The Cheltenham Badlands roll through the landscape of Southern Ontario like the ancient inland sea that covered the land hundreds of millions of years ago. Over it's history, it has been many things to many peoples, a fertile gift to early Native tribes and original Canadian settlers. Kendrick Doll is the Natural Heritage Coordinator for the Ontario Heritage Trust." We know from an 1860's agricultural census, we know this land was used partly to pasture, also it was used as an apple orchard, and to grow crops like wheat, potatoes, peas, that sort of thing."
The land was eventually used to graze cattle and the heavy use took it's toll, depleting the soil and diminishing the vegetation , which laid bare the shale underneath to the iron will of erosion." The shale is very impermeable, and what happens is water runs over it, and as it runs over it, it takes the sediment with it, and even here around us, you can see that the deposited sediment as the water is pulling the material from the top of the slope downwards." Explains Doll. " You can actually see, or you can even imagine where those water flows were, and eventually cut their way into the shale."
The constant action of erosion has not only crafted the shape of the badlands, but also has helped paint it's unique color." It's red because it's rich in iron, and when iron is exposed to the oxygen,water and air, it actually oxidizes and turns red." Doll continues." Often people ask me about these grey stripes that we see throughout the feature here, and the real answer is that it's the reduced form of iron that's this grey greenish color."
The connection to this land has drawn people from all around Canada to walk the hills and experience it's beauty. But that popularity has put further stress on this fragile landscape, with human tread contributing even more to it's erosion.Mike Sawchuck, Manager Of Acquisitions & Conservation Services of the Ontario Heritage Trust says" We know that when people have access to the topography, and for a long time they did, they were able to walk on the feature, and while that was well intentioned, they didn't realize the damage they were doing, and we now know through studies that walking on the feature even those little footsteps, they really resulted in an increase in the process of erosion."
The stewards of the badlands, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Bruce Trail Conservancy, have recently erected a fence around the area to restrict entrance until a master plan can be implemented to protect the land." This master plan is really going to be a balance of resource management , environmental protection, as well as ensuring public access to the site, and that's going to be done by setting new policy and by coming up with new ways to combat the issues that we have had on the site."
The need to preserve their natural history is a deep part of Canadian heritage, a common bond that unites their culture.
" Canadians have that connection with their land," said Sawchuck. " And I think a lot of it has to do with how much of our country is still open space, and a lot of people, their recreational pasttime involves going out to natural places and when you grow up with an exposure to the land you really become familiar with it and you really begin to appreciate it."
" If you preserve areas like this, and you allow people access to get that appreciation, it's almost a positive feedback loop." Doll concludes. "The more people are aware of what's out there, the more they're willing to take action to protect it.">
To learn more about the efforts to protect this rare landscape, click here : http://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/News-and-Events/2015/May/Caledon-s-Cheltenham-Badlands-temporarily-closed.aspx