Woodbine Park Group Kick-Off Meeting Well Attended

Last evening, in the common room of a Boardwalk condo, about 40 local residents, businesspersons and interested parties, met to discuss and “vision” what the now rather Spartan north end of the Woodbine Park might look and feel like in the not distant future.

Once part of the Greenwood Raceway, Woodbine Park, bounded by the Queen St. E/ Eastern combination at the north, Coxwell on the west, Lakeshore on the south and Northern Dancer on the east is about 14.6ha in size, relatively flat, relatively un-treed, but does boast a lovely wetland with pond and water feature.  The park also has a large event stage on the west side, a couple of major parking lots, play area for children and paved trails.  It’s well used by locals and Beach visitors alike.

The particular area of study last night was the roughly 5,600 square meters at the northeast corner of the park, adjacent to Queen Streets and Northern Dancer Blvd.

In attendance were local Councilor Mary-Margaret McMahon, Pauline Quinlan of the greening committee for the condo, David Harvey from Park People, Michelle McLean from Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park and Martina Rowely from Greening Ward 32.

After introductory remarks by organizer Quinlan and Councilor McMahon, David Harvey spoke about the advantages of parks, their uses, how they fit into communities, what forms of groups exist to help look after parks and how his organization, Park People, can help groups organize and animate.

Michelle McLean then spoke about her experience with Friends of Trinity Bellwood Park in the west end of town.  She started with how the group was organized, a bit of history of various groups over the years, how often they meet, etc.  The impression left was that it’s a pretty casual, but hard working group.  She was especially keen on their “Adopt a Tree” program that was started back in 2006.  The program matches up caring locals with specific trees that may be in need.  In 2010, they matched up almost 100 trees with interested volunteers.  Of particular interest was her story about having spoken to a City park manager and learning that 15 years ago, Trinity Bellwoods had 7 full time staff working in the park, while today there is no staff devoted to the park, only “fly-through” crews on a scheduled basis.

The meeting was then turned over to a bit of Q&A from the floor.  Questions and comments included;

  • Water frequently pools at intersection of paved paths at northern end
  • Park seems schizophrenic at times, not knowing if it’s being “naturalized” or abandoned.
  • Events are hosted, but there is a tendency to look run down afterwards
  • Some clandestine guerilla gardening seems to be going on
  • TDSB owns (or has rights to – it was unclear) the land where the soccer field is located and may one day want to build a school
  • Concerns about amplified music, turf trampling, liter, etc.

The meeting then broke up into smaller groups where people discussed amongst themselves what they’d like to see, how it might be organized, etc.  Forms were distributed to collect ideas and comments that would be collected and used s part of the group’s presentation/recommendation to park staff.

One thing that was made clear at least four or five time over the course of the evening, is that park staff, while expert, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, are scarce.  Over the years, parks budgets have been shrinking, not growing.  Park groups will not only have to come up with ideas about what they want their local park to be, but also come up with forms of funding and even labour.  This is isn’t a cerebral exercise.  Without the effort of park group members, a lot of what is asked for may not come.

After closing remarks by Martina, the meeting adjourned about 9:15.

What are we to take away from this?  Well, for starters, it’s clear that people want their parks to be looked after, even if they have to do it themselves.  People care and are prepared to throw in with ideas, fundraising and labour.  They really are putting their money where there mouths are.

We also learned that groups are talking.  I was there myself, as the founder of Friends of Dieppe Park, to listen and learn.  I was lucky to hear about resources from Park People and the experiences from long-established Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park.

As we heard from Councilor McMahon, our elected officials are interested in greening their wards and park groups like this one are a good place to start or continue that initiative.

We also learned that funds are available in the form of grants and donations from many sources ranging from your local coffee shop to major corporate programs.  Not all will be welcome, needed or available at all times, but they can be had.  That’s a good thing, because the City will be offering less, not more going forward.

If you care about your local park, or even parks in general, I urge you to join or start a “Friends of …” group for your park.  Park People can help you get going with materials and advice.  It’s not always easy and you may be doing a bit of heavy lifting yourself at the start, but people do care and will step up to help their parks.

– Article courtesy of Ed Horner.  Map from Google Earth.  Photo courtesy of Wild About The City.

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