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We rise again!

The Nature of PEI | Gary Schneider

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In 2003 I created a management plan for Victoria Park, referring to it as the jewel of Charlottetown’s park system. The park was in poor shape, with lots of invasive species, too many white birch that were plagued by leaf miners, and non-native trees throughout the area that would have been better growing in Norway, England, or Italy. The Parks and Recreation staff were amazing, and took on the task of planting hundreds of native species of trees, shrubs, wildflowers and ferns.

The park was headed in the right direction. The new native plant arboretum was a great addition, both visually and for the educational opportunities it provided. The maintenance on the plants improved, as did the quality of wildlife habitat, and the public still visited in droves.

Then Fiona hit. It was a storm like no other, smashing hundreds of trees and making the trails impassable. This led to the closure of the trails out of concern for public safety. My first trip to the park after the storm was filled with sadness. The destruction of so many trees that had done so much for us all—storing carbon, cleaning air and water, providing excellent wildlife habitat, and offering wonderful spaces for recreation—was heartbreaking.

The same thing happened at Macphail Woods, and thousands of other places across the Island. There is a grieving process that happens after such a calamity, but after the grieving, and even while it is still going on, people look to the future. As I walked through the park, I kept hearing the Rankin Family singing “We Rise Again” at the top of their lungs.

The City of Charlottetown contacted me about creating a restoration plan for Victoria Park. When we met up to survey the damage and talk about possibilities, I found myself face to face with a gorgeous witch hazel, one of our rarest native shrubs that staff had planted years ago at the start of one of the trails. When I looked at the yellow blossoms, I couldn’t help but smile. Despite the damage, the park still had lots to offer.

It will not be an easy journey to restore the health of Victoria Park. The cleanup alone will be an enormous task. But if we work with patience and humility, we can come out of this with an even better park in terms of health, beauty, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.  

Many trees that fell were Norway maples, European lindens, English oak, and European mountain ash. These will be replaced by stronger trees such as sugar maple; deep-rooted species such as red oak; and a mix of native shrubs that will be excellent for wildlife throughout the year. Invasive species such as glossy buckthorn and bittersweet nightshade will continue to be removed. More rare native species will be added to the area, and the trails themselves will get an upgrade.

The site will not be cleaned, as the fallen leaves and trees will add both nutrients, organic matter, and water-storage to the forest. Removing all the wood that Fiona had knocked down would simply be adding insult to injury. The plan will be to improve soil health as a first step in creating a healthy forest.

There will also be more public events, such as volunteer tree-planting days and guided walks on wildlife and native plants.

While there is no way to repair this forest quickly, with patience and good direction we can begin the healing process, both for Victoria Park and the public who value it. The park will be different, but it will remain a jewel.

Gary SchneiderThe Nature of PEI