Grantee Spotlight: The Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System

CootestoEscarpmentCollage.jpg Photos (L-R) by Peter Granka, Peter Kelly, Barbara Phillips


Grantee Spotlight is a blog series highlighting the experiences and successes of the Foundation’s grantees, as they work with communities and other Greenbelt partners to keep our province’s farmlands, forests, and wetlands safe and sustainable for future generations.

The Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System: Innovative partnerships, permanent protection and a natural legacy 

Guest post from Peter Kelly, Coordinator, Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System

Nestled in Ontario’s Greenbelt, between the western shores of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment, there sits a remarkable collection of natural lands known as the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System.

It’s a special place, an area within the Greenbelt where a World Biosphere Reserve, Provincially Significant Wetlands, and nationally significant habitats all intersect within close proximity to the growing cities of Burlington and Hamilton. The EcoPark System is a biodiversity hotspot - home to almost 1,600 species of flora and fauna, over fifty of which are identified as “Species at Risk”. 

But here’s the other remarkable thing - the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System contains lands managed by nine different organizations. At any point, partner organizations may withdraw or contribute new lands to the EcoPark System; it’s an entirely voluntary agreement.  Its creation is a historic achievement, the result of an unprecedented level of cooperation and a shared commitment to enhancing an area of deep ecological significance. Like the Greenbelt in which it’s located, the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark vision is based on the understanding that to protect our natural world we need to take a systems approach.

Click here for larger version of the map.

It’s that vision and commitment that motivated  9 partners--two conservation authorities (Hamilton and Halton), three municipalities (Burlington, Hamilton and Halton Region), three non-profit organizations (Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton Naturalists’ Club and Bruce Trail Conservancy) and a university (McMaster)--to come together to create the EcoPark System.  

And it’s a partnership that’s paid off!

Below are the top five ways the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System protects important ecosystems and fosters the stewardship of the lands it contains.

1.pngA Common Vision - All for One and One for All: Discussions, meetings, public forums and guiding documents marked the formative years of the EcoPark System but the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the partners on June 20, 2013 made it official. The Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System does not impose any overarching structure on these natural lands; instead it facilitates activities that promote the mission and vision laid out in the MOU;  to preserve and enhance the natural lands using a sustainable approach that balances ecosystem health with responsible human appreciation and activities.

2.pngProtection Forever: The securement of additional lands is one of the surest ways to fulfil the vision of the EcoPark System. In the last two years, 223 acres of property have been secured through purchase, donation or conservation easement.

Just this past December, almost 100 acres of natural lands--the last intact ecological connection between the Lake Ontario wetlands and the Niagara Escarpment--were purchased by the Cootes to Escarpment partners.

3.pngProper Planning: All existing partner lands within the EcoPark System have been grouped into six ‘Heritage Lands’ based on similarity and proximity to each other. Funding has been secured from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for the preparation of six management plans that will guide the planning process.

4.pngStewardship: The fall of 2014 saw the hiring of the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System’s first full-time project staff (with support from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and the Province of Ontario). Our Stewardship Technician is responsible for stewardship events and workshops across the EcoPark System and for providing outreach to private landowners on ecological stewardship opportunities.

5.pngCommunity Support: The Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System has strong champions at multiple levels of government and momentum has been building in the public realm. It was heartening to receive notification recently that the Burlington MEC store staff designated the EcoPark System as their first choice for staff donations.

Future Opportunities

Management planning is ongoing until 2019 and will no doubt provide new opportunities to move the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System forward. Projects on our radar include, community-based stewardship programs, the completion of biological inventories and ecological land classifications on partner lands, recreation planning, invasive species management, ecological restoration projects, communications strategies, and education and interpretive opportunities. There is also the possibility of adding new lands, new partners or expanding the existing boundaries of the EcoPark System.

The potential positive and lasting impact of this multi-partner collaboration has really just begun.


The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation has provided four grants to the Royal Botanical Gardens since 2007 to build the foundations of the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System. 

  • April 2007: $185,000 to develop a Conservation and Land Management Strategy;
  • August 2010: $50,000 to begin implementation of the Cootes to Escarpment Park System Conservation and Land Management Plan
  • August 2012: $65,000 to develop the Burlington Heights Heritage Land Management Plan.
  • August 2014: $156,405 over 2 years to reduce habitat fragmentation by working with landowners representing 10% of private lands within the Ecopark System (120 hectares)
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