Blog Contributor: Norievill Espana
SSAS students and Environmental Sustainability Research Centre staff boarded a big yellow bus to visit Niagara Parks as part of the 5P01 Foundations in Sustainability Science and Society course, which was instructed by Dr. Jessica Blythe throughout the Fall 2022 semester. This experiential learning was designed to reinforce knowledge exchange beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Dr. Ryan Plummer, Director of the ESRC and team lead of the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI), joined the class and shared information on the EESI, a partnership between Brock University’s ESRC and the Niagara Parks Commission. He added that the EESI aims to enhance environmental stewardship, knowledge sharing, and capacity development through the partnership. Dr. Plummer then introduced Corey Burant, Project Manager for Forest Health Parks, Planning and Properties,from Niagara Parks who facilitated the tour for the SSAS students.
The first stop was the Niagara Gorge, overlooking the whirlpool and surrounded by a 10,000-year-old rock formation. Corey explained how Niagara Parks employees used prescribed burning to remove and control invasive plant species and maintain the native population. He also shared how forest rangers installed gates and signage and have rerouted trails to protect endangered species. However, vandalism and intrusion remain a challenge within the park.
The group then proceeded to the Niagara Glen Nature Centre. The Centre is a key location where Niagara Parks fosters knowledge and awareness through nature-based experience. Here, visitors can take part in a point-based trading system by sharing photos of plants and animals that they encountered around the area during their hikes and visits. The staff working at the Centre showed the SSAS students’ items and their corresponding points such as rocks, fossils, taxidermy, shells, and others.
Before proceeding to the next stop, Samantha Witkowski, SSAS Alumnus, joined the students and shared an overview of her research on monitoring and evaluation of tourist perception and behavior in Niagara Parks. She also shared how the outputs of her research assisted Niagara Parks in identifying sustainable tourism strategies to improve tourist awareness and engagement. After her presentation, the SSAS students made a quick round of sharing their proposed topics of research which included improving awareness on climate change, biodiversity conservation, and environmental restoration.
The next stop on the tour was the Chippawa Battlefield Park where Corey shared about the history of the grassland, and how the conservation efforts undertaken by Niagara Parks have led to a flourishing ecosystem and thriving population of important bird species.
Last was a short walk to Ussher’s Creek, one of the shoreline restoration sites in Niagara Parks. Corey shared that Niagara Parks has adopted a method of piling and dropping fallen trees into the water. The fallen trees provide habitat and feeding areas for diverse species of fish. At the onset, they were worried the method would go against the aesthetic plan of the shoreline but gained support from the surrounding community and saw success in their use of fallen trees. Corey highlighted that NPC continues to find sustainable ways in maintaining Niagara Parks establishments and amenities.
The experiential learning at Niagara Parks was a beneficial way to wrap up the Fall 2022 term. SSAS students learned first-hand information about how sustainability is embedded in corporate actions and the importance of transdisciplinary initiatives, where academe and partners work hand-in-hand to achieve environmental sustainability goals.