The City of Toronto may have a proposal next month on how much of the former Beare Road landfill should go to the bobolink, a ground-nesting bird, and how much should go to mountain bikers.
Different and possibly conflicting interests want to be included as a plan for a Beare Road Park is drawn up on 200 acres the city owns along its eastern boundary with Pickering, south of Finch Avenue.
Dominated by a hill concealing nine million tonnes of mainly household waste, Beare is a sizeable green space essentially surrounded by the future Rouge Park National Urban Park without being part of it.
The first glimpse of a “vision” for Beare Road Park, as explained to people at a Malvern meeting last week, calls for the land to be “integrated” into the Rouge and makes protection of wildlife habitat its primary goal.
This would mean creating a “zone of protection” in grasslands around the hill for the bobolink, a species threatened in Ontario that doesn’t do well in forests, said Ian Gray, a landscape architect from park consultant MMM Group.
A gravel extraction site before it was a dump, Beare received Toronto’s trash, covered each day with soil and sand, from 1968 until 1983, when it was capped with a mixture of soil and clay.
The hill settled about a metre a year during the first decade, but its summit is still one of the highest vantage points in Eastern Greater Toronto and the plan would protect those views.
“You told us that was important” in a previous meeting, Gray said.
The plan would also protect a pond and wetland in the park as well as trees planted during the last 25 years and patches of remnant forest going back at least 150 years, but wouldn’t seek to create an east-west forest corridor for wildlife because that may interfere with the bobolink’s grassland habitat, he said.
A private company still converts methane escaping from the dump to electricity, and has had its contract extended to 2021, while other machinery pumps leachate to a local sanitary sewer.
Gray said the city would fence in the gas conversion plant and may build a washroom nearby. Public access to the site, he said, could come through a level crossing on the property’s western side or from the southern end of Beare Road at its northwest corner.
Beare Road Park may also have multiuse trails and a zone for “more active” cycling, or mountain biking, that does not include the top of the hill, Gray said.
Mountain biking groups were unsuccessful when they asked the Rouge Alliance, a now-disbanded governing body, to let them ride on Rouge Park trails.
Some people at last Thursday’s meeting said they wanted the Beare Road Park incorporated into the Rouge, but others suggested Beare could handle certain recreational uses the Rouge couldn’t.
Sheila Lathe, a near neighbour, said she suffered when as many as 500 trucks a day were coming to the dump, but she’s glad now to see the land green and growing trees.
“I look forward to it being even prettier,” she added.
Jim Robb, general manager of Friends of the Rouge Watershed, said he has seen bobolink nest on the site, but added milk snakes, frequently on the hill’s north and west slopes, are also a species at risk. Robb said the Beare park shouldn’t be formally opened until the movement of significant species is known.
Gray said the local habitat is changing and needs more study. The city team on the project (which posts information at www.toronto.ca/parks/projects/beare_road_park) said it will share a “draft conceptual design” for the park at its next meeting on Jan. 24. The meeting’s location is not yet known.