Muskoka water levels nearing normal
Despite experiencing lower than average levels in the early spring, Muskoka’s lakes and waterways have now reached average levels.
Speaking in early May, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said that water levels within managed lakes in the Muskoka River watershed are around normal and what would typically be expected for this time of year.
Snowfall for the region was around average this year, she said, and an early warm spring melted all of the snow in the area by late April. Kowalski said those early warm temperatures and little precipitation through March and early April caused water level inflows to be slightly below normal, but significant rainfall at the end of April and early May had brought levels back up to typical amounts.
Kowalski said the primary concern with lower water levels, in terms of fish and wildlife, is ensuring the right water temperature for fish spawning. With the recent increase in water levels, they appear to have hit their target and walleye have been observed spawning in the Muskoka watershed.
Earlier this spring, the District of Muskoka also announced the public can now monitor real-time water levels in Muskoka from anywhere.
Flood plain mapping and real-time water levels for Muskoka are available through the Muskoka GeoHub, the District’s online web mapping portal. The District’s Geomatics Information Systems (GIS) team has recently embedded a new feature in the mapping application that now displays a water level station layer showing real-time water levels in Muskoka.
With this new tool, residents will be able to see what the water level is at their property in Muskoka in real-time and compare that with the previous day’s water level reading as well as the historic high water level. The information is linked directly to map services from Natural Resources Canada and the data is updated automatically every day.
District council composition remains unchanged
Proposals to change the composition of Muskoka District council have been turned down by councillors at District.
The two proposals would have seen the number of District seats reduced from 22 plus a chair to 18 councillors plus a chair with each proposal featuring a different method of representation.
Several lake and cottage associations – including Muskoka’s largest, the Muskoka Lakes Association – had been advocating for a change in the system, as they feel waterfront residents are not properly represented at District council.
In January the District’s Municipal Modernization Committee approved a change to equal seats for all municipalities but the three town mayors later reversed their approval and proposed that seats be allocated and decisions made based on a representation by population model.
The proposal of the three town mayors was rejected by the District council in March, as was a weighted voting proposal put forward by the three township mayors. Instead, the status quo was recommended by District councillors. However, the status quo did not receive the required support of two thirds of the area municipalities. Any decision on changes in the composition of Muskoka councils is now in the hands of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Changes coming to Torrance Barrens
Rowdy parties, excessive garbage and parking problems have all led to proposed changes at Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve.
Last year, the province fielded a number of complaints concerning large crowds and general misuse of the property.
As a result of those concerns, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) representatives are now working alongside community members, to change a number of policies and regulations to ensure the long-term health and preservation of the Torrance Barrens. MEPC is working to reorient the Barrens to a park designation as opposed to a conservation reserve. This gives the province a better way to regulate and control use.
The ministry is also planning a trial visitor tracking system that monitors the cell phone location of everyone while they are in the Barrens. The system uses data provided by the cell phone tower operators and can monitor any phone that is turned on. While the cell phone carriers can match phone numbers to customers, only the area code tied to each phone will be disclosed to address concerns over privacy, while helping to identify where people are coming from to visit the Barrens. If real-time monitoring is implemented, police could be called if a large group is gathering or to alert park rangers when someone is camping away from a designated campsite or without a permit.
Despite the changes, enforcement will likely be an issue for MECP again this summer due to limited available manpower. One of the benefits of converting the Barrens to a provincial park will be specific funding for park wardens.
New funding invests in watershed projects
A recent provincial funding announcement spells good news for the Muskoka River Watershed.
In April the Ontario government announced they are investing more than $4.25 million to further protect the Muskoka River Watershed. The funding is intended to support projects that will help safeguard the region from environmental pressures, such as severe weather and flooding, while also improving the health of the watershed.
“The Muskoka region is one of Ontario’s crown jewels, and we want to ensure that we continue to protect its environment which is so important to the local economy and the great people who live there,” said Premier Doug Ford when the announcement was made. “This investment will help protect this area known around the world for its spectacular lakes and rivers so it can continue to be a thriving hub for Ontario’s tourism industry.”
The Ontario government is funding 16 projects led by the District of Muskoka and the Town of Bracebridge, as part of the province’s initial $5 million commitment to the Muskoka Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative.
The projects run the gamut and are concerned with all manner of issues pertaining to the area’s watershed with a view to an integrated watershed management.
