A break from the screen: NCC’s 2019 National office field trip
On May 24, approximately 70 Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) staff from the National office in Toronto, and some who were in town that day, visited our MacMillan Nature Reserve property in Vaughan, Ontario, for our annual staff field trip.
The MacMillan Nature Reserve is a 123-acre (50-hectare) property that was donated to NCC in 2004 by community activists Lyn and Robert MacMillan. It is one of the largest greenspaces remaining on the southern section of the Oak Ridges Moraine in York Region and features forests, fields and streams.
I think that an annual field trip to one of our properties is an excellent idea. It’s a nice change from working indoors, it connects staff who work in the city with the important work that NCC does in the field, and it gives staff a chance to do some hands-on stewardship work.
It was a warm, sunny, 19 C day. As soon as we arrived on the property, Mark Stabb, NCC’s program director for central Ontario, greeted us. We then gathered on the lawn beside a house on the property, and Mark provided background information about the nature reserve.
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Two other NCC Ontario Region staff, Jenna Siu and Lauren Moretto, explained the plan for the day and provided safety information. The plan was to first remove an invasive species — garlic mustard — and use it in a pesto-making competition. We would then follow this up with a hike on the property.
We were divided into five teams for the garlic mustard pull and pesto-making competition. Each team headed to a different part of the property to pick garlic mustard.
After about 90 minutes of pulling garlic mustard, we returned to our initial meeting spot to see which team had picked the most. It turned out that my team did, with two-and-a-half garbage bags full of the invasive species! Thanks to our success, we had first dibs on the equipment and main ingredients for making pesto.
Following a much-needed lunch break, the pesto-making competition began. Each team created their own pesto, resulting in five different kinds: three traditional pestos served on crackers, one with raisins on crackers and one with diced tomatoes on crusty bread. My team made the one with the diced tomatoes.
After several minutes of Master Chef-style pesto making, it was time for John Lounds, NCC president and CEO, as well as Mark and Jenna to judge the dishes. The judges tasted all five recipes, sharing their comments for each. They then took some time to deliberate. Despite my team having had first dibs on the equipment and main ingredients, the judges decided that the pesto with raisins was their favourite.
Following the intense competition, it was time for the hike. We had the option to go on either a shorter, drier and more relaxed hike, or a longer, wetter and more rigorous one with more scenic views. I enjoy hiking, so I decided to go on the longer one.
When Jenna and Lauren said the longer hike would be wet and muddy, they weren’t kidding. Even though my feet got soaked (I wasn’t wearing waterproof footwear), the longer hike was worth it. We walked through densely forested areas, past small, trickling streams. The sounds of songbirds, and woodpeckers knocking their beaks against the trees, filled the air. We also stopped a few times to learn about some of the flora and fauna and admire views of the vast fields and wetlands. After the hike, it was time to head back to the office.
I’m truly grateful that I could go on this trip. While I’ve read about and seen photos of several NCC properties, it doesn’t compare to actually setting foot on one. The field trip gave me an opportunity to put myself in conservation staff’s shoes. It was also a chance for me to learn about the important work that NCC has done on this property, including monitoring and managing it to prevent the spread of invasive species with the help of volunteers and working with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the City of Vaughan to restore stream habitat.