Stewards of Cootes: An Interview
Hamilton often gets touted as the “Steel City”, which is an homage to the city’s industrial beginnings. However, there’s much more to this city than just the steel and the factories. Coalesced with the concrete of a burgeoning city lies an equally vibrant natural environment. We have over a hundred amazing waterfalls dispersed throughout the city (we are the waterfall capital of the world after all) and wonderful hiking trails through Cootes Paradise. However, as human beings, we don’t always take care of the habitats that surround us. One organization that has popped up in the recent years, the Stewards of Cootes, is doing a great job at counteracting some of the damage done to the Cootes watershed.
For those that are interested in learning a little bit more about Cootes, it is the largest wetland in the western end of Lake Ontario. Furthermore, this wetland is a National Historic Site, as well as Nationally Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Nationally Important Reptile and Amphibian Area. As McMaster students, we’re lucky enough to have a bit of Cootes Paradise right in our backyard, which is a fantastic space for hikers, photographers, and nature-lovers.
So how do the Stewards of Cootes fit into the equation? The Stewards are a neighbourhood-based group of volunteers dedicated to ensuring the health and biodiversity of Cootes Paradise. Each neighbourhood group is responsible for a certain section of these natural lands, but they also serve the additional function of educating their immediate community on how to improve the watershed’s health. We had the opportunity to interview Kamila Matysiakiewicz, a volunteer with the Stewards to hear about what her experiences were!
How did you hear about Stewards of Cootes and why did you become involved with it?
I found out about the volunteer opportunities from a friend of mine who had been volunteering with the Stewards of Cootes for the last year. On top of that, there was a lot of advertising for their April events and there were posters all over campus. I went out once to just see what it was like and now I’ve been coming out to help every Sunday that I can!
What sorts of activities and tasks do you do with Stewards of Cootes?
The Stewards of Cootes are involved with cleaning up the creeks around Cootes Paradise. More specifically, there are organized clean ups every Sunday that are in the McMaster area. It’s a lot more than just picking up regular trash, we remove large waste from in and around creeks like shopping carts, tires, mattresses, and road signs. Pretty much we come across just about anything that is dumped and ends up in the creek! Basically, you show up, grab a pair of gloves and choose the level of difficulty of terrain you want work in and start cleaning up!
How do you balance volunteering with your other commitments?
Luckily, the clean ups are run on Sunday so it’s not a conflict with work or school or anything. I try to come out whenever I can because I find that it’s a great stress buster during school. It’s only 3 hours and I like the physical activity. You can come out to as many or as few as you want!
Does this volunteering experience connect to your academic field of study? If so, what is it and what applications are you learning out in the field?
My program of study is Earth and Environmental Science, so for me it happens to relate to my field! It’s really important to assess the type of garbage and its immediate or long-term affect on the environment. Materials such as metals may be more significant in their effect on the ecosystem because they can rust and leech chemicals after rainfall. Additionally, some materials may harm the fauna in the area. Tires are often deadly for turtles as they can get caught in them. It’s important to restore the ecosystem to as close to natural as possible, but priority should be placed on more immediately harmful materials. There are a lot of volunteers that aren’t in an environmentally focused program, but just want to do their part in environmental stewardship!
Why is Stewards of Cootes an important organization?
The Stewards of Cootes is an important organization because they strive to decrease anthropogenic effects on the environment, beginning at the local scale! It’s important to consider all the nature in our own city of Hamilton and what small efforts can make a large environmental impact. The Stewards of Cootes stops a lot of harmful garbage before it ends up in the creeks and affects the water quality downstream and overall on the watershed.
(For Fun) What is your wildest story with the Stewards of Cootes?
I think some of the wildest stories would involve the crazy stuff that gets pulled out of the creeks! There are hundreds of tires, giant lead pipes, golf clubs, old glass bottles and even things that are a hundred years old! It’s always a mystery to see what kind of stuff you will find and how old it will be!
(Images courtesy of Google Images, Kamila, and the Stewards of Cootes Facebook Page)