They include creating a natural capital inventory to identify, assess and map natural capital within the Muskoka River Watershed and creating task forces to address water quality, and land and water quantity management in the Muskoka River Watershed.
Another key component will be a siltation study of the Muskoka River to study options and develop recommendations for the management of sediment at the delta of the Muskoka River to Lake Muskoka.
Dorset landmark changing hands
For the past 100 years, Robinson’s General Store has been a cornerstone of life in Dorset and of four generations of the Robinson family.
That all changed at the beginning of May when new owners officially took over the venerable establishment.
“We’re very excited to be a part of the Dorset community,” said new owner Mike Hinbest. “We want to let everyone know that the store is 100 per cent here to stay. The staff are here to stay and most importantly, the traditions Robinson’s has in the community for the last 100 years are what we look to build upon and hopefully be a part of our family for the next 100 years.”
Mike and Katie Hinbest are the former owner/operators of a Napa Auto Parts location in Orangeville. They recently moved to Huntsville with their two children and purchased Robinson’s along with the Old Mill Marina, also located in Dorset.
Robinson’s General Store was opened in 1921 by Harry and Marguerite Robinson, who both worked in the store right up until their deaths in 1975 and 1976, respectively. Robinson’s was originally a 25 foot by 50 foot store that catered primarily to the needs of loggers in the area.
The store has grown considerably over the years and now consists of a menagerie of different departments sprawling over some 14,000 square feet. The store sells everything from footwear and clothing, to gifts and souvenirs, and incorporates a Food Town supermarket and a Home Hardware location.
Brad Robinson took over the store from his parents 65 years ago and he continues to be a regular presence at the store to this day. In 1991, Brad’s daughter Joanne returned to the store after having moved away for a period and brought her husband Willie and their son Ryan, who would go on to be the fourth generation of the Robinson family to work in the store when he started part-time.
Brad, now 85, says the time has come for the family to move on to other adventures, but they’re grateful to the community of Dorset for a century of support and look forward to the store being a presence there for many more.
New program targets shoreline naturalization
A national program to help naturalize shorelines is coming to Muskoka.
This year the Muskoka Watershed Council will be offering Watershed Canada’s popular Natural Edge program.
In announcing the program, the Muskoka Watershed Council said shorelines are one of the richest environments on earth, but they are also among the most threatened. Habitat loss and degradation, water quality impairments, and increasing pressures from shoreline development can deteriorate lakes and rivers, making them a priority for environmental stewardship and restoration.
The Watershed Council offers the resources needed to get started through the support of funding sponsors. Site visits are free and the Shoreline Re-Naturalization Starter Kit has a one-time cost of $250.
The chef, his dream wife and the magazine (a love story)
Observant readers of last issue’s Cottage Country Cuisine in Unique Muskoka will have spotted this quizzical passage about Chef Don Hutchinson (who contributed a delectable Christmas duck recipe) and his girlfriend Debbie Urbanski:
“I’m going to ask her to marry me,” he says, “right about now.” (Not to worry; Ms. Urbanski has been informed in a timely fashion.)
What happened was that Hutchinson, eager to propose to the woman he described as his “dream wife” in a memorable way, asked me as I was interviewing him if he could do so in the column. I would work the magic words in somehow, and he would casually hand her the issue, ready to be on his knee just as she read them.
I admit I was thrown for a bit of a loop, as this has never happened before in my 30-odd years in journalism. But… well, how could I say no?
One should always lend a hand to love.
Editorial approval was given. I wrote. Special plans were made to get Hutchinson a copy ahead of all other copies, so that Urbanski would not find out prematurely. Hutchinson’s daughter furtively prepared to catch the moment on camera.
“She cried,” Hutchinson recounts and video confirms. They hugged long and intensely. And yes, the answer was “yes!”
The wedding is planned for Sept. 18 at Hutchinson’s workplace, Patterson-Kaye Resort. The chef on duty that day will lay out the spread.
Was the bride-to-be embarrassed? Nah. “I thought it was neat and very inventive, very imaginative. I photocopied it and put it up at work so I can read it.”
Did the groom-to-be have nerves? Nope. “I’m not the type of person who’s nervous. I just wanted a way of asking that was unique.”
Perfectly put—unique is what we’re all about.
Congratulations to the happy pair and may they enjoy many years of marital bliss.
By Karen Wehrstein