Preserving an Urban Oasis

Despite ongoing threats, citizen groups are working to protect Harper Park

On October 2, 2017, 150 people gathered outside of City Hall to celebrate our city’s parks and greenspaces. On Council’s agenda that night were plans that would impact the future of both Jackson Park and Harper Park.

Harper Park is arguably one of the most diverse greenspaces in our city, with an abundance of wildlife and plants, many of them rare or endangered. Despite this, the park often is in the sightlines of City plans to expand surrounding housing and commercial developments, including Peterborough’s new casino, which is to be built adjacent to the park. As with Jackson Park, continued efforts to encourage the City to recognize its ecological importance fall on deaf ears.

Harper-Park_Basil-ConlinThe gathering outside City Hall was not the first to celebrate Harper Park. In March 2017, the Peterborough Dialogues hosted the Harper Park Community Summit. The callout was simple: “We are inviting you—artists, naturalists, scientists, youth, and children—to discover together a path to protecting the ecological treasure Harper Park is in our city.”

Those citizens were driven by the park’s natural beauty, and by its essential role as one of the last remaining habitats in urban Ontario for the infamous brook trout. These cryptic fish are often incredibly sensitive to environmental disturbances: heat, sediment, pesticides, and other pollutants, which can prove lethal to them even in small doses. Despite all of this, they continue to hang on by a thread in this last sanctuary.

It is estimated that nearly $100,000 of community effort has been directed towards Harper Park in the last ten years. This includes wetland evaluations, reports, cataloging of wildlife, community cleanups, and citizen and academic science efforts. Last year, thanks to the efforts of the Peterborough Field Naturalists, Harper Park was designated as a Provincially Significant Wetland and a baseline documentation of the park’s features was completed. Despite the continued stewardship efforts offered by citizens, Harper Park continues to face many threats.

Indeed, according to a 2017 mapping exercise, there have been fourteen major environmental impacts that have hit the park in recent years: stormwater runoff, isolation from other natural spaces, destruction of the creek bed, and removal of woodlots, among others.

In the coming years, it’s anticipated that further environmental degradation is in store for Harper Park, thanks to the casino, road and parking lot construction, subdivision construction, and commercial developments along Lansdowne Street. All of these cumulative impacts have already caused a great deal of destruction in a small area, but there’s still plenty of time to create change for the better.

Harper-Park_Kim-ZippelPersonally, I would like to invite everyone to participate in the citizen science effort in Harper Park. Submit your wildlife and plant sightings to iNaturalist. Every piece of information helps. You can also submit wildlife sightings to websites such as eBird or the Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. If you would like to go explore the park, there are no formal trails, but you can find a small path marked on the map at Even if you just share the story of your visit on social media, it helps get the word out that people care about Harper Park.

Lastly, I would encourage you to consider candidates this fall that care about protecting the natural environment and engaging citizens in the process. All of our efforts to protect the park may be for nothing if governments are willing to ignore the issue altogether. The future of Harper Park can still be bright, and we can build something miraculous together, but the park needs the support of citizens like you.

We can ensure that Peterborough is a better home for everyone when we protect the places that are ecologically, socially, and economically important. Hopefully the coming months will bring change to the way we talk about and protect our natural spaces, but it takes every citizen who cares to share their voice.

Perhaps collectively we can actually protect the places that are ‘outside the ordinary,’ and not just proclaim them as so.


Photos by Craig Bogden, Basil Conlin, and Kim Zippel.

Fields marked with an * are required