Spit park master plan includes ‘invisible’ structures, solar power: no dogs allowed

By Dennis Findlay –

The Port Lands Action Committee met on Nov. 20 at the Ralph Thornton community centre to hear park manager Ralph Toninger deliver a presentation on the master plan for Tommy Thompson Park.

Toninger described the planned park as a “public urban wilderness”—and indeed it is becoming just that under the watchful eye of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).

Construction of what has become knows as the Spit started in 1959 when rubble and fill from construction sites began being deposited into a pre-planned configuration. Over the years, nature has had its way: successive generations of plants, animals, insects and birds have adopted the Spit as their natural habitat.

The work of the TRCA is to assist the naturalization of the Spit by moving the master plan forward on many levels and with a very light hand, gently providing what is necessary for an amazingly healthy wilderness to develop on our door step.

So what does the TRCA have in its master plan to make the Spit more accessible for those who wish to engage in this urban wilderness? As Toninger explained, there will be a delicate balance of infrastructure, trails and habitat.

The TRCA has already taken action to mitigate the impact that human visitors have on the Spit by carefully selecting, grooming and surfacing designated paths and look-outs: not so long ago, people would wander anywhere they wanted, trampling the healthy growth of this wilderness. More infrastructure is required, however: there is minimal road access for emergency and service vehicles and cyclists.

The master plan’s most interesting proposal concerns the advent of three major structures which will be designed by architects to disappear into the all-important landscape.

An “invisible” welcoming or entrance booth will be home to staff who will monitor the visitors entering the wilderness. Staff will also engage the public with information and assist with directions and instructions on what to look for, where to expect it, how to get there, and what other amenities are available. This structure will contain washrooms, have some electrical facilities—hopefully powered from solar sources—and some interpretive capacity, as well as spaces for groups to leave objects they don’t want to cart through the park.

An environmental shelter will be located about 1/3 of the way into the park. The master plan proposes an open air structure with composting washrooms and interpretive opportunities—resources explaining what diversity of species are in the park, habitat types, and how all of that is changing with time. School groups would have “classes” through wildlife viewing experiences.

The proposed solar-powered ecological research and bird banding station will be located “off the beaten path.” The building will be completely covered, but would have a viewing platform.

Construction of the structures will be underway next summer: it is hoped that the park and all its new amenities will be open on a regular basis within five years.

Interestingly, the spit is a completely dog-free wilderness. Since dogs are natural predators and hunters, they are not compatible with attempts to encourage nesting birds—especially those that nest on the ground—or for a variety of other animals needing forest shelter  to seclude their offspring. The park is also home to delicate plant species that can’t survive the roaming nature of man’s best friend. Dog owners are asked to respect the dog-free policy and instead visit the open spaces of west Cherry Beach.

The Port Lands Action Committee meets every third Thursday at Ralph Thornton community centre at 765 Queen St. E. at 7 p.m. E-mail dennisfindlay@rogers.com.