Blog Contributor: Allison Clark
Greenspaces, such as those found within Niagara Parks, have great ecological and social importance. For example, connecting with nature can provide benefits to physical and mental health. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for people to get outside and connect with nature. As a result, human activity in greenspaces has increased substantially, which has in turn created challenges for parks management. To ensure ecological integrity is being upheld while also protecting visitor safety, new trail management strategies should be considered.
To discuss how Niagara Parks can navigate the increased use of greenspaces, a roundtable event was held on October 20th, 2020. This event brought together individuals from the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) and Brock University. This event was made possible by the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI) – a partnership between NPC and Brock. During this event, Brock University’s master’s students, Samantha Witkowski and John Foster, presented their research pertaining to greenspaces within Niagara Parks. Implications of these research findings were discussed with regards to the management of greenspaces.
Samantha’s presentation was titled: Examining Stakeholder Perceptions in Monitoring and Evaluation of Environmental Management. Samantha presented two different studies. The first study examined inter-group differences in the perceptions of key performance indicators (KPIs) for viewpoints. Results showed that stakeholders, tourists, local residents, and environmental managers perceived KPIs differently in Niagara Parks. For example, stakeholders perceived view quality and vegetation as the most important KPIs, whereas environmental managers perceived viewpoint KPIs more critically. The second study explored the influence of engaging in a collaborative, or participatory monitoring and evaluation process on stakeholder perceptions of KPIs for trails. For this study, Samantha had stakeholders rank KPIs from what they perceived as most important to least important in terms of trail management. Stakeholders were then required to take a KPI workshop and re-rank KPIs. Results from this study showed that stakeholders perceptions of important KPIs for trail management differed significantly following the KPI workshop. Furthermore, it was noted that discussion, communication, and learning opportunities contributed to perception change. A main takeaway from Samantha’s research was that the NPC should move away from strictly expert-led, ecologically focused trail management approaches, and move towards the inclusion of stakeholder perceptions in environmental management, monitoring and evaluation.
John’s presentation was titled: Niagara Glen Trails Assessment, Summer 2020. John’s research highlighted some challenges associated with increased human traffic in the Niagara Glen, as well as some short-term and long-term solutions to address increased traffic along the trail. John outlined challenges associated with social trails (networks of unauthorized trails), and visitor safety and communication. To protect ecological and human health at the Niagara Glen, John proposed that the NPC implements visitor education sessions, increases signage, and creates effective trail maps.
Overall, this roundtable event worked to successfully discuss how the NPC should navigate increased usage of greenspaces. The research findings presented by Samantha and John were received very well by members of the EESI, and the NPC were very receptive to suggestions for improved environmental and trail management.