New wildlife preserve with public trails opens near Coboconk

David and Sharon Cation have donated their 669-acre property to Kawartha Land Trust to ensure its future protection

A white-tailed deer at the Cation Wildlife Preserve, one of many species of wildlife that use the 669-acre property as a natural corridor. Now that David and Sharon Cation have donated the property to Kawartha Land Trust, it will be protected in perpetuity from the kind of development over the last century that saw its old-growth forest destroyed and a reduction of the area's biodiversity. (Photo: KLT volunteer Andy Holden)
A white-tailed deer at the Cation Wildlife Preserve, one of many species of wildlife that use the 669-acre property as a natural corridor. Now that David and Sharon Cation have donated the property to Kawartha Land Trust, it will be protected in perpetuity from the kind of development over the last century that saw its old-growth forest destroyed and a reduction of the area's biodiversity. (Photo: KLT volunteer Andy Holden)

Kawartha Land Trust (KLT) is officially opening the new Cation Wildlife Preserve near Coboconk in the City of Kawartha Lakes on Saturday, June 22nd.

The 669-acre property includes marked trails for passive recreational use by the public, including hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

The newly protected property was donated to KLT by David and Sharon Cation.

After David’s mother died in 1998, he and his brother decided to use the proceeds of her small estate to purchase the property, which is located on French Settlement Road north of Indian Point Provincial Park on Balsam Lake, around 45 kilometres north of Lindsay.

“We decided to buy land for future generations which is what our parents had done all their lives,” Cation says.

“Buying the French Settlement Road property to protect for future generations is merely keeping her legacy alive. We wish she could be here to participate.”

A trail system passes through the grasslands and meadows of the of the Cation property. After the trails are marked, they will open for passive recreational use by the public such as hiking in 2019. (Photo:  KLT volunteer Steve Paul)
A trail system passes through the grasslands and meadows of the of the Cation property. After the trails are marked, they will open for passive recreational use by the public such as hiking in 2019. (Photo: KLT volunteer Steve Paul)

The Cations decided the best way to ensure the property remains protected is to donate it to KLT, which David had learned about through the organization’s campaign to save Boyd Island, southern Ontario’s largest undeveloped island located in Pigeon Lake just east of Bobcaygeon. He subsequently volunteered to work on a number of KLT properties, helping with trail cleanup and participating in other stewardship activities.

As with all properties, before KLT could accept the Cations’ gift, it needed to raise a stewardship endowment fund. Around $200,000 was required for securement-related expenses and to ensure the property could be cared for in perpetuity.

Donors David and Sharon Cation with staff and volunteers of Kawartha Land Trust. From left to right: Mike McMurtry, Mike Hendren, Tara King, Patricia Wilson, Brian Preiswersk, David Cation, Sharon Cation, Thom Unrau, Guy Wagner, Ralph McKim, Bill Crins, and Anna Lee. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Land Trust)
Donors David and Sharon Cation with staff and volunteers of Kawartha Land Trust. From left to right: Mike McMurtry, Mike Hendren, Tara King, Patricia Wilson, Brian Preiswersk, David Cation, Sharon Cation, Thom Unrau, Guy Wagner, Ralph McKim, Bill Crins, and Anna Lee. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Land Trust)

Financial support was provided by the Government of Canada through the federal Department of Environment and Climate Change. Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario Parks (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), and Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale all wrote letters supporting the acquisition.

The new Cation Wildlife Preserve sits in the middle of several protected areas, including the Altberg Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Reserve, Indian Point and Balsam Lake Provincial Parks, Queen Elizabeth Wildlands Provincial Park, and the Carl Sedore Wildlife Management Area.

Although today the property is a thriving area filled with plant and wildlife species, that was not always the case: for over a century it suffered from hard use.

Over the past century, the forested areas were cleared by logging resulting in pasture grasslands where cattle once grazed. (Photo: KLT volunteer Andy Holden)
Over the past century, the forested areas were cleared by logging resulting in pasture grasslands where cattle once grazed. (Photo: KLT volunteer Andy Holden)
The property includes a swamp that is part of a 183-acre Provincially Significant Wetland. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Land Trust)
The property includes a swamp that is part of a 183-acre Provincially Significant Wetland. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Land Trust)

In the 1800s, heavy logging wiped out old hardwoods and conifers, reducing the forests and opening up the landscape. The open fields were then used as a range, with cattle grazing there for many years. Around 30 years ago, the property was logged again, wiping out the larger trees and significantly reducing the area’s biodiversity.

The property was eventually sold to a recreational hunter, who used it to train dogs for hunting coyotes. He surrounded the property with electric fencing, which prevented some species from using the natural corridor and accessing the protected natural spaces in the area.

After several years of this use, the land was left vacant and the landscape began to regenerate. Grasses and shrubby plants began to grow, and muddy open areas where the dogs once ran became covered again with native vegetation. As the fencing deteriorated, large wildlife began to use the property as a natural corridor again.

Belted kingfishers (pictured), hooded mergansers, and painted turtles inhabit the swampy area of the Cation property. (Photo:  KLT volunteer Steve Paul)
Belted kingfishers (pictured), hooded mergansers, and painted turtles inhabit the swampy area of the Cation property. (Photo: KLT volunteer Steve Paul)
The loss of scrubland habitat due to human activities such as brush clearing and agricultural production reduced the population of the Eastern Towhee by 49 per cent in the last 50 years. (Photo:  KLT volunteer Steve Paul)
The loss of scrubland habitat due to human activities such as brush clearing and agricultural production reduced the population of the Eastern Towhee by 49 per cent in the last 50 years. (Photo: KLT volunteer Steve Paul)

The property is now made up of rolling areas that were once pasture grasslands, with shrubby meadow thickets, early successional and mixed hardwood forests, and a swamp that is part of a 183-acre Provincially Significant Wetland. A trail system passes through the grasslands and meadows, which are home to a wide range of wildlife.

Bird species spotted on the property include golden-winged warblers, bald eagles, upland sandpipers, and thrashers, with belted kingfishers and hooded mergansers inhabiting the swampy area along with painted turtles and leopard and green frogs.

Staghorn sumac, wild red raspberry, and blackberry bushes found throughout the property are a food source to many species, and there are signs that white-tailed deer, coyotes, black bears, and even moose have visited the property.

A volunteer removes some of the old wire fencing used by a previous owner to enclose the property.  Wildlife organizations will repurpose the fencing for new enclosures and other projects. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Land Trust)
A volunteer removes some of the old wire fencing used by a previous owner to enclose the property. Wildlife organizations will repurpose the fencing for new enclosures and other projects. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Land Trust)

The old dog kennels, wire fencing, and old rain barrels left behind by the previous owner were repurposed by the Kawartha Wildlife Centre, with volunteers taking everything apart this summer so it can be made into wildlife enclosures and raccoon beds. Other wildlife organizations, including Speaking of Wildlife, are using the old fencing for new enclosures and other projects.

This is the third property protected by KLT in Decemeber 2018. Bob and Mary Hartley recently entered into a conservation easement agreement for their 44-acre Pine Ridge property west of the Pigeon River, and Scott Wootton and Catherine Kirk donated a 34-acre property near Burleigh.

KLT is the only non-governmental charitable organization committed to protecting land in the Kawarthas. With these three properties, the organization is now protecting a total of 17 properties covering more than 4,101 acres of diverse and significant land.

For more information about KLT, and to make a donation, visit kawarthalandtrust.org,.

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