Lower Trent Conservation is celebrating its 50th anniversary! To commemorate this milestone occasion, we have released our ’50 in 50′ historical blog series. This special series features 50 articles highlighting some of the achievements, milestones and events of the past 50 years. We hope you enjoy them!
For much of history, people have thought of wetlands as wastelands or waste of space. Today, some call wetlands kidneys of the earth, hinting at their job as critical organs of a healthy watershed. With their organic soils and multitude of plants, wetlands can trap sediment and filter out pollutants.
Wetlands help prevent flash flooding by sucking up and holding on to rainwater in their mucky soils and thick vegetation. In dry summer periods, wetlands release groundwater into creeks to keep them flowing and the fish swimming. Wetlands house and sustain rich biodiversity. Alarmingly, in southern Ontario, only about 30% of wetlands have survived land clearing, filling, and draining of the past 200 years.
Beginning in 1981, Lower Trent Conservation came to recognize the value of one very special wetland – the Murray Marsh. Affectionately dubbed the ‘Amazon of the Trent River’, this vast wetland sits in the heart of the watershed region, stretching for 10 kilometres along the Trent River south of Campbellford, and extending 8 kilometres south nearly reaching the hamlet of Wooler. A large portion of Murray Marsh is located within the geographic Township of Murray (today known as Quinte West – Murray Ward), and thus bears its name. Additionally, a portion of the Murray Marsh is also located in the Municipality of Brighton. Even though Murray Marsh was mostly inaccessible and not suitable for farming, interest in resort development and peat extraction threatened its existence. To protect it, Lower Trent Conservation wanted to buy it. Four students completed a detailed biological inventory of the wetland in 1982. Then we started looking for money to purchase some swamp.
Lower Trent Conservation bought 667 hectares of this fantastic “swampland” in 1986 and 1987 with funding from the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ministry of Natural Resources, and Wildlife Habitat Canada. As a result, over half of Murray Marsh was now protected from disturbance and development through the combined ownership between Lower Trent Conservation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Today, Murray Marsh is one of the largest non-fragmented wetlands left in southeastern Ontario. Encompassing 3,760 ha of diverse habitats, rich biodiversity and a flood storage area, Murray Marsh is classified as a Provincially Significant Wetland and a Life Science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest. Its geography is also pretty extraordinary with drumlin fields to the east, sand and clay plains to the west, and an esker ridge to the south. Several watercourses flow through this huge wetland before joining the Trent River. Its varied and scenic topography includes 27 drumlin islands, which offer spectacular views of the Trent River valley.
Indigenous people who lived in the Trent River valley for thousands of years must have used the wetland and its abundant resources. An indigenous sugar bush was recorded on Potts Island, on the northern edge of the wetland, during the survey of the 10th Concession in Murray Township in 1820. Burial mounds have also been identified on Jett and Potts Islands within the wetland.
In 1863, parcels of land on Austen and Ames Islands in the Murray Marsh were also surveyed. Surrounding the two islands, the surveyor described a cedar and tamarack swamp, just like today. More recently, Charlie Puddephatt moved to farm on the drumlin hills surrounded by the Murray Marsh in 1934.
The Puddephatt property was purchased by Lower Trent Conservation; however, Charlie had a life lease on the property, which he managed until his death in 2010. Today, the site of his farmstead is marked by a commemorative boulder and a map kiosk.