Harrison Estate Park Ready to Get New Trail-Way

Susan Dimitrakopoulos - See Below

For years residents and users of the Waterfront Trail have crossed the old Harrison Estate as they make their way between Springbank Road and Lakehurst Crescent along the top of the Scarborough Bluffs, or walk their dogs, enjoy the view and generally revel is the parks very existence.  Recently, the 200m long dirt and bark mulch trail has been showing signs of overuse; tree roots are being exposed, soil is becoming compacted and the trail has been widening as users looks for ways around large areas of pooling.

Last night, at the Birchmount Community Centre about thirty residents and a few other interested parties showed up to hear from the City, plans that would see the path, paved, slightly realigned and “floated” over some difficult tree roots.

The presenters included facilitator, Sue Cumming, Gary Crawford (Councilor for Ward 36), Laura Stephenson (TRCA project Manager), Dan Egan (Toronto cycling and Pedestrian Infrastructure), Leslie Cotes (Forestry, Parks and Recreation), “Chris” from EMS and a few others, mostly from the City.

It was explained that the traffic count along the trail has shown that the current bark-mulch topped path isn’t holding up to the use it’s being given and that the surface becomes soggy after a rain or freeze/thaw cycle making it difficult to negotiate.  As users seek drier or more sure-footed routes around the difficult parts, the trail has become wider, affecting more land with soil compaction and killing grasses and plants.

A trail-way 3m in width, paved with ashphalt, over a crushed stone substrate would hold up much better for the users and help elmiminate the “widening trail” phenonenom that is common to non-paved surfaces.  This would also help protect tree roots and hopefully improve the health of the existing, mature trees, as the path would be “floated” over the exposed roots, then enabling them to re-generate.

As part of the paving project the TRCA has inventoried the trees and plants in the park.  It was determined that the majority of the trees are the mature, stately Norway Maples.  This tree species, while beautiful in it’s own right, has a heavy canopy that casts dense shade, essentially choking out other species.  As the majority of these trees are about the same age (80-100 years old) their collective deaths would leave the park rather spartan.  The TRCA has no plans to remove existing healthy Norway Maples, only cull those which pose a danger to the public.  As trees are removed over time, new trees will be planted that would include;  service berry, sugar maple, hackberry, elm, hemlock red pine and eastern redbud.

The cost of the whole proposal was estimated at $65,000.

When the presenters were done, a lot of questions were being raised by the attendees, generally falling into a few catagories;

  • How will EMS respond to call? (Parks are usually problematic, but EMS has a GPS like system than can locte a cell phone, dispatchers more familiar with specific, callers can wave the vehicle in, etc. but improvements could be made)
  • Will the path be cleared in the winter? (No.  Like other trails in Toronto, clearing is not planned)
  • Can paving stones be used, rathr than ashphalt? (Could be, but cost and traffic use is prohibitive)
  • How much heavy equipment needed for project? (Some, but smaller Bobcats will be mostly used – no harm to trees)
  • Can other species of grass be planted that is more hardy (Yes, but not planned)
  • Will path be realigned? (A bit, mostly away from the bluffs fence)
  • Will drainage improvements be made?  (Yes)

After this meeting, the information, comments and concerns gathered from the the residents will be part of the public record and will be consolidated for presentation to City Council for a final decision on whether or not the paving will go ahead.  Council will look at it in March.  If approved, and after logistics are settled, the paving should only take a few days.

Opinion;  Do I think the trail should be paved?  Yep.  It’s clear to me after inspecting the damage that users have inflicted upon the mature trees (not intentionally of course) that the trail-way needs some remediation.  Prior to this meeting, I went for a walk around the park and observed first hand the fact that a lot of the trees are nearing the end of their life cycle and will soon need replacement.  There is no doubt that there is a widening of the trail and soil compaction is evident in the fact that the recent rain has left large pools of water on the path.  Ive ridden, walked and run on hundreds of kilometer of paved paths around Toronto and Ontario and I believe paving – done properly and with good intent/planning/implementation and input from local users – is a totally appropriate and ecologically sound way to allow for increased user traffic while protecting the land through which it passes from further stress.  Making parks accessible, encouraging public use and adding value to the experience will go a long way to raising public awareness of the city’s parks and help create a ground-swell of public support for their continued maintenance, upkeep and creation.


The feature photo, at the top, is by Susan Dimitrakopoulos who exhibits regularly at Seraphia Inspired Cuisine in the Cliffcrest Plaza, 2979 Kingston Rd. (at McCowan) – Tel. 416-264-8951 and The Bluffs Gallery, (tel. 416-698-7322), so drop by if you’re in the neighborhood.  The Bluffs Gallery is located at 1859 Kingston Rd., Scarborough, just east of Birchmount Rd. Visit the Gallery and enjoy a walk through the beautiful, dog-friendly Harrison Estate Park, right on the lake!

 – Article courtesy of Ed Horner.  Feature photo courtesy of Susan Dimitrakopoulos.


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