For many years, residents looking to grow their connection with nature headed to the north end of Guelph to explore the Ignatius Old-Growth Forest.
The 93-acre property rests on the other side of Highway 6 north of the Ignatius Jesuit Centre. The space is a mix of forest and meadows which home 220 different plant species and 76 species of wildlife. One of the entrances to the space is located at 53 Cross Creek Blvd.
"It's just a really special place and it's a great place to come out too," said Patrick Kelly, Old-Growth Forest Restoration Coordinator, who has been involved in the project since 2020.
"Our property has the confluence of the Marden Creek and the Speed River and that place especially is an interesting place to go to and connect with, and it's in the middle of this really cool cedar forest."
The project began in 2006 with restoration work beginning after the removal of a dam on site. Since then, over 11,000 native trees and shrubs have been replanted in the old-growth forest by volunteers. Kelly said a lot of those plantings were done by school groups.
"Everybody has planted a tree, like everybody has gotten their hands in the dirt and has planted, like a flower or done some weeding or done some watering," said Kelly.
"With COVID making it so a lot of people couldn't gather in close spaces, they started looking for what connection could look like in other ways, and obviously, a large, 93-acre property with five kilometres trail running through it and a whole bunch of open air, is a fantastic opportunity for nature connection," said Kelly about increased interest in the old-growth forest.
Besides connecting with nature, Kelly said forests can also provide health benefits, like fresher air and cleaner drinking water.
"Healthy environments means healthy humans."
Today, the Ignatius Old-Growth Forest Project has many goals, including conservation, restoration and protection. Kelly said the project is also trying to build community and show what restoration and care for nature can look like.
"Last year, we started reaching beyond the project bounds and started connecting with, specifically, one community in Guelph, where we basically taught someone how to do some restoration projects in their park woodlot, and then, we ran events with them to engage their community in restoration activities," said Kelly.
Kelly mentions there are always projects going on for volunteers to sign up for, including tree planting, weeding, invasive species management or habitat restoration. The Ignatius Old-Growth Forest Project accepts volunteers from May to October.
"There's always work to do, which is why it is so important to have volunteers. We have buckthorn, we have phragmites, both of which are a challenging, invasive species so the volunteers are really the people helping us do the work in a way that could potentially improve the space long-term, and give for more native species, which means more habitat, which means better climate resiliency, and all of these things."
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, ignatiusguelph.ca.