Villanova among the winners at ERCA’s Conservation Awards


Eight organizations and/or individuals have been recognized by the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) as winners of Conservation Awards.

The award presentation followed ERCA’s annual general meeting, held last Thursday night in Essex.

“It’s always inspiring to learn more about those who have made tangible contributions to our regional environment,” said new ERCA chair Irek Kusmierczyk. “By moving forward, together, with committed organizations and individuals like those we honour tonight, we will ensure that our region remains the Place for Life.”

Among the winners of Conservation Awards were St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School. The school received the Education Award and was honoured for more than two decades of educating students about the environment, and inspiring them to action through greening, cleanups, invasive species removals, and Monarch protection. Villanova was also recognized this past year as a gold school under the Ontario Eco-Schools program.

“The ongoing efforts of teacher Andy Paling is the driving force behind the school’s success,” said Danielle Stuebing, ERCA’s director of communications and outreach services.

Paling stated that “it’s easy to do what we do at our campus,” noting that Villanova sits on 11 acres on County Road 8. He also said “thousands of students” have been involved in environmental efforts over the years and added that the school has developed “amazing partnerships.”

ERCA vice chair Tonia Jobin (left) and chair Irek Kusmierczyk (right) present St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School with the Education Award during last Thursday night’s Essex Region Conservation Authority’s Conservation Awards.

It is “incredibly rewarding” to see students become eager to get excited about gathering seeds, working in the greenhouse or doing some of the many other environmental initiatives Villanova undertakes.

“Kids are willing and yearning to do these things,” he said. “They just need the opportunities.”

Ceara Copat captured the Youth Award for her dedication to natural and cultural heritage interpretation and action, including tree planting, invasive species removal, and engagement. Maurice Chauvin won the Conservation Farm Award for adopting a variety of conservation and best management practices, over six generations of farming, to protect their greatest resource – the soil.

The Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment Association earned the John R. Park Homestead Award for maintaining and promoting the historic and cultural significant of the Regiment in the community, and extra efforts this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.

In an emotional moment, Karen Batke was posthumously awarded the  Volunteer Award for more than 35 years of volunteering to protect and restore Cedar, Mill and Wigle Creeks through tree planting, cleanups, and invasive species removal.

Winners of the Conservation Awards gather for a group photo following ERCA’s annual general meeting Jan. 24 at the Essex Civic Centre.

The group Just Fishin’ Friends captured Volunteer Organization Award for their dedication in providing learn to fish opportunities to residents across the region, to help them learn more about native fish species and the Great Lakes. Tepperman’s earned the Environmental Achievement award for its “Live for Tomorrow” sustainability plan and significant achievements in waste reduction, energy consumption, innovative recycling solutions, and a shared environmental ethic with staff, suppliers and partners.

Laura Monforton won the Dennis Chase Staff Award for her dedication, conscientiousness, kindness and compassion to colleagues, customers and partners through a variety of roles at ERCA, including tree planting and restoration, events and outreach, and protecting sources of drinking water as the region’s risk management official/inspector.

ERCA also reviewed the accomplishments of the past year, including forward momentum towards a regional Climate Change Strategy, restoring 143 acres of habitat, connecting nearly 10,000 kids to nature through outdoor education, releasing its five-year Watershed Report Card, and welcoming over 75,000 visitors to conservation areas and trails.

A full copy of ERCA’s Annual Report and corresponding video can be found at



Kusmierczyk takes over for Fryer at ERCA chair



By Ron Giofu


There is a new chair at the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA).

Windsor city councillor Irek Kusmierczyk moved up to the chair’s position after spending two years as vice chair. Kusmierczyk was acclaimed as chair while Tecumseh councillor Tania Jobin was elected as vice chair. LaSalle councillor Sue Desjarlais was the other candidate for vice chair.

The positions alternate between the County of Essex and the City of Windsor every two years.

Kusmierczyk takes over from former Amherstburg councillor Rick Fryer. Before departing the board, Fryer paid tribute to his fellow board members.

