Province expected to move animals out by the end of the month
A bald eagle takes flight in its enclosure at Springwater Provincial Park, Tuesday. As of March 31, the park’s wildlife compound is slated to be closed. (Mark Wanzel Photo)
The clock is ticking for the wildlife compound at Springwater Provincial Park.
The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has stated the compound — enclosures first built in the 1930s to house a variety of wild animals and birds — will be removed as part of the ministry’s plans to change the park’s status from operational to non-operational as of March 31.
Park maintenance, road access, comfort stations and other facilities, trail maintenance and the compound will no longer be available.
The 193-hectare park, located in Midhurst, will remain as a protected area and hikers can continue to enjoy the park for day use, free of charge.
Springwater is the only provincial park with an animal sanctuary, but closing the compound — which as of last fall had 29 animals, including Monty the bobcat, a black bear, a timber wolf, two foxes (one red and one silver), two raccoons (one of them albino), two wild turkeys, a turkey vulture, a great horned owl, a peregrine falcon, a rough-legged hawk, a trumpeter swan, two mute swans, three Canada geese, four white tailed deer, two lynx, two bald eagles and two skunks — is a sad development for at least one Barrie woman.
As a small child growing up in the 1960s, Romaine Miller has fond memories of Springwater Park and what it — and the wildlife compound — meant to her family.
“I will never forget the thrill of seeing deer up close — and feeding and petting them. They were trusting and beautiful,” she said.
“The compound cares for animals that have been injured in the wild, or are unable for a variety of reasons, unable to survive in the wild. This makes it unique among parks and an especially valuable treasure: one of a kind. It is a legacy for future generations,” Miller said.
“Today, we are able to enjoy provincial parks such as Algonquin Park and Springwater Park, because of the vision and the caring of the generations who preceded us. This is their legacy to us,” Miller added. “What will our legacy be for our children and the generations to come?
“Should Ontario citizens be forced to travel hours on end to natural parks so far away, that they are accessible only on holidays or long weekends?
“The loss of Springwater Park would be a tragedy, not only for this community, but for future generations,” she added.
Ontario Parks is considering options to relocate the animals to other suitable facilities that are in good standing order and have authorization from the MNR to keep wildlife in captivity, according to MNR spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski.
“In the short term, while arrangements are being made to secure alternate facilities, the animals will continue to be housed and cared for at Springwater. Wildlife viewing is available until March 31, 2013,” she said.
Kowalski did not specify exactly when the animals would begin being moved.
“When suitable facilities are finalized the animals will be relocated. This may occur prior to March 31 for some or all of the wildlife currently at the park,” she said.
“We don’t usually have animals in our long-term care. It’s not a core ministry business. We want to ensure we find appropriate facilities for them since they can’t survive in the wild.”
It costs about $59,000 each year to provide food, shelter and medical care and staffing at the park for the animals, she added.
“The ministry does not have the resources to continue to operate Springwater Provincial Park for the upcoming year. (It) is open to partnership proposals for operating Springwater Provincial Park and would be pleased to review a business proposal from a potential partner,” Kowalski said.
“Any business proposal would need to be consistent with the ministry’s fiscal commitments.
“However, any proposals considered would be for the 2014 season and for future years.”
The concept of the park needing to be a money maker for the province doesn’t sit well with Miller, who says nothing in the Provincial Parks Act indicates that provincial parks are to be run on a ‘for-profit’ basis.
“The MNR has stopped collecting and enforcing individual park fees at the park gate, thus assisting and fostering a perception that the park is not well-used or visited,” she said.
“Reconsidering the decision to close Springwater Provincial Park represents an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and inspiration; to recognize a treasure of great value; and to create a meaningful legacy for future generations.”
That legacy should include the wildlife compound and all it offers to visitors, she added.
“It’s too bad the MNR can’t see the animals through the wondrous eyes of a child,” she said.
“The animal compound gives people an opportunity to develop a sensitivity and caring for animals they may not otherwise have.”
Two groups are leading the charge to keep the park operational.