Reducing the impact and increasing connection to nature for park and ravine events

Resource | septembre 23, 2023

It takes deliberate thinking and action to enjoy park and ravine spaces while ensuring they’re protected. How can you use ravine and park events to foster reciprocity and ensure the natural world benefits as much as the community does? 

An important objective of the InTO the Ravines program is to help more people connect to and engage with their ravines. However, given the environmental sensitivity of the ravines, this goal must be carefully balanced against the importance of protecting these fragile spaces. After all, Toronto is a city of almost 3 million people and population growth, new development and climate change are all putting increased pressure on the ravines which do a whole lot of “heavy lifting” for our city.

We are eager for more people to experience the ravines and see an opportunity for these kinds of events to contribute rather than just extract from the natural world. However, this takes deliberate thinking and action. We encourage people to start by asking:

How can your event be in alignment with nature?  How can you use a ravine event to foster reciprocity to ensure the natural world benefits as much as the community does?  How can you strive to use events as opportunities to give back to the natural world which offers us these meaningful and enriching experiences?

We explore these questions through conversations with Monica Radovski, Natural Environment Specialist from the City of Toronto in the Natural Environment and Community Programs unit of Urban Forestry and  Carolynne Crawley, a Mi’kmaw woman with mixed ancestry from the East Coast known today as Nova Scotia.  Carolynne operates her own business, Msit Nokmaq, which focuses upon decolonizing current interactions with the land, self, and others to build healthy and reciprocal relationships.

Given that we are writing this on the land we now call Toronto, which is on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, Carolynne focuses our conversation on sharing teachings that may resonate across many nations. She also reminds us that Indigenous people have been in relationship to these lands since time immemorial.

  1. How can we foster a positive relationship with natural spaces such as ravines?

    “I see the earth as my teacher, my healer, my confidant, my companion” Carolynne Crawley

    Carolynne emphasises that many Indigenous nations across Turtle Island believe that in order to be in  “right relations” with the land, water, and other beings, we must treat our relationships with the natural world as we would our family relations or friendships. For example, if you have a friendship in which a friend  is always giving and the other is always taking, the relationship will be out of balance and will likely suffer.  Similarly, as Carolynne emphasises, when we take from the land without giving back to it or nurturing it, we not only harm the land, but we harm ourselves. We damage ourselves by damaging our relationship to nature as we are all interconnected.

    As a reflection exercise before planning an event on the land, ask yourself: What can I offer back to the land in return for its gifts? What does living with reciprocity with the land, water, and species mean to me?

  2. A reciprocal approach to ravine and park events:

    There are no simple answers to these questions, but Carolynne offered some helpful suggestions to consider when hosting ravine and park events:

    Slow down: 

    When you slow down enough to develop a personal and meaningful connection to a park or ravine space, you provide others with a model to begin building their own connections to nature. Start your event by looking around and encouraging others to do the same. Consider what resonates with you: Is it a bird sound? The smell of leaves under foot? Is it seeing water flowing in the distance? Carolynne recommends visiting a spot regularly to build a relationship with it, just as you would with a new friend.  One practical approach is to conduct a regular sit spot exercise in which you simply return to a spot at different times to observe what’s around you, how it changes and how you experience it. Doing this before, during and after your event can help you build a connection and consider what you can give back. Encourage event participants to do the same.

    Strive for reciprocity:

    When you enter a park or ravine space, consider what you have to offer in return for the enjoyment the park brings to you.  Think about the life in the park as being equal in meaning to your own life and think about how this belief might influence how you act. For example:

      • Are you hosting a low-waste event where you can actively model ways to reduce the amount of litter that ends up in the park during the event and at future park outings? 
      • Can you work with others to help clean the park so you leave it better than you found it?
      • Are you able to contribute to the space by volunteering with a local organization or City department?
      • How could you begin building relationships with Indigenous communities to learn about the history of the land and ways of relating? After all, as Carolynne points out “Indigenous people have been in a relationship with these lands since time immemorial, so they are the experts."

     Monica Radovski, Natural Environment Specialist from the City of Toronto in the Natural Environment and Community Programs unit of Urban Forestry also shared how to host events that demonstrate respect for nature.

    Walk with others:

    When Monica visits a natural space, she imagines that at least 1000 other people are taking the same steps she takes. This helps her remember that even if she is walking by herself, every step counts and that collectively, our steps  add up fast. Even if we can't see others walking with us, our actions never exist in isolation. Encourage your groups to imagine all of the other individuals and groups that will tread on this same path today, tomorrow and in future generations.  Imagine your own ancestors walking this same path. How does that influence your actions on the path?

    Get perspective:

    “When we are thinking about how we move on the land it is important to know what the impacts are, but also it’s important we don’t want to treat the land like a museum that we can't touch, interact with, and have a relationship with the land. There is this fine balance.” Carolynne Crawley

    Monica encourages people to use their senses to note what lies under their feet. Fallen logs and crunching leaves under foot may look messy, but they are home to animals and insects and serve as a natural fertilizer for the earth beneath.  How does recognizing this  inform how you interact with the space?

    Look around. If the space around you looks bare it  might mean that the area you’re in is being overused. Knowing that might inspire you  to consider taking a less popular route. On the other hand, if the space is rich with undercover, walk on it to create the smallest possible impact. Stay on the trail wherever possible, and if you have to go off trail (which is not recommended) consider walking in a zigzag fashion to avoid eroding the earth outside the  trail or creating a new informal trail to be tread upon by others. Also, consider walking back along a different route. 

    Watch for animals, particularly during dawn and dusk when they’re most active. If you spot an animal during the day, observe their behaviour and  tweet, call, or email 311 if you see anything unusual.  If you observe anything unusual with plants and trails conditions, contact 311 to ensure this information reaches the City's Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff.

    Time your walks around nature and weather:

    Living in sync with nature means scheduling events with consideration of  seasonality.  Spring is one of the most sensitive times of the year when animals are having their young and plants are starting to grow. During dawn or dusk you might spot more wildlife. If your event is scheduled during these times, encourage participants to tread as carefully and quietly as possible to minimize disruption to plants and animals.



    InTO the Ravines is a program in partnership with the City of Toronto