Ayr’s Grand River Adventurers net 2015 Watershed Award
By Janet Baine
For Derek Lippert and JP Bartle, a Grand River paddle is more than a simple diversion from the daily responsibilities of life. For four years running, the pair has brought their canoe to the top of the Grand River and travelled all the way down to Port Maitland on Lake Erie, no matter what the weather or river conditions. They call the nearly 300 kilometre trip The Grand River Adventure. They do this to raise funds to plant trees and increase awareness of the local river. They received a 2015 Watershed Award, and are hoping more people will join them when they paddle the river a fifth time in 2016.
Both Lippert and Bartle are long-time paddlers accustomed to trips on pristine northern lakes and rivers. Lippert owns a landscaping firm, Quiet Nature, based in Ayr, and Bartle is his landscape designer and right-hand man.
They paddle in late April and take seven days, making this an arduous trip, because they cover a lot of river each day. They paddle through rain, snow, sunshine, dry conditions and spring floods.
“Every time it’s like you’re paddling on a different river,” said Bartle. At the start, the Grand is only a few metres wide. But near the mouth, the Grand is a big, broad river with speed boats and commercial vessels.
Their spring paddle depends a lot on the previous winter weather, the temperature and the amount of melting snow and rain flowing into the river. Some years there is ice and high water. Other years, they walk the river bed at some locations, because there is not enough water.
The Grand River Adventure is well supported by family, friends and sympathetic strangers, as well as many sponsors. They have raised over $15,000 for the Grand River Conservation Foundation to plant trees. This offsets the environmental footprint of the work that they carry out. They post photos, tweet and update their Facebook page at stops along the way.
While the river is very urban, there are many stretches that are “absolutely beautiful,” and Bartle takes lots of photos along the way that reflect the spectacular beauty of the watershed. One year they published a photo book, and another they made a video. But they also see the impact of the carelessness of local residents.
“One day there were 40 to 50 mm of rain and it was most eye-opening to see the stormwater coming out into the river. The whole river turned into a soupy grey and you could see the garbage floating in it. So it is really important to be careful what you put on the land,” Lippert said. They take these experiences to heart and learn from them.
“Our philosophy is to be as low-impact as we can in day-to-day activities on the job. If we are fueling machinery, we are very careful and we don’t leave waste on a site,” Bartle said.
Spending time observing nature means that when it is time to design water features or natural swimming areas, Bartle’s designs reflect natural land and river formations. They stick with native plants and trees and also restore tallgrass prairie habitat or stream banks. Trees and plants are thirsty, so vegetation soaks water into the soil and helps filter it, so that it is cleaner by the time it enters the river. This is why planting trees is so important to improve the health of the river.
“Derek and JP have done a great job not just of raising funds for tree planting, but also for raising the profile of the Grand River as a great natural resource in our community. Following their trip is very inspiring,” says Sara Wilbur, executive director of the Grand River Conservation Foundation.