Trudging home through snowy Williamson Park Ravine with her dad last week, five year-old Geneviève MacLeod turned the tables and put a question to Beach Metro News.
“Did you know we slide down that big hill?” she asked, pointing up the steep slope to Williamson Crescent.
“We did it just once,” added her dad Renae, pointing out the tree where they stopped tobogganing just short of splashing into Small’s Creek.
Criss-crossed with boot trails in winter, the slope to Wildwood Crescent can be a muddy mess in spring. While a staircase was built down the ravine’s west side from Gainsborough Road about 15 years ago, there is no matching staircase on the east side. The ravine is also prone to swampy conditions along the creek bed.
That prompted the city’s Parks, Forestry & Recreation division to come up with a plan for an east staircase and a longer footbridge over Small’s Creek. Two variations on the plan were unveiled Feb. 5 at an open house in nearby Georges-Étienne Cartier elementary school.
The staircase could be built with a raised wooden boardwalk at the top for about $125,000, or with a simpler top trail for $110,000.
Markus Hillar is a landscape architect with Schollen & Co., the company hired to design the trail improvement. Hillar met with residents at the open house along with Wendy Strickland, a natural environment specialist at the City of Toronto.
Hillar said it makes sense for people to walk between Gainsborough and Wildwood, since the ravine route saves a walk down to Gerrard Street and back up again.
The trouble, he said, is the erosion that causes is exposing the roots of some mature trees, and they could lose their grip on the hill.
“It’s a sandy slope, as many of them are near the lake, which means that as people scamper up the hill they’re intensifying the problem.”
Hillar also pointed out another less obvious reason for erosion on both sides of the ravine – grass clippings.
Some people with bordering yards toss their clippings in the ravine to compost, he said, which can generate enough heat to kill bugs and small plants in the soil.
Hillar said the new wooden staircase would feature handrails and seven landings with five steps between each. The whole structure would be mounted on helical piles screwed deep into the sandy slope to avoid disturbing the surface soil.
“We’re really thinking about joggers,” Hillar said of the five-step design.
“If you create a sort of rhythmic design, it’s a bit safer actually.”
Construction could start as soon as this fall, and would be done with an on-site arborist and rubber-treaded equipment that will lessen the impact on the ravine, which the city has designated as an environmentally sensitive area.
Debb Bertazzon is a member of Friends of Small’s Creek Ravines, a group started last year by local residents who want to rehabilitate the four ravine areas Small’s Creek flows through before it goes into a drain and out to Ashbridges Bay: Merrill Bridge Road Park, Williamson Park, and the Newbold and Gainsborough ravines.
“Listen, it’s a great start,” Bertazzon said. “This is a ravine that gets a lot of usage, so I’m glad they’re starting here. And the residents are really involved.”
But Bertazzon said as well as the new staircase, the group would like to see a management plan that better connects the four ravine areas and tackles other issues such as litter, invasive plants, a lack of signage and public safety.
Despite the issues, Bertazzon said the ravine is already a popular place for local residents to walk, and a favourite spot for students of Equinox Alternative School to do fieldwork.
For more information on the Friends of Small’s Creek Ravines, visit the group’s Facebook page.