The Eldred King Woodlands, once a desert landscape dominated by dunes, now consists of 543 acres of forest, which are used by thousands of hikers, bird watchers, equestrians, and families every year. As a result of decades of farming and tree removal in the 1800s, the landscape became barren.
Since the province began its greenbelt reforestation program in the early 1900s, the number of trees has increased dramatically, with pines reaching high into the sky, while frogs, birds and squirrels are now found living in the lower trees, ponds and rivers. Ian Buchanan, natural heritage and forestry manager at York Region, explained that the Department of Agriculture cited tree loss and soil erosion as the main reasons for reforestation in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
After establishing forests on public lands, the department worked with local municipalities and counties to reforest them under the Agreement Forest Program, he said. “This program helped establish one of the most significant restoration programs in Southern Ontario in the last century. In Buchanan’s words, this was the foundation of York Regional Forest. Eldred King Woodlands still has some desert remnants, such as the sandy trails.
Buchanan said that he planted seedlings 10 to 20 cm high in rows to control “competition within the forest” when the land was being reforested. Kevin Reese, program manager or forest conservation for York Region, says that the Eldred King Woodlands is dominated by conifers composed of red pine, white and Scots pine, as well as spruce, oak and larch. Twenty percent of the forest is natural and would consist mostly of maple trees, beech trees, hemlock trees, red oak trees, basswood trees, and poplar trees.
According to Buchanan, Eldred King Woodlands is the first public forest in Canada and in Whitchurch-Stouffville to receive certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. The certification dates back to 2001. However, it has not all been rainbows and sunshine in the forest. Throughout the decades, there have been some hardships. A legacy of a 2006 downburst lies three kilometers inland of the Highway 48 parking lot. The website of the National Weather Service states that a downburst is caused by high winds beneath the surface.
There are tortured and twisted stems and leaves to be seen on the trees, Buchanan said. This is part of the natural regeneration of a different kind of forest. Some of the downed trees on the trails prompted the closure of the trails after the storm. In 2013, the damage caused by the ice storm was surprisingly minimal.
As a result of the weight of the ice on the canopy, some trees were damaged, but most came down to the ground, according to Buchanan. “The impact was not dramatic,” he said. In the 1950s, the Eldred King Woodlands was known as the West Main Tract. Buchanan admitted that the name isn’t too exciting. He explained that the forest got its name from the fact that it is on the west side of Hwy. 48.
The forest was renamed after Eldred King, a former regional chairperson who was a champion of the environment and hails from the community, in the late 1990s, according to Buchanan. From 1984 to 1997, King, who lives in Whitchurch-Stouffville, ON, Canada, served as the regional chairperson. He passed away in 2011.
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