The Restoration of the Bluewater Dunes
By Anthony Rovito

The on-going restoration of the dunes in Bluewater Park at the southern end of Trew Avenue is the result of action by concerned cottagers and is now supported by the Township of Tiny.

Long-time residents in the area have always maintained that the Bluewater dunes are a special, fragile and dynamic system. As recently as the mid 1980s, these dunes featured a full set of naturally vegetated fore-dunes next to the beach, a full set of back-dunes with well-rooted trees and shrubs, and a small marsh (particularly during years of high water levels) which attracted many types of birds including the occasional blue heron. Bathers swam in the clear bay water, played on the sandy beach and sunbathed on the backs of the fore-dunes away from the cold wind blowing off the bay.

In the late 1990s, however, when some residents expressed concern that the miniature marsh was a source of mosquitoes, the Township bulldozed most of the fore-dunes into the wetland, eliminating it. This action exposed the dune sand to the lake winds, which caused significant “blowouts” in the back-dunes, exposing root systems and destroying vegetation. An increase in pedestrian and motorized vehicle traffic (dirt bikes, ATVs and Skidoos) added to the overall deterioration of the dunes.

While the erosion continued, local residents participated in the “kitchen table” workshops that contributed to the Township’s “Environment First” Official Plan. The Bluewater Dunes were rarely mentioned, however. Only when the final draft of the Official Plan became public, did residents realize that the Bluewater Dunes area had been designated as a “Major Park”, one of five on the western shore -- Woodland Beach, Bluewater Beach, Jackson Park, Balm Beach and Lafontaine Beach.

Rumors abounded about future uses for this park. Were there to be paved parking areas? Permanent bathroom facilities? Why was sand being removed? There were fears that more intense use would speed the deterioration of these fragile fresh water dunes.

It was at this point that the local community mobilized to educate the general public and the Township about the aesthetic and environmental value of the dunes. The Bluewater-Georgina-Wendake Beaches Association hired Geoff Peach of the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation to examine the site and produce a report with specific recommendations that could then be presented to the Township.

After several presentations, Council agreed midway through 2005 to hire its own consultants (AMEC Earth & Environmental) to prepare a Master Plan for Bluewater Park. The consultants held two public meetings to gather information and input from the public and in January of 2006 produced the Bluewater Beach Environmental Restoration Plan. This was followed by two detailed reports: Phase 1 Report (October 2006) and Phase 2 Report (March 2007). These reports are now available on the Township website tiny.ca.

The consultants proposed a five-year management plan to deal with the deterioration of the site. In year 1 (2007), they recommended barrier fencing to trap the sand and reduce blowout areas, perimeter fencing to reduce vehicular traffic, paths and boardwalks to direct pedestrian traffic away from vegetation and dunes, and dissemination of information to residents and the public about the restoration of the dunes. To date, most of the barrier fencing has been installed and major portions of boardwalk have been constructed.

The consultants also recommended that a Restoration Advisory Committee be established to advise Council and assist the Township in implementing the management plan. The Advisory Committee formed in June of 2006 includes a Councillor, two members of staff and four area residents, one of whom is the author of this article.

Part of the mandate of the Advisory Committee is to raise money to cover some of the costs of the management plan. Committee members secured a Federal Infrastructure Grant that paid for materials for the boardwalks (roughly $60,000). The Committee also applied for grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to cover signage costs, the Shell Environmental Fund and the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation to offset the cost of replanting native vegetation on the site. As well, on August 31st the Bluewater-Georgina-Wendake Beaches Association sponsored its first annual Beach Walk to raise funds to help with the restoration of the dunes. Together, Bluewater-Georgina-Wendake, the Bluewater Dunes Ratepayers Association, and the Deanlea Beach Association have raised well over $2,000 to help defray costs at Bluewater Park.

The work scheduled for year 2 (2008) is a little behind schedule. The boardwalk is not yet fully completed, signage has been delayed due to Township “branding” decisions, and the granting agencies have not yet made decisions about the Committee’s applications. However, the work completed thus far has been most successful: the barrier fencing is helping to re-establish the fore-dunes and the perimeter fencing and boardwalks are restricting pedestrian and vehicular traffic and allowing the native vegetation to regenerate. Progress can actually be observed from one visit to the next.

The Bluewater Dunes Advisory Committee looks forward to years 3, 4 and 5 of the management plan. Then informative signs will encourage local residents and visitors to support the park’s restoration; native vegetation will be planted; the boardwalks and fencing will be completed; “Open Space” (OS) zoning will be replaced with an “Environmental Protection” (EP1) designation; funds will become readily available through fundraising initiatives; and on-going monitoring by local residents and Township staff will protect the restored dunes and ensure their preservation for generations to come.

If there is a lesson to be learned from our experience with the restoration of the Bluewater Dunes, it is that success depends on people becoming pro-active and working cooperatively with other stakeholders.