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Park program to help bring wildlife to neighbourhoods

Guelph’s Park Stewards Network was made official in 2023 and there are about 12 groups in the program

Meghan Lewis wasn’t much of a gardener, but when she moved to a house in Parkwood Gardens and found invasive plants in her yard, her thumb turned a shade of green. 

She removed the invasive plants and replaced them with native species to attract pollinators. 

Lewis used to be a medical aesthetician but a passion for nature turned into a new career as a landscaper. She started a landscaping business with her neighbour called Cardiff Naturescaping.

Her passion for nature can also be found in her newly founded group the Springdale Park Stewards. 

The group is part of Guelph’s Park Stewards Network, a program that was made official in 2023. It was formalized then but was built on longstanding relationships with a couple park stewards groups, said Dave Beaton, program manager of parks, forestry and sustainable landscapes for the City of Guelph.

One of the oldest groups is Wolfond Park Stewards. It's been around for about 30 years. 

Meera Drennan Dyer moved to the neighbourhood 12 years ago. She grew up in the country and missed being around nature so she joined the stewards to work on Joseph Wolfond Park East. 

Drennan Dyer is now the current organizer of Wolfond Park Stewards. She said the park is looking good and there are maple and oak trees growing.

The group is set to have an invasive garlic mustard pull event May 5 also from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. It works closely with OPIRG Guelph to organize, recruit volunteers, provide tools and plants for events.

To form a group, park stewards have to engage with neighbours to join, go through local neighbourhood groups for insurance and plan events for people to work on the parks. The city provides the stewards with tools, mulch and trees to plant.

So far there are about 12 groups part of the network, and some have existed prior to the program. 

“Guelph is blessed with a lot of strong leaders in our communities. And the parks are natural connection points. People are very passionate about their parks. So I think this was just speaking to a need in the community that people wanted to be engaged,” said Beaton.

The reason for the popularity of the park program he attributes in part to the pandemic when people couldn’t do much else but go to the park.

Springdale Park is located at 38 Springdale Blvd. It backs onto a school and there is a play structure and soccer field. It’s a large open space with trees and shrubs around it.

Lewis noticed sometimes people dump their yard waste at the park which can cause problems. If there are invasive species in the waste it can then grow in the park which is what the group is trying to avoid.

Buckthorn had been treated for in the park by the city at least twice, she said. The goal for this season is to remove buckthorn and other invasive species and replace them with native plants.

Insects need native plants to survive. Chickadees eat about 350 caterpillars a day and caterpillars need native plants to feed off of, said Drennan Dyer.

Joining the group “was an opportunity to work with the earth and to bring nature into the city,” she said. 

She wanted to plant native species to try to bring more birds, butterflies and wildlife to the neighbourhood so her family could enjoy.

Lewis moved to the neighbourhood in 2018 and after she had her third child she experienced a bit of climate anxiety. “We're just kind of bombarded with news on the eco-apocalypse and climate crisis,” she said. 

So attracting pollinators to her backyard and helping the park flourish is her way of overcoming the climate anxiety she was feeling.

She read a book called Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy and learned a bit about how she can help the environment.

“If a significant amount of people made these changes to their own yard that would actually have quite a significant impact on the population of native insects because we can't control what happens on other land that we don't own,” said Lewis.

In the fall Springdale Park Stewards removed invasive plants from the park and planted trees.

Lewis likes that the group connects people who are like-minded and want to spend time doing something positive in nature. It can be hard to see progress in the world sometimes so with the park its easier to see the progress grow on a small scale.

It gives people the opportunity to adopt a natural space and care for the nature in their neighbourhood, said Beaton.

“We have 100 parks all over the city and a very small team to deal with this,” he said. By engaging people through the program it helps more parks get taken care of.

As for the future of the program Beaton hopes to scale it up but for the time being it has reached its capacity.