A Verdant Jewel in a Vibrant City

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This blog post was provided by Douglas Markoff, Executive Director at The Riverwood Conservancy, as part of our featured series on the environment.

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Nestled in the heart of Canada’s sixth largest city, Riverwood is a verdant jewel in the City of Mississauga, one of Canada’s fastest growing urban areas.  In fact, our 60 hectare urban oasis neighbours hundreds of homes, shops, a university campus, and even one of Canada’s largest malls: Square One Shopping Centre.

Although we are surrounded by urbanism, Riverwood is quietly situated on Mississauga’s Credit River. Deer, beavers, turtles, salamanders, butterflies and a vast array of bird species and stands of uncut forests all call Riverwood home, making up the most biodiverse ecosystem along the Credit River corridor.  But among all that we tend to on our property, one of the most prized examples of community care and fondness for nature is the work done by The Riverwood Conservancy (TRC), a volunteer-based charity located right on site.

Gardens and Giving

Renowned for its native plants and abundant gardens, Riverwood’s greenery features some of the rarest vegetation in Canada, some of which includes: Cucumber magnolia, Kentucky coffeetree, Pawpaw, Tulip tree, trout lily, trillium, and other plants distinct to the regionally rare Carolinian ecosystem.   Although much of the vegetation found at Riverwood has been lost in other parts of the globe due to urban development, beloved volunteers are integral to keeping them alive and thriving here at Riverwood.

TRC was founded in 1985 as the Mississauga Garden Council, but as our role changed over the course of more than twenty years, in 2009, it was decided to change our name to The Riverwood Conservancy. Our name now better reflects our mission of taking responsibility for this natural resource, while providing the community with programs in environmental education, natural areas stewardship and our cherished gardening, in addition to volunteerism and services to the wider region.

Planting an eclectic mix of flowering perennials, roses, annuals, bulbs and grasses ever changing throughout the seasons, volunteers are critical to the success of the conservancy at all levels: from tending gardens and pulling invasive plants to sitting on committees and the board of directors.  In 2014, volunteers contributed over 22,000 hours to the conservancy of our gardens, educational program, and stewardship goals.

Stewards for the Future

As part of our vison and mandate, we also work to protect, improve and restore Riverwood’s natural spaces to ensure their maintenance for future generations – but this is no easy task.  Riverwood’s forest, tablelands, meadows, ravines, ponds, creeks and river are all under pressure from invasive plant and animal species such as garlic mustard, buckthorn, purple loosestrife, Manitoba maple, emerald ash borer and the gypsy moth.  With all of these pressures facing our local ecosystem, volunteers are imperative to the success of all of our stewardship projects.  Just this year, volunteers have removed over 2,500 kilograms of garlic mustard – more than twice the amount pulled in 2014.  But we need to remember stewardship is more than just removing unwanted plants, it also includes restoring habitats such as ponds and meadows, while planting native species of trees and forest understory.  Many of these projects will take years to complete, but our present efforts will reap long-term benefits for the people of Mississauga and surrounding communities.

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Flourishing Minds

In the past year, nearly 7,000 students have participated in Riverwood’s educational programs targeting elementary, secondary, and special needs students.  More incredibly, over 34,000 students have walked through our doors since 2005 to participate in our Education Naturally and Leaders in Environmental Achievements through Diversity and Skills program, otherwise known as L.E.A.D.S. – two school-based programs taking children and youth into the great outdoors to learn about the wonders of nature simply by doing.  But learning doesn’t end after graduation; we also educate life-long learners of all ages and have a very active adult and family program called Discovery@Riverwood.

Inspired by the Buehler Enabling Garden of Chicago, we proudly feature a hands-on teaching garden, fully accessible and innovatively designed for physically and cognitively challenged children, youth, adults, the elderly and their caregivers in the Region of Peel.  Our Enabling Garden not only adheres to the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum and specific community agency objectives, it also promotes overall health and well-being for participants who may have experienced trauma, substance use, depression, or bereavement.

But it’s not all about learning how to get your hands dirty.  Aside from our environmental education programs, Riverwood also operates a century-old, Arts and Crafts-style building on the Riverwood property known as Chappell House.  In addition, we partner with Visual Arts Mississauga to offer art and nature programs on site to inspire creativity.

Our Plans and Potential

As we continue to develop new programs and partnerships in order to better serve the community, one of our major projects we hope to undertake is converting Chappell House into a series of classrooms as part of an Environmental Education Centre.  This transformation will provide more students with the opportunity to learn about nature using leading-edge green technologies.

Although the City of Mississauga and Credit Valley Conservation support Riverwood as we are a uniquely untouched and environmentally sensitive estate in a bustling suburb, it is only through the generous donations from corporate and private donors which make our most popular programs possible.  Through continued support from generous individuals and groups, we will sustain our programs and spark future growth and continued stewardship of this invaluable resource located in the heart of Mississauga.

To learn more about The Riverwood Conservancy, please visit their charity profile page >>

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