White trilliums, The Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by NCC)

White trilliums, The Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by NCC)

Happy Valley's "Heart of the Forest"

Hikers in Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by NCC)

Hikers in Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by NCC)

For the past 15 years, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has worked to protect the Happy Valley Forest — one of the largest remaining intact forests on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Located at the edge of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in King Township, we’ve been wooed by this remarkable forest. It's a refuge for more than 110 breeding bird species, and critical to the survival of nationally significant species such as Acadian flycatcher and cerulean warbler.

The Happy Valley Forest also protects the headwaters of streams that flow north to Lake Simcoe and south to Lake Ontario. To date, NCC has protected 737 acres (298 hectares) here, and currently has an opportunity to purchase a key property right at the heart of the forest.

The heart of the matter

Protecting the heart of the Happy Valley Forest is not for the faint-hearted. This is an ambitious project to protect one of the last great natural spaces left in the GTA. The core of the Happy Valley Forest has remained remarkably intact over the years, thanks in large part to the good stewardship of its landowners to date.

However, its accessibility from Canada’s largest city is both an advantage and a growing concern. Proximity to the GTA makes this one of NCC’s easiest sites to travel to, and fall in love with — as our popular hike series has revealed. That said, the growing population of the GTA puts increased pressure on surrounding natural areas. If we are to protect this forest for the future, we must act today.

Over the years, NCC has carefully purchased (or received as donations) 737 acres (298 hectares) of mostly contiguous lands. The cost per acre is quite high in this area of the Oak Ridges Moraine; the proximity to the city and the large property sizes have attracted many estate homes over the years. NCC has negotiated a deal to sever and purchase a 26-acre (10-hectare) property within the forest that links three of NCC’s existing properties.

By acquiring this parcel, NCC will be able to protect a connected forest canopy at the heart of the forest, and link several publicly accessible trails for visitors to enjoy. NCC’s goal is to raise $1 million by the end of 2016, to enable the purchase of the 26-acre (10-hectare) property at the heart of the forest, and to help NCC manage all of our lands in the Happy Valley Forest well into the future.

Red eft in the Happy Valley Forest (Photo by NCC)

Red eft in the Happy Valley Forest (Photo by NCC)

Ecological significance: Home is where the heart is

The Happy Valley Forest is an old-growth forest in the making. Nowhere else on the western Oak Ridges Moraine or within the GTA is old-growth forest of this extent achievable. Old-growth forests provide important functions in the ecosystem; from fostering complex relationships and dependencies with wildlife, to carbon sequestration and stream protection. Essentially, old-growth forests act as a reservoir for biodiversity, offering much needed habitat to many species at risk. 

Come visit, and let the forest woo you, too

Visitors are welcome and encouraged to visit the Happy Valley Forest and experience its incredible natural beauty. The Oak Ridges Moraine Trail runs through the forest, and several of NCC’s properties also feature hiking trails, which will be expanded through NCC lands once this upcoming parcel is acquired.

On a spring walk through the Happy Valley Forest, visitors are likely to hear the calls of red-shouldered hawk, wood thrush or scarlet tanager echoing through the canopy. Red-spotted newt and Jefferson salamanders can also be seen as they make their annual pilgrimage to vernal pools that dot the landscape. Our trails are family friendly, ranging from easy to moderately challenging. This makes the Happy Valley Forest a lovely outing for the young and the young at heart.

For more information on the Happy Valley Forest hike series, click here.

For more information on accessing the Goldie Feldman Nature Reserve in Happy Valley Forest, click here.

To learn more about the Happy Valley Forest, click here.

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