Rouge National Park is an urban park located in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada. The park is centered around the Red River and includes the urban areas of Scarborough, Markham, Pickering, Uxbridge and Whitchurch-stouffville. The park offers a protected region of natural forests and rivers among some of the largest and growing cities in southern Ontario. The park covers an area of 75 square kilometers, but Parks Canada has been pushing to expand that area as well as to nationalize the park.
Rouge Park was established in 1995 under the aegis of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. At that time, the park contained approximately 40 square kilometers of land stretching from Toronto to Markham and Pickering. Rouge National Urban Park was conceptualized in 2011 and steps have been taken to authorize the area as an official urban park. This designation was officially declared in May 2015 under the Rouge National Urban Park Act.
Rouge National Urban Park is located in the Rouge River, Petticoat Creek, and Duffins Creek watersheds. The landscape includes both this dominant waterway, as well as a vast system of ravines. The park’s ravines are actually part of Toronto’s largest ravine system. In addition to the natural landscape, an artificial wetland has been created in Rouge Park. The wetland is not only an important habitat for various aquatic creatures, but it also helps reduce flood forces. Indigenous peoples have lived in the Rouge Valley region for many generations, living off the land and the water. Later, the settlers used the land for agricultural cultivation. The park now protects tracts of Class 1 agricultural land within its borders.
The park has also had a connection with agriculture. In 2015, Parks Canada implemented conservation and agriculture projects with the help of local park farmers and Indigenous partners. Farmland has been allowed to remain within the park boundaries, with help from governing bodies and education from environmentalists. Through this initiative and wetland restoration efforts, some 32 hectares of wetlands and 20 hectares of forests have been restored in the park, and over 38,000 trees have been planted in the area.
The Red River is home to many of southern Ontario’s most common species. Forty-four different species of mammals have been recorded in the park, some more common than others. Canada’s iconic animal, the beaver, loves swampy marshes and can often be seen in the wetter areas of the park. In addition, smaller mammals such as foxes, chipmunks, gray squirrels, meadow voles, long-tailed weasels, red squirrels, muskrats, groundhogs, bats, possums and porcupines can all be found in these regions. Large mammals include the eastern coyote and white-tailed deer.
Visit of the park
The park is located next to many of the larger cities in the Toronto area. It is open for tours 365 days a year with no admission for day travelers. Some 12 kilometers of hiking trails cross the Toronto and Markham areas, with plans for expansion. Beaches, marshes, campgrounds and farm tours are all available. Visitors can explore the area on their own or participate in one of the many educational conservation programs.
Although Parks Canada and its partners have worked hard to maintain the integrity of the park and implement various conservation efforts, the location of the Red River in such a densely populated urban area carries threats. Metropolitan pollution is a major concern and, in fact, one of Toronto’s largest highways runs directly through the park, bringing huge amounts of road traffic and emissions pollution to the area on a daily basis. In addition to this, erosion is a significant problem in the region, due in large part to urban development which has removed much of the original stabilizer plants. Likewise, soil can be washed away by flooding as water cannot be absorbed by the asphalt in the area. Another problem is contamination by runoff.
Several abandoned landfills exist in the park, posing a threat of leaching. Likewise, some 25 golf courses are found in the vicinity of the park, and the maintenance, chemicals and irrigation required to maintain these greens usually result in a large amount of unwanted runoff that ends up in the river. Red, considerably reducing its quality.
By understanding these threats and concerns, park authorities and visitors are better able to mitigate the risks and hopefully continue to maintain a healthy and growing Rouge National Urban Park.