Minden Hills gateway to large provincial park
By Chad Ingram
Published June 7, 2018
Minden Hills is a gateway to a little-known ecological gem called the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park, or “QE2.”
Staff from the park visited Minden Hills councillors during a May 31 meeting, as they seek to engage stakeholders and spread word about the park’s incredible biodiversity and recreational opportunities.
“A lot of people think parks are created because of their size, but that’s a myth,” said park superintendent Jason Dwyer. “There’s a lot more science that goes into the creation of a provincial park.”
The park totals 89,000 acres and is bordered by the District of Muskoka to the west, the City of Kawartha Lakes to the south, and Haliburton County to the east.
“Truly, Minden is the front door to this park,” Dwyer said.
While most of the park consists of shallow, warm wetland, it includes a few larger lakes, located in Minden Hills. It is most easily accessed from Devil’s Lake.
QE2 contains 37 recreational camps, seven commercial camps, six cottaging lakes and pockets of private property.
The planning process for the park, which is actually a cluster of parks, began circa 2000 and was stalled in 2007, resuming in 2014. Dwyer told councillors park staff are looking to work with surrounding municipalities, heightening the park’s profile and educating the public on its ecological importance.
Focusing on sustainable use, he said there’s been a growth in what he called “semi-wilderness recreation” – backcountry canoeing, hiking, etc. – in recent years.
As Dwyer explained, parks in Ontario fall under two main classifications: operational and non-operational.
Operational parks are ones with dedicated staff and infrastructure, where fees are typically collected; think Balsam Lake Provincial Park or Algonquin Park.
Non-operational parks, meanwhile, have no dedicated staff, limited resources and infrastructure and generally don’t collect any fees.
QE2 falls into this latter category, although, uniquely, does have some dedicated staff.
One of those staff members, park biologist Philip Careless, gave councillors a detailed explanation of the park’s ecological significance.
Careless said ecological integrity is the foundation of why any provincial park is created in the first place.
“It’s essentially the interaction of organisms that maintain the complex web of critters . . . rock and water . . . maintaining all those pieces of the biological engine, and allowing them to function,” Careless said.
Using the analogy of a potluck, Careless said each of Ontario’s provincial parks is more or less unique, essentially bringing something different to the party.
“Our park is an odd one,” Careless said. “I often joke that what it is bringing to the province is the gift of biting insects.”
The swamps, bogs and fens of the park are home to an array of insects.
“This is the fuel that runs the park,” Careless said. “The park itself is essentially a vast, biological engine.”
Along with other functions, those insects are also a food source for many species of animal. And plant. QE2 is home to seven different species of carnivorous plant, including the rare spatula sundew. It is also home to many more well-known creatures including barn owls, whip-poor-will, beavers, moose and the five-lined skink, a lizard that, while common within the park, is a threatened species.
Careless said the park contains a larger number of species and landform types than others.
“It is the biological equivalent of the city of Toronto,” he said, in reference to Toronto’s status as the world’s most multicultural city.
Comparing it to a giant intersection, Careless said the park is also significant for its habitat connectivity, allowing a number of animal species to migrate safely through its undeveloped terrain.
The rock formations through the park’s expanse are comprised of foliated gneiss rock.
As Careless explained, “it’s not true granite, it’s granite that’s been shoved back underground, re-melted, twisted and then pushed back to the surface.” Its surface makes it excellent habitat and breeding grounds for many of the park’s inhabitants.
“My million-dollar question is . . . if we lobbied the minister to put [the park] in an operational status, and the funds that would be accrued from that, with the caveat that it be designed in an operating way that it minimizes the damage, in your opinion, would what be helpful?” Mayor Brent Devolin asked Dwyer.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Dwyer said, emphasizing the park is looking for any support it can get from municipal partners.
Councillor Pam Sayne said she’s received some complaints about activities occurring within the park’s borders, including people using trees for target practice with semi-automatic weapons.
“They’re doing target practice with semis, going off trails, damaging trees,” Sayne said.
Careless said there is a difference between activities that are permitted on Crown land versus a provincial park, and while that staff can work on signage and enforcement, as a non-operational park, QE2 has few resources in this regard.
“Are there plans to keep the heart of the park non-motorized?” asked Councillor Jean Neville.
Dwyer said that technically, there is no provincial park in Ontario that allows recreational riding.
Careless said there is a planning designation, called a wilderness zone, that applies strict parameters to areas of 2,000 hectares or larger that could potentially be applied to the park.
More information on the park can be found at https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/queenelizabeth2wildlands.