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Presquile Provincial Park

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Travel Notes: Travel-Write: Canada Travel Articles: Presquile Provincial Park

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According to Janine DeWit, the Natural Heritage Education Leader for Ontario Parks, the first naturalists at Presqu'ile recognised the importance of teaching others about the biodiversity found in the area.

Lake Ontario

A birdwatcher's paradise, a stop-over for Monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico, a refuge for reptiles and a long, sandy beach.

This may sound like a lush tropical island in South America, but this naturalist's dream can be visited without having to buy a plane ticket; if you live in Ontario, Canada.

Presqu'ile Provincial Park, situated just south of Brighton, on Lake Ontario, is located on a tombolo (an island that is linked to the mainland by a sandbar).

Shaped like a boomerang, the park consists of beaches, marshes and forest: the perfect environmental mix for a variety of wildlife to flourish.

Presqu'ile (a French word that means 'almost an island') was part of a large piece of land the British acquired from the Mississauga Indians, in 1787.

Although the peninsula was to become the capital of the Northumberland and Durham counties, those plans were abandoned following an unfortunate incident.

As a historical plaque at the park attests, a schooner called The Speedy sank in rough weather, just off the peninsula, taking with it a prisoner and all those who were to try him at the newly built courthouse on the island. Following the sinking, it was decided that the area was too inconvenient and treacherous to develop into a commercial area.

Although there were some attempts to farm the land after that, it was left alone for the most part, to the delight of environmentalists. And, in 1922 the Presqu'ile Park Commission was established to conserve the area's natural beauty and to open it to the public. It officially became a provincial park in 1956, the same year that nature programs began at the park.

According to Janine DeWit, the Natural Heritage Education Leader for Ontario Parks, the first naturalists at Presqu'ile recognised the importance of teaching others about the biodiversity found in the area.

"The education program, which is really popular, has existed for a very long time," she says. "It has never been about entertaining the public, but rather, educating visitors about the diverse ecosystem at Presqu'ile and all of the wildlife it supports here."

The fact that upwards of 60,000 people attend these interpretative programs and other nature-themed events annually, clearly demonstrates their popularity. And the two visitors buildings, the Nature Centre and the Lighthouse Interpretative Centre, attract another 47,000 each year as well.

Programs specifically created for children and led by park interpreters are offered between June 28 and August 31. The Presqu'ile For Kids book is another initiative designed to educate young ones about the park. It contains 40 pages of activities separated into three levels of difficulty that, once completed, allows participants to earn a Nature Explorer certificate.

The Park Has Gone to the Birds

Events at Presqu'ile Park:
From Winterfest Bird workshops in January to Migrants Weekend at the end of summer, each month has an event dedicated to these feathered creatures.

"Most of the programs revolve around them with the area being a major stopover for birds migrating north in the spring and south in the fall," explains DeWit.

In fact, avid birders often find themselves in the fortunate predicament of having too many birds and not enough time for all their spotting. That's not surprising with over 300 different species that have been sighted at the park.<

Some of the birds stay longer than others. On Gull and High Bluff Islands, just off the peninsula, a large gull colony as well as cormorants, terns and herons nest and raise their young from March to September. During that time though, no visitors are allowed on the islands.

One-day Workshops Devoted to Other Park Inhabitants

The Mainly Mammals workshop takes a closer look at the deer, racoons, skunks, shrews and other animals cohabiting in the area.

Taking a closer look at the deer - � Phil Raby
Taking a closer look at the deer - � Phil Raby

An evening program allows visitors to discover how alive the park becomes after sundown with the presence of bats, owls and other nocturnal creatures.

A butterfly workshop, in late June, educates participants on the habitats of these delicate flying jewels.

Later on in the summer, another program deals with bird banding and Monarch tagging, as the fall migration kicks in.

Presqu'ile Lighthouse

The Lighthouse, on the most eastern tip of Presqu'ile - by Phil Raby
The Lighthouse by Phil Raby

The Lighthouse, on the most eastern tip of Presqu'ile, is another point of great interest. It is Ontario's second oldest lighthouse and the original lighthouse keeper's cottage in still on the grounds.

The Interpretive Lighthouse Centre has rich programs and exhibits aimed directly at teaching about the park's past, including the sinking of The Speedy. Aside from learning about the early pioneers, little know facts about pirates and rum runners from two centuries ago are also revealed.

A complete list of all the programs and nature workshops taking place at the park during spring, summer and fall can be found on the Friends of Presqu'ile Park website

The Friends of Presqu'ile Park also compile a list of recent bird sightings that is posted on the website weekly.

Getting There

From Toronto, go east on Highway 401. Turn south at Highway 30 exit on the 401. Once at the town of Brighton, watch for signs to the Park.

Information: (613) 475-4324

By AP Rodrigues.

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