MUSKOKA LAKES - The Township of Muskoka Lakes Heritage Committee is considering suggesting some trees have heritage designation from the province.
Both the grove of trees and the twin-stemmed silver maple being considered are in Bala, one in Margaret Burgess Park, the other on Burgess Island, close to the proposed hydroelectric plant.
A consultant’s report for the potential heritage trees showed up in the minutes of the heritage committee, which was attached to the Muskoka Lakes council agenda the day after Swift River said it was filing for an addendum for the hydroelectric project by Bala’s North Dam. The addendum would move the environmental assessment for the project from the project’s location 100 feet from the dam to the location adjacent to the dam.
Karen McGhee, project manager for Swift River, said the grove of white pines probably won’t be affected by the project. While the twin-stem silver maple on Burgess Island isn’t exactly where the hydroelectric plant will be, McGhee said she doesn’t think the tree would survive construction because of the rubble-like soil it is growing in, “unless we took them out and saved them and replanted them.”
“To be quite frank, they look in fairly bad shape. There’s a lot of bark coming off of them and there’s a lot of dead limbs on them,” she said.
Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy said the consultant’s report for the trees was done some time ago and has nothing to do with the Bala Falls controversy.
“It’s really not specifically related to anything … the timing was just coincidental,” she said.
Murphy said they are identifying sites throughout Muskoka Lakes, particularly on the trail system, including water trails and trail marker trees. The tree on Burgess Island is considered to be a trail marker tree, a distinctive nub on the tree points west toward Georgian Bay.
A letter from Jack Radecki, the registered consulting arbourist evaluating the trees for the heritage committee, gives the tree on Burgess Island and the grove of trees in Margaret Burgess Park five star ratings, the highest rating possible, for heritage trees. The trees are estimated to be 125 and 150 years old respectively.
The mayor said she can’t answer whether designating the tree would impede progress with the hydroelectric project.
“Whether or not it is compromising or anywhere near the proposed site, I can’t comment on that,” she said.
McGhee said Swift River is not particularly concerned that the trees will impede progress at this point because they are on Crown land.
Under the Ontario Heritage Act, the heritage committee can list or designate a heritage property within the municipality without consulting the property owner, but it is not allowed to designate provincial or Crown land.
McGhee said if the trees are important to the community, Swift River is willing to take clippings from the tree to maintain its offspring, or put a commemorative plaque on the site.
“If it’s an important tree to the community, we can certainly do something that commemorates that,” she said.
The trees were an information item only. For further action to be taken, the issue will have to come back to council.