© Guardian photo by Mary MacKay
Hyde Creek is a magical play place for children in Cornwall and it is also fertile ground for some new tree plantings by Cornwall and Area Watershed Group staff Karalee McAskill, left, and Lee Cowan.
CORNWALL — The sounds of a burbling brook and playful laughter emanate from a thick treeline in the centre of Cornwall.
Enclosed within is a small group of children from a nearby daycare who are enjoying an outing at Hyde Creek, which is part of an extensive Hyde Creek Watershed that runs smack dab through the municipality as it heads towards the sea.
“It is the most urban watershed on P.E.I. . . . Eighty per cent of it is in the town. There are so many groups — camps, daycares, school kids — that get that experience because they live so close to it. The kids play in there, it’s their imaginary land, it’s their castle,” says Karalee McAskill, who is watershed co-ordinator for the Cornwall and Area Watershed Group (CAWG), which in addition to actively working to preserve the Hyde Creek Watershed, has recently expanded to encompass the North River Watershed that also includes the future Charlottetown well field site in Miltonvale.
CAWG was formed in 2009 by residents in the Cornwall area to address their concerns about Hyde Creek, which is approximately eight kilometres long and runs from the North Wiltshire area to Hyde Pond and then out into the Hyde Cove estuary.
“There was a lot of damage being done by sedimentation in the system, runoff from years of agriculture around Cornwall and new development, so there was a lot of sedimentation, erosion and flooding going on. So we were put in place to restore the natural state of the ecosystem and the water system there,” McAskill says.
Every summer since then hired crews and volunteers have done basic watershed enhancement work in the Hyde Creek area.
“We’ve brush-matted every year. We’ve excavated springs and when you do that it pumps more water into the system. There are probably 1,000 groundwater springs within the system and this is just a small system,” McAskill says. “There are tons of springs and they just upwell from so many different areas.”
The result has been that some areas that were excessively wide and shallow with sluggish water flow are now narrow and deep with rapid water movement.
“We’ve had so much success with (brush matting) that we don’t have to brush mat anymore,” McAskill says.
Community involvement and education are also part of CAWG’s mandate, as well as advocating for sound air, land and water use planning and good management practices and policies.
A case in point is when a local member of the community notified CAWG staff of a problem with runoff from a new subdivision development. They contacted the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Renewal, which in turn approached the land developer, who immediately corrected the problem.
In conjunction with CAWG’s recent inclusion of the North River Watershed, the non-profit organization is developing a steering committee in the community to determine how residents would like their watershed to be managed.
“They live in it and we really need their input. We’re totally community based. This isn’t coming from a university or a government; our plan is generated by the community, and then our skills and our expertise can be used to perform and follow through in the strategies to meet their needs,” McAskill says.
“(The North River Watershed) is a lot bigger. It has several tributaries and is a much larger area and a lot more habitat for animals and fish and a lot more opportunity for the community to use it and use us to meet their needs for whatever they want to use it for.”
There are seven brooks in the North River Watershed area, which is about 10 times bigger than the nearby Hyde Creek system.
“There are approximately 56 kilometres of main streams, not including the smaller offshoots and tributaries that we’ve been trying to look at. We’ve covered about 40 so far. It’s a huge system,” says Lee Cowan, who is CAWG’s North River project co-ordinator.
“Right now we’re trying to get as much water flowing as we can, getting debris removed, clearing up blockages, digging out springs, working the side brooks and getting them flowing again. We’ve really made a difference in the Milton Creek already. It went up six inches so it does make a difference as far as getting out there and doing enhancement.”
CAWG is inviting community members from the North River Watershed areas to join its steering committee, which will help to develop a successful watershed management plan and begin baseline monitoring of the Coles brook area.
“We want to secure the environmental protection,” McAskill says of CAWG’s overall goal.
“The Island runs on 100 per cent of its own ground water so it’s important as Islanders that we maintain some sort of boundary on that because if you let people run all over and do whatever they want in the watershed, there’s going to be trouble. There are going to be fish kills, there’s going to be sedimentation, but we can prevent the worst from happening.”
Cowan admits it’s going to be a long-term process.
“This isn’t going to be fixed in a year because it took 50 to get to here. (One man) was saying to me today, ‘When I was a young fella I used to catch trout like this’,” she says, extending her hands to big fish proportions.
“He’s my age and he’s already talking way in the past. ‘It used to be like this.’ We want to get it back to that again. That’s our job. That’s what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives is try to get it back to where it’s supposed to be.”