Land trust commemorates 10 years of the Dahl Forest
When William Dahl purchased what is now the Dahl Forest in the early 1950s, the property – a 500-acre piece of land containing nearly three kilometres of waterfront along the Burnt River – was actually an abandoned farm. Today, its fields are unrecognizable, reclaimed by wilderness.
The 10th anniversary of the family’s donation of the Dahl Forest to the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust was commemorated with a luncheon celebration at the Dahl home on Sept. 18.
“The Dahl Forest we’re celebrating today is certainly not the same Dahl Forest the Dahl Family came to . . . over 50 years ago,” land trust chairwoman Mary-Lou Gerstl said, addressing a crowd that included members of the family along with members of the land trust.
In the years following the purchase of the property, the Dahl family – William, his wife Peggy, children Peter and Nan – planted some 100,000 trees covering about 40 per cent of the property, the rest left to nature, which has taken its course.
“To have it donated now, to the land trust, to our community, this is something our community will have forever,” Gerstl said.
The Dahl family was recognized by the federal government during a sesquicentennial celebration in 2017 for their conservation efforts.
“I just want to say how grateful we are, how wonderful it is to have this beautiful, magnificent place, that will never be changed,” Gerstl said.
“I appreciate all of you as volunteers and monitors and all of the board work you do,” said Nan McKernan (nee Dahl). “ . . . I appreciate all of you contributing to this ongoing legacy because it doesn’t stop with the gift . . . and that takes time and energy from all of you, and I really appreciate that.”
McKernan now resides in Alberta and said it had been 11 or 12 years since she’d been to the property, and noted she’d seen different species of frog during her visit.
“[There are] lots of things that exist here now that didn’t when we first planted trees here, but also, I have to say, it’s so different to come back here because it’s grown up so significantly,” she said. “To see so much more growth, it’s a different place every time. It’s evolving.”
There were some old photographs set out, taken when the family first purchased the property nearly 70 years ago.
“It just occurred to me, looking at those pictures of the old farms, and how the pioneering people up here ... they wore themselves to the bone,” said Peter, “clearing this land of trees and just about everything, and building fences, and there’s stone wall up through the woods there. And I think about how much work that would have been. And they would have sat back at the end of the day, and looked out onto this property and thought, you know, you look at this fabulous farm I’ve created, and might have cattle and crops and so on. And now, we are here today celebrating the fact we have turned that farm back into forest that it was in the 1800s, and it seems ironic in some ways, but it is a testament to the change in our society and how our values are shifting, through organizations like the land trust, to preserve, instead of creating something, and managing nature.”