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Passing the torch in keeping local waterways clean

Art Timmerman (left) will be taking over as the new co-chair of Woolwich Clean Waterways from Barb Taylor, who is retiring from the position after 10 years. [Faisal Ali / the observer]

For years, Barb Taylor has been a good steward of the environment. As a member of the Woolwich Clean Waterways group, Taylor’s been helping to keep the township’s waters clean and the riverbanks intact. But after serving as co-chair of the group for the past 10 years, the Elmira resident is passing over the reins to her fellow member Art Timmerman.

“Art retired and he had more time to spend, and I knew he had the capability to take [it] on,” explained Taylor. “And he’s got younger legs, so I thought, ‘this is the time for me to back off and let him take on.’”

She’s certainly leaving the group and its work in capable hands as Timmerman, another local resident, is clearly passionate about the environment. Timmerman moved to the area in 1989, and was working at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a biologist when he learned about the group, as they would sometimes apply to the ministry for grants.

“That’s how I found out about the group. And then I thought I should get involved because it’s in my township and in my home,” he said. So Timmerman began to volunteer his time with Clean Waterways.

Taylor, for her part, has been with Woolwich Clean Waterways since the early 1990s, and was there at the group’s very first tree-planting event. Each year, Clean Waterways organizes a big tree planting along sections of the riverbank.

This year’s planting in April – which is open to volunteers – will be the 26th such outing, and looking back Taylor seems proud of the work she did.

“I thought we were doing a good thing. It was good for the community, it was good for the environment. It was a good teaching tool,” she adds.

When the group realized early on that they couldn’t get enough volunteers to help with the yearly plantings – which typically involved hundreds of trees – the group came up with a great answer: youngsters.

‘What about school students?’ they thought to themselves.

“So then we came up with the idea of having three different schools come three half-days, and that was great. Plus the teachers that were involved always could buy into it, and they used to do prep work at school before they came,” explains Taylor.

Through the project, Taylor estimates maybe a hundred students a year, from some of the local institutions and parochial schools, learned in a hands-on way how to plant a tree and the value of environment. Taylor herself also came to appreciate the environment in new ways.

“I think my first ‘Aha!’ moment was we went back to a site for the second year and there was this little tiny tree there and it had this bird’s next growing in it and it was like, ‘oh yeah, that’s why we’re doing this,’” she says.

Clean Waterways plants about 250 to 300 trees a year, and with a very high survivability rate thanks to careful planning. For the full 26 years (including the upcoming planting this April) that’s about 7,800 trees, guarding the banks of the Canagagigue Creek from erosion and runoff. The group typically does their yearly plantings on private farmland; and besides planting trees into the soil, the group has also focused on installing fencing at these locations to keep cattle out of the streams as well.

Looking forward, Timmerman hopes to continue the group’s work. They’re somewhat limited in where they can go depending on farmers’ willingness to take part in the project. The group also has to keep its locations upstream from the site of the 1989 chemical spill in Elmira from the former Uniroyal plant (now Lanxess) as a precaution.

Thinking about the future of the Woolwich Clean Waterways, both Timmerman and Taylor are encouraging a younger crowd to get involved.

“We’re trying to promote the group,” said Timmerman. “If we could get some younger people involved in the group just for continuity and more energy.”

“Yeah, somebody that has an interest in environmental [work],” adds Taylor. “Maybe even a student that’s thinking about going to take an environmental course, maybe it would be interesting for them to get involved.”

That’s key, as having a younger group take on the Woolwich Clean Waterways mission will ensure that the group is able to continue on for years to come.

In the more immediate future, it’s all hands on deck as Clean Waterways prepares for this year’s tree planting. Volunteers will definitely will be needed, and anyone interested in spending a little time outdoors helping the environment are encouraged to take part.

The event will be split over two days on April 24 and 25. The planting will be on 1431 Balsam Grove Rd., just north of where Northfield Drive and Line 86 intersect. More information on how to help keep the township’s waterways clean can be found at www.healthywoolwich.org.

For Taylor, after her years hard work and dedication to the community, you’d think she’d want to put her feet up for a bit and take a break. But apparently, that’s not part of her plan.

“I do a lot of volunteering, so the time that I would spend doing this I’ll probably do something else. I just move my volunteer hours around – I never quit,” she says. That includes with the likes of the Girl Guides, her church, and the Reapers of Hope up in Moorefield.

Whatever it may be, Taylor will undoubtedly continue working to improve her community for years to come. “I’m always doing something.”


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