“Together, we have done a great job in advancing environmental sustainability in the Place for Life,” he said, referencing the ERCA slogan. “I am pleased we had strong relationships with each other over the past few years.”

Fryer also praised ERCA administration, noting they are busy throughout the year. He said Windsor-Essex County is comparable to the Toronto area in terms of the number of permits issued for work being done in their respective areas.

Noting he went to a “dark place” in his own life, Fryer also promoted mental health initiatives including the “Bell Let’s Talk” day happening Jan. 30.

New ERCA chair Irek Kusmierczyk presents a framed photo of Big Creek to outgoing chair Rick Fryer during last Thursday night’s annual general meeting of the Essex Region Conservation Authority.
(RTT Photo by Ron Giofu)

“I don’t want anyone to go to that place,” he said. “It took a toll on me and it took a toll on my family.”
Fryer added it is “very, very difficult” to be an elected official in the age of social media and encouraged others to keep loved ones in the loop if there is something bothering them.

“Hug your family,” he said. “Talk about what is going on.”

Kusmierczyk thanked Fryer “for his leadership and courage, especially tonight,” and presented Fryer with a framed photo of Big Creek as a token of his appreciation for his time as the chair.

Kusmierczyk said a healthy economy and healthy citizens are linked and said he is looking forward to working with his colleagues around the ERCA board table. He considered it “an honour” to be named as the chair.

“The leadership ERCA demonstrates on things like flooding, climate change, urban forest restoration, urban management in terms of managing the growth in our cities as well is absolutely critical to the health of our community,” he said.

Kusmierczyk added that ERCA is in a “great place to demonstrate leadership” as it relates to implementing policies to combat flooding and climate change.

Super Santa Run takes over the streets of Amherstburg



By Christian Bouchard

While Christmas is still a month away, Santa Claus paid a visit to Amherstburg.

At least a lot of lookalikes that is.

Over 400 Santas hit the streets of Amherstburg for the annual Essex Region Foundation’s Super Santa Run Nov. 17.

Over 400 people dressed up as Santa Claus participated in the ninth annual Super Santa Run. The event, presented by the Essex Region Conservation Foundation, helps raise money to support conservation efforts in the Essex region such as tree planting and trail development.

The Super Santa Run partnered with the opening night of the Amherstburg River Lights Festival. The community saw hundreds of jolly participants decked out in lights, kids in strollers and dogs dressed up in Christmas outfits run or walk the five-kilometre route along downtown Amherstburg.

“We are so thankful to partner with the River Lights Festival. It’s a great day that helps everyone get into the holiday spirit, said Danielle Stuebing, director of communications and outreach services for Essex Region Conservation.

Stuebing told the River Town Times Saturday night that a financial fundraising total was not available as funds pledged were still coming in. She noted she is expecting to have raised over $10,000 at the end of the day.

“It really does get you into the holiday spirit,” said Stuebing. “It is always fun to see hundreds of Santa’s fly to that start line and run down the beautiful streets of Amherstburg.”

According to Stuebing, there were people who traveled from as far as Toronto and the United States to participate in the event.

The streets of Amherstburg were packed Saturday night with runners and walkers in Santa suits with dogs even part of the event.

“It’s a different event from some of your more traditional runs. It looks at the holidays, the spirit of giving and conservation all tied together.”

Following the run, hundreds of Santas made their way to the Navy Yard parkette where Mayor Aldo DiCarlo would help with the ceremonial countdown as the town would officially kick-off the River Lights Winter Festival.




Horses being kept off the Cypher Systems Greenway for now



By Ron Giofu


While horses are allowed on the Chrysler Canada Greenway, the same can’t be said for the Cypher Systems Greenway.

The latter stretches from Essex to Amherstburg and the Essex Region Conservation Authority’s board of directors decided at their most recent board meeting that equestrian use would still be prohibited. Kevin Money, director of conservation services with ERCA, noted that there are no adequate parking facilities along the Cypher Systems Greenway to accommodate horse trailers so the idea was shelved for the time being.

“We don’t want to cause safety problems by them parking on the road and create hazards that way,” said Money.

