LETTER: Proposal for Rondeau cottagers is the wrong path

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I read with interest and mounting concern the discussion regarding the purchase of cottage lots at Rondeau Provincial Park and then selling them to the cottagers. To the uninformed, it may seem like an easy decision, but the details suggestion complications. It is very much a wrong path to go down.

I have spent all my life in Chatham-Kent, and have been a frequent Rondeau user for more than 60 years. I was the park naturalist for 13 years and the district ecologist for Southwestern Ontario for another 25. I was involved in many of the Rondeau planning issues in the 1970s to 1990s. I was a Rondeau leaseholder for 5.5 years. I can confidently say I understand the issues surrounding cottages and the major challenges they bring to Rondeau probably much better than anyone else. My career, passion and hobby have focused on nature and its proper management and protection.

Rondeau is a special place. It is a national treasure. There are at least 48 legislated species protected under the provincial Endangered Species Act. There are dozens of other species that could be included but have not yet been formally proposed, reviewed and accepted. There are new native species still being discovered. There are aspects of the Rondeau forest that have characteristics of old growth, a feature uncommon in southern Ontario and especially in Chatham-Kent where forest cover continues to dwindle.

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One of the sales pitches the cottagers repeatedly state is that they are good stewards of the park. While many actually believe that, it’s not true. One only has to take a look at each cottage lot to see how they have firmly changed the landscape. Lawns are regularly mowed and the grass is usually a non-native species. Almost all of the shrubs and flowers are non-native, having been brought in by former or current leaseholders. Some of those non-native species are seriously invasive to adjacent properties, especially vacant lots or the natural vegetation on the west side of Lakeshore Road.

The bottom line is that cottagers are not good stewards of the park and never have been.

Some have made attempts at restoring a part of their lot into native vegetation, but while the species they have planted may in some cases be native to Ontario, they are not native to Rondeau.

Cottagers say their impacts are minimal, as the collective lots occupy about one per cent of the park. While that percentage may be generally accurate, the impacts are on a much greater area than their lot.

Additionally, one must understand how the park was formed over time to get a fuller understanding of the cottages’ impact. The first explorers named the peninsula “Pointe Aux Pins”, meaning Point of Pines, due to the impressive line of White Pines all along the shoreline. While there are still a fair number of white pines along the eastern shore, their numbers have been decreasing ever since the first cottage lots were established. White pines are not regenerating to any natural extent. They cannot grow where buildings are, and cannot survive mowing. To understand the park’s natural formation, and especially the Carolinian forest for which Rondeau is known, one must realize the importance of the White Pine and Black Oak vegetation community. Without them, the Carolinian forest would not have happened.

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If the proposed sale of the cottage community goes through and the individual lots are then sold to the leaseholders, that would be an even greater tragedy. No doubt even more cottagers would like to make it their permanent residence. Some are doing that now but illegally.

And once they pay property taxes they will want more and better municipal services. The demands will be made until some future C-K administration pursues it on their behalf. And anyone knows that many landowners will creep onto adjacent Crown or municipal land to further their ‘enjoyment’ (take a look at some of the property adjacent to Paxton’s Bush!), such as mowing into a fragile vegetation type, planting non-native species, putting up a shed, parking water craft, etc., onto the Crown land between their lot and the beach. Eventually there could be expectations of having an easement or worse, to give them access to the beach, park their water crafts, erect gazebos, tear out the beach grass that impedes their foot path, etc.

Right now, inappropriate cottager action on adjacent Crown land can be dealt with through the lease. Violate the lease agreement and the lease could be terminated. But if the cottager owns the property, then the enforcement of appropriate care and use of adjacent Crown lands becomes a nightmare for all concerned.

No, cottages on privately owned lots within the confines of a national treasure like Rondeau is just plain wrong for a whole lot of reasons. I hope you now have a better understanding to see the fallacy in this whole discussion about buying and reselling almost 300 cottage lots.

Allen Woodliffe

Chatham

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