On the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Ontario’s South Glengarry Township is the 663-acre (268-hectare) Cooper Marsh Conservation Area. Created in the 1980s by Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the Raisin Region Conservation Authority (RRCA), the marsh was transformed from unsuitable cropland to what is now a Provincially Significant Class 1 Wetland—and a beloved destination for birders, families and eco-tourists alike.
Cooper Marsh has served the watershed and surrounding community well, but more than three decades later, the infrastructure that keeps it functioning at optimal levels, needs a makeover. DUC and RRCA, with funding from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks through the Wetlands Conservation Partner Program (WCPP), are again collaborating to make this happen.
History of the Marsh
To understand Cooper Marsh means stepping back 30 years to when the area was unproductive, dry farmland that would occasionally flood when nearby Lake St. Francis water levels fluctuated. Marginal for farming, the location held great potential as permanent wetland habitat, particularly given that there are so few remaining wetlands on the St. Lawrence River’s north shore.
DUC and RRCA (the landowner), both had an interest in seeing the area remain wetland habitat. In order to make this happen, the partners needed to build a dike system with a pump system to manage and maintain the wetland water levels. Through their partnership was born the Cooper Marsh Conservation Area. It has since flourished into one of the most significant wetland habitats in Ontario.
However, like any infrastructure—like roads or your home—it doesn’t last forever and periodically needs updating. DUC and RRCA are once again joining forces to undertake major infrastructure repairs to the dike and pump systems at two separate wetland impoundments within Cooper Marsh—the 296-acre (120-hectare) Charlottenburg Marsh and the 49-acre (20-hectare) Meadow Bay. The repairs will also address muskrat and beaver damage, removal of unwanted trees and vegetation and dike maintenance and updates. Maintenance work is also planned for the electrical pump system.
Visited by over 40,000 people annually, Cooper Marsh Conservation Area is a great example of how natural infrastructure can also provide opportunities for recreation.
Investing in nature is an investment for wildlife and the community
“Visited by over 40,000 people annually, Cooper Marsh Conservation Area is a great example of how natural infrastructure can also provide opportunities for recreation,” says RRCA’s communications and stewardship team lead, Lisa Van De Ligt. “We are grateful for our partners like Ducks Unlimited Canada that also recognize the importance of investing in conservation projects for not only wildlife, but for also the community.”
Cooper Marsh Conservation Area provides critical natural infrastructure
Known for its rich diversity of both plant and animal species, the Cooper Marsh Conservation Area provides critical natural infrastructure by sequestering carbon to serve as an overall natural solution to climate change. It is also a destination spot for local visitors and tourists to pursue recreational activities like hiking and birding.
The area also features viewing blinds and towers and a 12-kilometre system of boardwalks and nature trails. The Visitor Centre houses information about the marsh and the biodiversity found there. It is the centre point of the marsh—where all the trails begin and end.
The Cooper Marsh Conservation Area reinforces the argument for ongoing investment in conservation activities even after a project is completed. These investments are needed to maintain and update infrastructure that may become outdated or inefficient, and to ensure that these crucial ecosystems continue to work well as natural infrastructure, wildlife habitat and recreational areas for people.
DUC collaborates with local agencies across the province to expand the extent of habitat restoration in Ontario. At the Cooper Marsh Conservation Area, DUC is leading the restoration work that will maintain optimal conditions for the rich variety of both plant and animal species found at Cooper Marsh Conservation Area.
This work is being undertaken with the financial support of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks through the Wetlands Conservation Partner Program (WCPP) as well as match funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.