Conservancy raises $1.766 million
RED DEER VILLAGE
– Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC)
has raised all the funds it needs to purchase the Heaven’s
Gate Reserve property near Whitefish Falls, fulfilling
the late former owner’s wishes that the 2,100-acre
property remain conserved for generations to come.
“It’s just fantastic.
We’re just dancing,” said Dr. Roy Jeffery,
a Little Current physician and EBC board member who has
been a strong local supporter of the project.
This newspaper shared the full gravitas of the undertaking
and the significance of this property in its February
10 edition. In short, the nature conservancy had 90 days
to fundraise toward the $1.65 million purchase price,
much more than it has ever had to raise in such a short
time, to purchase a property that is twice as large as
EBC’s previous largest single property.
The land was originally listed
as 1,984 acres, but recent data from Municipal Property
Assessment Corporation pegged the total figure as 2,100
It abuts LaCloche Ridge Conservation
Area to the west and, together with EBC’s recent
acquisition of Willisville Mountain, forms an eastward
link to Killarney Provincial Park. The successful sale
means there is now a 500-square-kilometre conservation
zone in this area.
EBC executive director Bob
Barnett said closing the sale was a massive relief and
said he shared a physically distanced glass of champagne
with EBC treasurer Ted Cowan upon learning they had raised
enough money to finance the sale.
“Our website has been
flooded with donations. It’s just wonderful. All
of those people are now on our mailing list and hopefully
they’ll continue in the spirit of (conservation),”
said Mr. Barnett.
Mr. Cowan said the conservancy
is past most of the legal obstacles and expects the final
stages to be fairly straightforward.
“It’s a place
that’s just so timeless,” he said, describing
the complete lack of human development that can be seen
from within. “It’s a complete different set
of sounds. Even the bird life in there seems louder and
He added that this property
will help keep thousands of visitors in the area for an
extra day, boosting the region’s economy.
Gary Albrecht, the US-based
landowner, first listed Heaven’s Gate in 2008 but
the price was too high for the conservancy’s budget.
EBC made a half-hearted offer but, as expected, was not
successful. Mr. Cowan said EBC made other similar offers
in 2016 and 2018 but, unsurprisingly, was not able to
Mr. Albrecht died in 2019
and his wife died nearly one year later, leaving the property
in the care of his children. As per the executor’s
instructions, the family worked with an Island realtor
to see if there was any potential for a deal with EBC.
“We realized it was
our last shot,” Mr. Cowan said. The
price ultimately came down a small amount, but the family
wished to resolve the process as quickly as possible and
they only offered a 90-day closing (a May 5 deadline)
for EBC to raise the funds.
By the time of its March
newsletter, it had already raised $1,665,000, some $35,000
short of its goal (higher than the agreed price to account
for closing costs and other contingencies).
“We are extremely excited
about having saved the Heaven’s Gate Trail in its
entirety. That little section (on this property) was in
jeopardy so it was a nice thing that we managed to save
it,” said Saba Ahmad, EBC board chair.
Heaven’s Gate Trail
is often cited as the key feature of this property, in
addition to the quartzite mountains, pristine lakes and
robust forest ecosystem, which are all home to species
at risk. There are also “some other wetland areas,
phenomenal stands of ancient hemlock, and yellow birches
in there that you couldn’t even reach around,”
said Mr. Cowan. “Things you couldn’t imagine
are in there.”
The trail dates back to the
1994 summer work of youth at Anishinaabe Spiritual Centre,
south of Espanola, under the leadership of Fr. Michael
Murray, SJ. The Anishinaabemowin name for Heaven’s
Gate is Kitchitwaa Shkwaandem. The
trail connects Fort LaCloche, near Sagamok, with Willisville,
following conservation lands until it reaches the Heaven’s
Gate property. If another private owner had purchased
the land, they may have prevented the trail from continuing
on its original path.
Ms. Ahmad said it was particularly
important for EBC to continue developing strong relationships
with First Nations in the area.Heaven’s
Gate Trail is very lightly trafficked and there are lengthy
sections without any trail markers or any semblance of
a packed-down trail. Its 40-kilometre length, elevation
changes and extremely remote location far from any roads
or access trails makes it a very challenging trek, even
for the most experienced hikers.
Ms. Ahmad said EBC’s
stewardship has plans to improve the conservancy-owned
portion of the trail, but this is just the start of the
trail-making process for the group.Dr.
Jeffery, the Little Current EBC member, has spent many
hours on the property in recent months, planning out an
intricate system of trails with varying difficulties and
hiking some 200 ilometres in the process.
“We’ve got a
really interesting trail system pretty well ready to go
but we still have to resolve the parking and figure out
exactly where we’re going to have a parking lot.
We hope to hear about that in the next few days and we’d
like to have that in place before we really open it up
to the public,” Dr. Jeffery said.
Dr. Jeffery and his wife
Cathy had a major role in the fundraising process, too.
They offered to match individual donations up to a total
of $250,000, a figure that Dr. Jeffery proudly announced
was maxed out.
Donation support came from
a wide range of sources including foundations, estate
bequests and individual donors, including a massive slate
of first-time contributors to the organization from both
sides of the national border. Many of the supporters,
though, are those with property in the Sudbury-Manitoulin
“Between them, they
are well under one percent of the provincial population,”
said Mr. Cowan, “but I am certain they provided
well over 50 percent of the funds. Northern Ontario people
love the land, period.”
While many partners contributed
to this project, including sizable donations from foundations
and estate bequests, Mr. Cowan highlighted Ontario Land
Trust Alliance (OLTA)’s contribution of $330,000
through the Greenlands Conservation Partnership, a $50-million
investment across Ontario over four years.
That partnership is a collaboration
between Ontario and non-provincial sources such as Nature
Conservancy of Canada.
“OLTA is very grateful
for the support and leadership shown by the government
of Ontario through this conservation program,” OLTA
executive director Allison Howson said. “It’s
a really wonderful opportunity north of Manitoulin, a
really well-connected property, and the program itself
is really beneficial to help protect highly sensitive,
Gifts from individual donors,
including Dr. Jeffery’s matched $250,000 contributions,
totalled $886,000. Other foundations contributed $25,000.
To finish the project, EBC
is prepared to draw as much as $250,000 from its operating