The Chrysler Canada Greenway does have those type of parking facilities, so horses are allowed on that trail. Money acknowledged “we do have a lot of equestrian users in the county.”

ERCA is not allowing horses on the Cypher Systems Greenway at the present time.

ERCA conducted a survey over the summer to gauge feedback on allowing horses on the Cypher Systems Greenway. Over 850 people responded, he said, with 42 per cent identifying as cyclists, 30 per cent as walkers, eight per cent as runners and 16 per cent as equestrians. Results showed that 43 per cent of respondents indicated some concern with sharing the greenway with horses while 35 per cent had no concern. About 22 per cent did not respond.

In a written report to the ERCA board, Money stated there were concerns over manure and signage requiring riders to remove it, concerns from cyclists over damaging the trail surface and corresponding concerns from equestrians about cyclists staying off the trail when it is wet.

Money said that work is being done with the Essex Region Conservation Foundation, ERCA’s fundraising arm, to try and raise funds for additional amenities like parking lots.

“It’s very expensive to build parking lots of that size,” said Money.

Bird watchers, curious nature lovers converge at Festival of Hawks



By Ron Giofu


The first weekend of the 2018 Festival of Hawks is in the books and it brought bird watchers and nature lovers from around the area and some from the United States.

Presented last Saturday and Sunday at Holiday Beach Conservation Area, the hawk tower and the area that surrounds it was busy with bird watchers looking out for the various hawks and other birds that flew overhead with hummingbird banding, owl holding, photography lessons, seminars and other nature-themed activities keeping people busy also.

The Festival of Hawks is a co-production of the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) and the Holiday Beach Migration Observatory (HBMO).

Rachel D’Eon and Melissa
Debevc came in from Chatham do do some bird watching at last weekend’s Festival of Hawks. The event continues this weekend.

Nate Soucie with Kingsport Environmental Falconry said response was “fantastic.” He noted Saturday morning was a bit slower due to fog that was in the area but things picked up once that cleared.

“It’s been a good turnout,” said Soucie last Saturday afternoon. “Now that the sun’s out, more and more people are coming out.”

Ericka Greenham brought her young son Grady on the hawk tower with Ericka noting the event was recommended to the family by her husband’s former grad student that now works for ERCA.

“This is our first time,” she said. “It’s great. We are really enjoying it.”

Rachel D’Eon and Melissa Debevc from Chatham came down to the event, noting they don’t come to the Festival of Hawks every year. They noted they often bird watch at the Pinery or Rondeau Provincial Park but enjoy the Festival of Hawks when they do come.

Bob Hall-Brooks shows a magnolia warbler during one of his talks last Saturday at the Festival of Hawks.

“It’s the only place where you can see a lot of raptors congregate at the same time,” said Debevc. “The bonus about here is not just the hawks but everything else too.”

D’Eon added that Holiday Beach is “a well-rounded place to bird.”

Bob Hall-Brooks, a hummingbird bander with HBMO, also said early Saturday fog impacted the event but that things got better when the sun came out. He indicated a number of hawks went over, adding that when he was at Holiday Beach Friday there were monarch butterflies and broad winged hawks that joined the sharp shinned and red-tailed hawks.

Hall-Brooks said the Festival of Hawks is a great opportunity to share their passion with other birders and the general public and show people birds they would normally not get to see.

“People seem to be interested. That’s always exciting,” said Hall-Brooks. “It’s so nice to place a bird in a kid’s hand. It’s nice to show them birds they wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Ericka Greenham and her son Grady take a look off of the hawk tower at Holiday Beach Conservation Area during the Festival of Hawks Sept. 15.

The Festival of Hawks continues this Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors can also enjoy lunch provided by the Essex County Field Naturalists’ Blue Kestrel Café or HBMO’s BBQ Booth.

All programs are free with the festival admission fee of $15 per vehicle. The final list of programs is available at

The best raptor viewing time is from 9 a.m. until 12 noon when the hawks fly low. The Holiday Beach Conservation Area is located on County Road 50, on Lake Erie near Malden Centre.