Friends of Mac Johnson Wildlife Area Mark 25 Years of Service and Support for Conservation.
When times are tough, it’s good to know who your friends really are. In the case of the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area, a popular conservation area owned and operated by Cataraqui Conservation just north of the City of Brockville, a time of great need proved that the environmentally significant lands had friends indeed.
Originally called Buell’s Creek Conservation Area, it was renamed the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area in 1987 to recognize the tireless efforts of Mac Johnson to develop the property and his commitment to promoting environmental education.
In the mid-1990s, the provincial government of the day, as part of a suite of cost cutting measures, gutted a large part of Conservation Authority budgets including Cataraqui Conservation’s. One very tangible and very negative outcome of this process was that the trails and facilities of the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area could not be maintained and operated to previous standards.
In the wake of these events, Cataraqui Conservation’s Board, working in conjunction with a group of committed, community and conservation-minded local citizens, created the Friends of the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area in 1996. It would consist of volunteers from across a broad spectrum of the community, each with their own areas of interest and expertise, coming together to help continue the development, promotion, and operation of the Wildlife Area.
The official mandate of the Friends of Mac Johnson Wildlife Area has always been “to preserve and protect the natural habitat for wildlife and vegetation and to promote the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area for recreation and environmental education.”
Don Wright, a long-time member of the Cataraqui Conservation Full Authority Board was named the first president of the Friends and continued to lead the organization for many years. Working closely with Cataraqui Conservation staff, the Friends of Mac Johnson Wildlife Area initiated several significant projects – some strictly for conservation and environmental management purposes, others to enhance the recreational components of the property and connect more and more members of the general public to the amenities of the Wildlife Area.
Their signature project began at the very dawn of the new millennium with the development of the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program, which not only helped to rehabilitate the swan population in the region, but also became a popular attraction for visitors and soon established itself as an indelible part of the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area’s identity. Involving the public in a naming contest for the initial breeding pair – Mac and Millie – was the start of the community’s love affair with the program and with the graceful aquatic birds.
In 2002, the Friends organized and hosted the inaugural Winter Family Fun Day with Cataraqui Conservation, incorporating a host of winter recreational activities, from skating and skiing to the popular Mush Larose dog sled races and performances from local musicians Fiddlers Plus. It continues to be a popular and well-attended, family-oriented outdoor winter activity.
The Friends also helped facilitate the usage of the trails at Mac Johnson for both the 2007 and 2009 Ontario Senior Games.
Another anchor project of the Friends has been the creation, development and growth of the tree nursery and its accompanying annual sales. It has been run by Friends volunteers for many years and has been the organization’s primary fundraiser, besides being a great way to encourage folks to plant more native trees.
Throughout its quarter century journey, the work of the Friends has been augmented by a number of significant corporate and community partnerships. These include: Invista/Dupont, Proctor & Gamble, Royal Trust/TD and RBC, as well as the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, Thousand Islands Secondary School and Académie Catholique Ange-Gabriel.
To commemorate their 25th anniversary, the Friends are adding some more amenities to the property, including revitalizing the pollinator garden behind the kiosk at the main entrance, as well as adding a Vista View with a bench on Trail 2 for visitors to be able to sit and enjoy the view of the Back Pond.
Congratulations to the Friends and happy 25th Anniversary from the staff and Board Members at Cataraqui Conservation. Thank you for your dedication, passion, and hard work to make Mac Johnson Wildlife Area a beautiful and protected space for the community enjoy for many years to come.
Cataraqui Conservation will be highlighting stories from a few long-standing members of the Friends in the weeks to come. Be sure to visit https://cataraquiconservation.ca/pages/friends-mac-johnson to learn more, become and member, or to donate to the Friends.