biodiversity, diminishing the goods and services we get from nature, including air and water regulation, recreation, crops, fish and wood products. The costs to Canada's agriculture and forestry sectors alone may be as high as $7.5 billion per year.

Teaching landowners about problem plants is a difficult task, so it is often presented as a war against intruders, or a hunt for criminals. The Ontario Invasive Plant Council publishes a series of "UN-WANTED" posters, with mug shots of plants like Dog-Strangling Vine, a member of the milkweed family that arrived from Europe about 120 years ago. It is currently invading backyards, altering natural areas "at an alarming rate" and has made it onto the CVC's Top Ten Troublemakers list.

The Town of Erin published a warning this year that Giant Hogweed (#1 on the CVC list) had been spotted in the area. This member of the carrot-parsley family, which grows 10-15 feet tall and looks like a giant Queen Anne's Lace, is a special public health hazard. Its watery sap has toxins that cause photo-dermatitis, meaning that skin contact followed by exposure to sunlight produces large, scar-causing blisters, and eye contact can cause blindness. Call County Weed Control if you encounter this plant.

Most of the aggressive newcomers, though, are not poisonous and are quite attractive on their own, with some available at your local nursery. CVC wants landowners to become aware of the most common ones, and to take action against them. That includes not planting them, digging them out (down to the root tips), trimming off seed pods before they open, mowing them down and attacking them with herbicides if necessary.

"People often don't care about this stuff until it actually affects them personally," said Rod Krick, a Natural Heritage Ecologist with CVC, at a recent seminar on invasive species. For example, a farmer would naturally be concerned about Dog-Strangling Vine if it threatened to make valuable pastureland unusable.

Often, these weeds don't simply grow among the native foliage, they obliterate it to create a monoculture. "These aren't just weeds, they are super weeds," said Krick.

While it may be necessary to battle these species, it is important to remember that the enemy is really our species. Humans have created the clear-cut and disturbed areas where invasives often thrive, and it is we who have transported most of them from their natural habitats, either accidentally or for ornamental and commercial purposes.

Sometimes, natural forces can help restore some balance. Do you remember Purple Loosestrife? It was a huge concern in the 1990s as it choked the life out of valuable wetlands under a sea of purple flowers. One of the reasons that invasives flourish is that they have been set free from their natural enemies. Severe infestations of purple loosestrife have been successfully controlled by introducing beetles that feed on it.

Others on the CVC hit list are Common Reed and Rough Manna Grass, which also invade wetlands, and Garlic Mustard, European Buckthorn and Non-Native Honeysuckles which take over forest floors, crowding out the native inhabitants.

CVC urges people who already have invasives to not let them "escape", and especially to not dump garden waste into or next to natural areas, where it could spread invasive seeds. CVC also suggests alternatives for gardeners and landscapers. For example, instead of aggressive ground covers like Periwinkle, English Ivy and Goutweed, consider Wild Ginger or Barren Strawberry.

Instead of Norway Maple, which grows so dense that it shades out all other native trees and shrubs, consider Freeman's Maple or Hackberry. Plant Joe-pye Weed instead of Japanese Knotweed, New England Aster instead of Himalayan Balsam, Blue Flag (Iris) instead of Flowering Rush, Switchgrass instead of Maiden Grass or Feather Grass, and Native Bush Honeysuckle or Witch-Hazel instead of Winged Euonymus (often sold as Burning Bush).

For more information, go to, and the Watershed Science / Invasive Species section of the CVC site,

November 16, 2011

Active Transportation Plan needs active support

As published in The Erin Advocate

If you could ride on a network of wide, safe bike lanes, where would you like to travel? Would you be looking for regional destinations, like Rockwood, Fergus, Orangeville, Belfountain or Acton, or just loops close to or inside the Town's urban areas?

We already have the Trans-Canada Trail linking Cataract, Erin village, Hillsburgh, Orton, Belwood, Fergus and Elora, but the Wellington Active Transportation Plan is about creating a broader network, combining roadside lanes and off-road trails.

Not every road will get a bike lane, so it is important to find out where there is public demand. Should we have more paved trails, natural hiking trails, mountain bike trails, horse trails, or all of the above? Or do we prefer motorized trail travel, on various snowmobile routes and the unofficial dirt bike and ATV trails?

Convenient access to trails and bike lanes means opportunities for physical activity, saving people money, reducing our local greenhouse gas emissions and making our communities safer, more cohesive and attractive. Trails also protect natural areas, while making them accessible to more people.

The process started in June, including a meeting in Erin involving local politicians and residents. Existing trails have been mapped and there is an ongoing internet survey (search Wellington Active Transportation).

Preliminary results were reported at an open house held recently at Centre 2000, showing that active recreation was the main factor motivating trail users, as opposed to travel for work or shopping. Walking (or running) was the top activity, followed by cycling, hiking, cross-country skiing (or snowshoeing), horseback riding and in-line skating.

MMM Group of Mississauga, the consulting firm hired to develop the plan, will now be doing field investigations, developing design guidelines and devising strategies for implementation, funding, tourism and getting more people onto the routes.

