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Walking tour highlights import of Laurentian greenspaces to Sudbury’s history

As the university works through the insolvency process, dozens gather to experience what many fear could be lost

A walking tour on the Laurentian Trails on Aug. 5 aimed to shed light on the importance of preserving Sudbury’s hard-fought greenspaces. 

About 50 people gathered on the Laurentian University campus to take part in the first of two guided tours of the trail system that winds its way around the campus’ extensive greenspaces.

Among those leading the tour was Peter Beckett, an ecology professor at Laurentian University and a founding member of the Vegetation Technical Advisory Committee (VETAC), which continues to work to transform Sudbury’s once-devastated landscape into a sea of green.

Joining Beckett was naturalist Franco Mariotti, Naomi Grant and Sharon Roy, members of the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, Paul Haynes, a local historian, and trail enthusiast Sheilah Arena. 

They, like many others, are concerned the Laurentian University insolvency threatens the expansive greenspaces on the university campus. As part of effort to right the good ship Laurentian, the CCAA process involves a review of LU’s property holdings (including buildings and land) that could be monetized to fill the gaping hole in the school’s finances. 

The concern is that could involve selling off pieces of the natural environs on the campus.

The group leading the two tours of the university trail system hope their effort can help raise awareness of the issue and educate the public on the history of the trails, the ecosystems within it and the importance of preserving them.

The event was considered a success as approximately 50 people gathered Thursday morning at the entrance of the Ben Avery Gym to show their support for saving the trails. Because it was a bigger gathering of people than expected, the group split into two. Participants were able to learn the history of the trails as they walked on the paths — they even picked blueberries along the way as a mid-hike snack. 

“I remember in the 1980s that was more or less completely bare area,” Beckett said, indicating the area around Bennett Lake. “So now if you go around that area, as you saw with our first stop (of the trail hike), we could see the whole Bennett Lake, which now looks way more lush.”

In terms of VETAC’s regreening work, the area surrounding Bennett Lake is considered complete, Beckett said, with no further action required to rehabilitate the land.

During the tour, Grant, who is co-chair of the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, pointed to the ground showing the group the rocks they were standing on. Grant explained that the rocks turned black due to years of smelting. And while the blackness of the rocks are a product of man-made contamination, there was an abundance of greenery surrounding the rocks now. 

“The moss is coming back (beside the rocks), they’re all really good signs that the air is clean enough and the area is clean enough,” Grant said. 

For people like Sheilah Arena, a volunteer with Conservation Sudbury, the notion Laurentian’s financial challenges could impact the trails she loves (and it’s clear from the turnout she’s not alone in her love for the greenspaces) is real.

“I’m very concerned about the possibility of losing these trails,” Arena said, a volunteer with Conservation Sudbury for well over ten years. “We put in thousands of hours of volunteer work and time and effort and money into making these trails. To lose it would be an absolute tragedy.”  Arena said that the overall signage plan for Conservation Sudbury was $250,000 and that approximately $25,000 of that money would have gone to LU’s trails. 

Melanie Tincombe joined the hike with her eight-year-old great niece and her sister, Suzanne Walker. Like Arena, she, too, is worried.

“I’m really concerned about how this space can be potentially used in the future, “ she said. “Plus, I was spending time with my eight-year-old niece and I thought it would be a learning opportunity for her.” 

Tincombe told Sudbury.com that it was important for her niece to know how important these greenspaces are, especially in a city with Sudbury’s history. 

“We need to protect them so that the animals have a place to live, that we have fresh water, and hopefully move more and more towards co-habitating with animals rather than forcing them out of their habitat.”

Help Save Laurentian Trails and its Ecosystem, a Facebook group dedicated to saving the trails, and Livable Sudbury will continue to raise awareness and prevent the trails from being sold as a part of the insolvency plan. Learn more by visiting their Facebook page.

The same team will host another guided tour of the LU campus greenspaces on Aug. 18, starting at 4:15 p.m. on the steps of the Ben Avery Gym.