Privately-run conservation area (con't)

There are some 25 acres of savannah, and more than 10 acres of red and pine woods.

There is also a beautiful 120 year old railway bridge.

Rick Taves, a former Rodney township councillor, was the driving force to have the conservation area managed by a private non-profit group.

In the early 1990s the then provincial Harris government was considering selling off conservation sites.

“There was discussion about putting this on the auction block,” Taves said.

So a group of citizens went to the authority and proposed taking Two Creeks over “so it doesn’t cost you anything to run it.”

They started with sweat equity - grooming trails, clearing an area for parking.

Taves said “one of the first things we did” was open a site where the public could plant memorial trees for loved ones.

Slowly, as the community started to see the conservation area transformed, the management committee began receiving cheques from groups like service clubs.

They used the money to add facilities like restrooms and build 12 walking bridges.

The only public money comes from the municipality of Chatham-Kent, which provides $2-$3000 annually for promotion.

One of the big summer attractions is a free Sunday night concert series at the pavilion, at which hundreds attend.

A wooden band shell – the only area amphitheatre – built with native timber, is the concert site.

The audience sits on a small hillside covered with trees.

“It’s nicely dappled,” Taves says. “The shade isn’t really heavy but it’s very pleasant to sit there and we’ve terraced that hillside.”

At the top of the hill is a large wooden pavilion for people in wheelchairs or who might otherwise find walking difficult.

During winter there is a 60 ft toboggan hill.

It was built from fill brought by a thousand truckloads from a large water main project dug between Wheatley and Tilbury.

There is also cross country skiing on the numerous trails although motorized vehicles like snowmobiles are discouraged.

Taves described the hill as “the highest point in Chatham-Kent” and at the first sign of snow “it’s full of kids.”

Creating a privately run park requires a certain type of management skill.

Taves discourages other groups considering doing this from simply “filling out forms.”

Rather, they should build “credibility” by doing a bit of hard work such as site grooming and maintenance.

This demonstration effect in turn will draw public support and financial aid.

Taves said his committee just received a call from a group near Niagara Falls asking advice about taking over a natural area.

He says the ideal volunteers for groups such as Two Creeks are young retirees who don’t mind doing occasional physical work.

“It’s a good outlet for people who have some time.”

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