Staying happy during the dog days of winter
It’s cold this time of year, and the sun shines so briefly every day that many people struggle with feeling blue. Living in Canada, people have come to accept that this is just the way things are. But some of us know a secret way to reduce the season's impact.
By simply spending time outdoors and soaking up some sunshine, you can improve your overall wellbeing over the darker months. And there’s no better place to do this in the area than in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP).
You may have lived in the area for many years, but did you know that Canada’s largest urban park is right on our doorstep?
The park stretches from the mouth of the Rouge River at Lake Ontario, up to Webb Road in Uxbridge, passing through the easternmost parts of Scarborough, Markham and Stouffville. For the most part, the park follows the York-Durham Line.
At nearly 80 km2in size, RNUP is the largest urban park in Canada and one of the best protected urban parks in the world. The Rouge protects natural, cultural and agricultural landscapes, which includes large tracts of Class-1 farmland, the rarest and most fertile soil in Canada. The park is connected to both the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine, providing a seamless protected landscape in Canada's most populated metropolitan area.
RNUP is home to around 2,000 species, including 42 federally-listed species at risk as well as many locally rare plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Since its establishment, conservation efforts within the park include the planting of more than 200,000 native trees and shrubs in the Rouge River and Duffins Creek watersheds and the reintroduction of more than 600 threatened baby Blanding's turtles into the park.
Protecting nature is vital to the health and well-being of Canadians, to reverse biodiversity loss, and to fight climate change. That's why the federal government launched the greatest nature conservation campaign in Canada's history, with a goal of protecting thirty per cent of Canada's lands and waters by 2030. Protected lands help to guarantee future generations can enjoy the benefits that natural greenspaces provide to their communities.
"Protecting wildlife and biodiversity is a responsibility we all share," said Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, on Jan. 26 during an announcement of more federal funding that will support habitat restoration work, ecological connectivity, engagement of Indigenous communities, and access to greenspace for Canadians in Ontario.
"Through proper planning, we can all benefit from the treasured greenspaces near our communities," Guilbeault said. "Investing in green infrastructure, like improving the trail network at Rouge National Urban Park, and facilitating access to greenspaces for millions of Canadians close to where they live, work and play, allows people to connect with nature on a deeper level and helps shape the next generation of nature stewards in Canada."
Established in 2015, RNUP is part of an ambitious effort by the Government of Canada to create a number of new urban parks throughout the country, backed by the investment of five billion dollars in the largest nature conservation campaign in Canada’s history.
When completed, it will be one long, continuous trail. At the moment, there are lots of completed sections available offering shorter walks.
This park is growing rapidly, with new trails and programs being added all the time. It may be time to strap on your boots, Nordic skis or snowshoes and go check it out.
You can find a map of the trails online or download the park app on your phone (available in simplified Chinese as well as in English and French). There are other free apps you can try such as Alltrails or Trailforks which will give you an idea of the difficulty level of the routes available, help you navigate as you go, and track how far you have travelled.
If you’re not used to walking in the winter, check out the park’s pages offering winter tips and be sure to research appropriate winter clothing. For a more rich experience, have a look at the schedule of guided walks offered each month and be sure, whatever route you take, that you respect park rules. Among the most important are: keep your pets on a leash, do not pick plants, and carry out what you bring with you. We share the park with other people, wildlife and future citizens.
Rebecca Simkin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Markham Review