It may not happen overnight, but big changes are coming to Swistun Family Heritage Park in East St. Paul.
In December 2020, East St. Paul municipal council approved funding for a four-year naturalization plan for the park, which is located at 3221 Birds Hill Rd. and was formerly known as Silver Springs Park.
"I’m absolutely ecstatic that council has agreed to commit the funds to this project," said Kurtis Johnson, assistant operations manager for the RM. "It’s great for all of us."
According to mayor Shelley Hart, council was happy to approve funding, which should run between $40,000 and $50,000 annually for the four year project. Once complete, the changes will lead to a reduction in maintenance costs for the park, improved water quality throughout the RM’s retention pond system, and help reduce the RM’s overall carbon footprint.
"This is an initiative that is part of the RM’s commitment to sustainability and ensuring a high quality of life for citizens of East St. Paul," Johnson said. "Our goal is to increase park beautification and improve landscape diversity, which creates opportunities for public education, increased native biological diversity and increased shaded areas, with a better representation of the area’s natural history while reducing maintenance requirements."
Five sections have been identified to the project, work on which will all be done concurrently over the course of the next four years.
Existing turf will be replaced with native tall-grass plantings over the next two years, allowing for a reintroduction of an endangered ecosystem to the area.
"In the turf areas that we’ll be converting, they’re low use areas already," Johnson said. "So not having to mow that once or twice a week has a big impact on carbon footprint."
Meanwhile, new trees and shrubs will be introduced to currently manicured, low-use areas to improve biodiversity and provide additional shade.
"You view you park right now, it’s very green, which is nice, but you don’t get a lot of the fall colours, purples and reds and that," Johnson said.
As a centre-piece to the project, a number of species which are not native to the area, but are being planted throughout the region to improve biodiversity will be planted.
"These are species that can grow here and are either aesthetically interesting or something you don’t typically see in the landscape," Johnson said.
Some species include honey locust, Ohio buckeye, Amur maple, sumac, and Siberian larch. Johnson added that a grant from Trees Canada should help cover the costs of those plantings.
Come spring, visitors to the park will see a lot of activity, as trees will be planted this year, work establishing some of the grasses and other plants will be ongoing through 2024. Once complete, the changes will also encourage more visitors of the four- and six-legged variety.
"We’ll see a lot more native insects, bees, butterflies, these kinds of insects will be attracted to these kind of plants, which will increase pollination, decreasing maintenance and mowing and those kinds of activities," Johnson explained.
The naturalization of the area will have an impact on the RM's pond system, as well.
"We’ll definitely see more nutrient uptake from surrounding residences by these plants, which will have a positive impact on our pond systems," Johnson said.
The Herald community journalist
Sheldon Birnie is the reporter/photographer for The Herald. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112