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The Sugarbowl Pond: A Municipal Natural Asset

Christine Whelan FEO, August 31, 2023, VOL. 4 ISSUE 27

The Start of Recognition as an Asset to the Town

In the 1980s, the Sugarbowl Park was a big bowl of grass — no pond, no trees, boulders or benches, no dog park.

I moved out of town in the early 90s for over 20 years and came back to the pond. I assumed, it turns out, that it was a landscaped area added to the park, and continued to think that, enjoying the shaded benches and wildlife in and around the pond surrounded by bulrushes.

In a Times Review dated July 23, 1994, found in the Fort Erie Public Library online database, it reads, “The park will be re-landscaped and fully accessible with lighted walkways, a natural pond, and upgraded playground as well as various other amenities.”

Natural pond.

Three weeks ago, Fort Erie residents witnessed the pond being dug up, drained, bulrushes pulled. This must be injustice, so many assumed. Social media posts were shared. Phone calls were made. And the question rang out, “What’s going on?”

Fort Erie found out the pond had a purpose and was overdue to be maintained.

I spoke with Marcie Jacklin, Fort Erie resident and advocate of environment and wildlife, on August 14, just hours before the topic were to be addressed at the Town of Fort Erie Council Meeting.

Marcie first became aware of what was going on at the Sugarbowl by seeing a post on Facebook, as many did. She said the construction began in the third week of July.

Jacklin began to clarify, “This is a stormwater management pond, but there’s now a recognition by the Town that these are also wildlife habitats. They shouldn’t be, in a sense, because the purpose is to collect gases and pesticides but some of the waters are clean where these critters can live quite happily.”

Marcie shared a bit of a conversation she had with her husband about the days when the pond was first put in. “He remembers the Lions Club and the Town being involved in establishing wildlife habitat there. So, it goes back quite a way, which explains why the Town staff didn’t know about this, considering the big gap here.”

When I asked Marcie why it wasn’t a matter of using eyes to see if there was something there that maybe shouldn’t be destroyed, she responded, “It actually takes a policy. Staff aren’t trained. It’s not a part of their jobs to know.” She explained it was the contractor’s job to maintain the stormwater management pond and that was their only duty.

“The Town said they had planned to move the critters.” Marcie was referring to two species of turtles and three species of frogs.

She then remarked that when she first saw the posts on Facebook, it was the public who were rescuing the wildlife. “Local residents walking by rescued three snapping turtles, which are endangered. One was injured. They rescued seven painted turtles and 34 frogs of three different species because they were stuck in the mud.”

Jacklin then received a call from Ann Nagy. “She was Senior Biologist for the Ministry of Natural Resources for 30 plus years for Niagara. She said, ‘You know that there are turtles and frogs that have gone back to the pond, but it’s just mud. They’re getting stuck in the mud and they’re going to die.'”

Marcie decided, “This is something, I can do something about.”

She Spoke to the Mayor

“So, I phoned up Wayne Redekop and I told him the problem. He told me he was shocked to hear what had happened and was very concerned. He mulled over what to do and realized it was a staff training issue and a policy. There’s no policy to save wildlife habitat on Town property.”

Marcie sees the positive through this unfortunate situation. “They also have this term, municipal natural asset, which means they’re starting to look at this situation. There are natural areas on municipal land. What can we do about it?”

She added, “This has come out in conversations with myself and many other people who are concerned, with Mayor Redekop and other Town Council members. So, we were greatly encouraged by this.”

Marcie hopes that this provides an opportunity for naturalists to talk with the Town to come up with a solution.

“Ann Nagy volunteered to come up with some policies, which she did all her career so she’s quite familiar with it. She said, ‘The biggest problem was, they only needed to clear out a part of the pond. And they could have left the wildlife habitat.’

“So, this is what was the most disturbing part about it. And of course, it’s after the fact.”

Ann also spoke with Town staff, finding out the history.

Stormwater Management Ponds

Marcie explained, “The stormwater management ponds are created in so many areas being developed because there is development on wetlands. With all these really bad storms occurring, we need a place to put all the water once it runs off the residential areas.

“Some of the water is toxic but there is an opportunity to create some habitat.

“They have to be maintained or they stop doing what they are supposed to be doing. And that’s going to take a lot of money.”

Marcie said it took her two days to understand all this — going between Ann and the Mayor.

We talked about the appearance of this pond with the purpose of it appearing to be a landscaped space. Until this past month, there were bulrushes lining the water’s edge. “And that’s not unusual. It can be and should be done. I think that’s what municipal natural assets mean. That’s what they are. They’re an asset to the town. Many people go down there because it is nice. It has been made into an asset for people to enjoy.”

Mayor Redekop told Marcie he planned on making an announcement at that evening’s Town Council Meeting. “They are making plans to engage the Town Council, Town staff, and Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) to establish better stormwater management pond regulation and maintenance policies.” Marcie read Mayor Redekop’s text he had sent her.

“This means there’ll be this environmental component now that will be in print and a part of the regulations and procedures. Which means hopefully, this will never happen again.”

I asked Marcie if she thought the pond would come back. “If it’s done right, yes. They can recreate that habitat because it was created in the first place.”

A pond with the purpose of water maintenance can also be a wellness place for the community.

Jacklin is pleased with the interest the Town has in making the necessary changes in policies so that this doesn’t happen again, in the Sugarbowl Park pond or at any of the other locations in the Greater Fort Erie area. She said there are about 30 of these ponds throughout town.

There are no upcoming events at this time.