For the past 15 years, the Thames Talbot Land Trust (TTLT) has been committed to protecting the natural and cultural heritage of London, Middlesex, Elgin, Perth and Oxford counties.
Founded in 2000, the TTLT has been actively working towards fulfilling its mandate of protecting land and waters having natural recreational, scenic, historical or agricultural value along the Thames River watershed and historic Talbot Trail.
On Sept. 17, TTLT officially launched the public portion of what is the organizationâ€™s most ambitious fundraising project yet, the $1.6 million Soaring Higher: Hawk Cliff and Beyond Campaign.
Stan Caveney is the Hawk Cliff campaign director. A biologist by trade, Caveney explained this particular parcel is unique in Elgin County where there is as little as 15 percent forest coverage remaining today from the original Carolinian forest that once blanketed the region. To have a large block of forest such as this still intact â€” over 200 acres â€” is substantial for the area.
He also pointed out it isnâ€™t just the trees themselves that make it important, but also what can be found within the borders of this deep forest woods.
Long a destination for birders, who use it as an observation point to see more than 20 different types of birds of prey, migrating songbirds and Monarch butterflies, other rare birds such as the Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush can be found in the woods.
As the latest jewel to be added to the trustâ€™s list of properties, Caveney described its value as â€œpriceless.â€
About half of the campaignâ€™s goal of $1.6 million will go towards the actual purchase of the area known as Hawk Cliff Woods with the balance earmarked towards stewardship of the property and restoring depleted funds in the TTLTâ€™s â€œwar chest,â€ money which it uses to fund other projects and programs.
A lot of people approach the trust looking to sell them their property in the course of a year, said Linda McDougall, TTLT president and board chair, .
Even just the process of considering each offer is something they have to look at objectively, she said.
â€œWe have to think very seriously if it makes sense to protect the property in question. Is their land of cultural or natural significance in that location? We have a lot of biologists â€” folks who would go and assess the property to determine that,â€ explained McDougall. â€œIf their land isnâ€™t, we have to say â€˜thank you very much, it is not something we are interested in.â€™ But if it is, she said, the proposal still has to go before the board and land securement committee where they weight the pros and cons of a property before choosing to take it on and ramp up a campaign to protect it.
Properties classed as core habitat like Hawk Cliff Woods are rare, commented McDougall, and as such, make its acquisition â€œpriority one.â€
For the current property owner, Cheryl Barendregt, knowing the land is going to be protected and preserved for future generations is really what itâ€™s all about. Biological and environmental considerations aside, she said there is a spiritual aspect and an energy associated with Hawk Cliff Woods.