Project Manager Jay Cranstone hopes to have a draft network by February, with recommendations going to County Council in the spring. The County could adopt the Active Transportation Plan, then incorporate key elements into its Official Plan. Lower-tier municipalities such as Erin will likely be asked to follow a similar process.

County Planner Sarah Wilhelm said that actual improvements will still be dependent on available funding, but that it is important to have an official framework.
"You need a plan in place for grant applications," she said.

Taxpayers generally don't know or care whether a road is controlled by the County or the Town, but they do expect them to work together to deliver the most practical improvements.

In its Official Plan, the Town of Erin has objectives that include promotion of compact, people-oriented downtowns by establishing a safe and pleasant pedestrian environment, encouraging movement by foot and bicycle rather than by automobile.

Vehicle and pedestrian movement is to be facilitated through improvements to roads, parking areas and pedestrian paths, including linkages along the rivers.

Just because something is in an Official Plan, however, does not mean it is going to happen. If people actually care about such "objectives", they need to prod the Town and County into aggressively pursuing them.

One priority should a bypass route to divert truck traffic from downtown Erin village, along with at least one more traffic light and some official crosswalks. These ideas have been discussed in the past and not done, but that does not mean they should not be done. Often a need will exist for a long time before action is taken – for example, the creation of a village fire brigade in 1946 after decades of disastrous fires.

Erin's Official Plan also requires that new developments provide links with pedestrian and cycle routes "on their perimeter". Perhaps that idea could be expanded so that a new subdivision would have a trail winding through it, separate from roads and sidewalks.

Some would prefer that no new subdivisions ever be built in Erin, but that is probably unrealistic. They will not be built any time soon, however, since the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) study process, which has frozen most development since 2007, is proceeding very slowly. The study was originally to have been done by now, but we're still in the middle of it, waiting for a report on sewer and water options, with several stages still to go.

November 02, 2011

Cycle tourism presents an attractive opportunity

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin should take full advantage of its beautiful rolling hills by promoting itself as a destination or take-off point for cycling tourists.

"There is a tremendous opportunity for cycle tourism," said Andy Goldie, Director of Parks & Recreation for Centre Wellington, which is developing a Trails Master Plan. He was helping with an information Open House at Centre 2000 on October 22 for the county-wide Active Transportation Plan (ATP).

It is going to take a while to build up the number of rural roads with excellent bike lanes – ideally 2 metres wide, compared to the current 50 centimetres (19 inches) if they exist at all.

"Cyclists are using the roads anyway, and interest is growing all the time," said Project Manager Jay Cranstone, an Erin native, avid cyclist and landscape architect with MMM Group of Mississauga, the consulting firm hired to organize the ATP. While mountain biking remains popular, he has noticed a renewed interest in road cycling.

"Cycle tourists spend more than car tourists," he said. A survey in Quebec, where cycling culture is very strong, showed cycle tourists spending an average of $102 per adult per day (up from $83 in 2005), compared to $52 per day for motoring tourists. They also like vacationing in the spring and fall, extending the season for tourism-related businesses.

Unfortunately, Downtown Erin village is too congested on summer weekends for many cyclists to feel comfortable. Alternative routes and better parking could help improve the situation. Our off-road trails are generally unmarked, which is fine for long-time local riders, but for visitors, a more official, signed network is needed.

Erin needs to boost its image as one in a series of attractive destinations within a network of regional bike routes.

There are several positive scenarios. For example, people traveling the Trans-Canada Trail (Elora-Cataract) could detour into Hillsburgh or Erin village because they've heard good things about them. City dwellers who load their bikes onto vehicles and head out for an afternoon of riding could make Erin their preferred place to park and set out. Or those who come here mainly for shopping may like the option of also doing some short loops, either biking or hiking.

Cyclists planning a vacation could decide to check in at a local Bed & Breakfast place, using it as a home base for their excursions. Or if they are based at Conservation Area campgrounds in Rockwood, Guelph Lake or Belwood, they could plan routes through rural Erin, because they've heard that the hills and views are great, and the roads are not too busy. Companies that book cycle tours could flag Erin as a "must-see" place.

The Town of Erin needs to promote itself as a centre of activity, not a fringe area. Being a part of a large regional tourism association is useful, but the benefits seem limited. Erin has been shifted into a region that extends from here to Lake Huron, though we can still maintain a link with our Headwaters partners to the east, which seems a more logical grouping.

Erin gets some promotion on the Headwaters website ( which is quite professional, but it is not enough. We are lumped in with other places that in some respects have more to offer.

We can't expect other people to aggressively promote Erin – that's our job. We need a broad tourism strategy, involving businesses and the municipality, that identifies our strengths and gets the word out to potential visitors. Ideally, we should have our own tourism association to decide on the best marketing strategies.

Improved cycle tourism is just one of many aspects, which tend to support each other. Cycle traffic benefits food businesses, both the sit-down restaurants and places that offer quick carbohydrates such as ice cream and baked goods.

Riders may be interested, for example, in travelling to several of the art displays on the Hills of Erin Studio Tour, visiting farms or in attending attractions after their riding is done, such as shows at Century Church Theatre.

Public feedback is still being collected for the county study on non-car mobility – search Wellington Active Transportation or go to