PAUL CLARK: To start, let me tell you I have never done anything like this before in my life. I thought this was to be a story about stillness, peace and quiet. My own to be exact. But it evolved into something much more complex.
It all started one morning while my wife Mary and I were enjoying a glorious walk on a road adjacent to our local ‘officially protected’ wetlands. As the Canada geese honked and glided low overhead towards a graceful ski-like landing in the marsh, a pickup truck slowly came to a stop beside us. The pleasant man with a big smile inside handed us a piece of paper and said we wouldn’t like what we read. The corners of his mouth turned down and he turned very serious.
It was a public notice from our local Town Council that a public forum was to take place in two days to hear the final presentation from an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) group proposing a new route. We told him it was probably no big deal as we understood that ATV’s are off-road vehicles and always use out-of-the-way places to run around in. Not this time, as he explained their latest proposal was to run straight down this very paved road. In fact the proposal called for these off-road vehicles to run straight down the roads in the centre of our little hamlet and then down our road out of town. The proposal was to legalize on-road ATV use in our Hamlet.
That’s crazy, that’s insane, that’s not right I blurted out. And what’s with this two-day notice I asked him? That’s how it’s done he said, the ATV group has been quietly lobbying Town Council for over a year and this is their last hurtle. "Well it’s going to be a pretty big one!" I told him.
Rallying the Community
He shrugged as he drove off and we stood stunned looking at each other. As the stillness was suddenly snapped with the honking of those floating geese, so was our awareness. We had to do something and we hatched a plan right then and there. "If it’s a public forum they want, it’s a public forum they’ll get." I said and as I was telling Mary I had to inform our neighbours to get them out to the meeting, she was telling me she needed to get home so to make up flyers for me to leave in their doors and mailboxes.
What I wanted was to protect my quiet Saturday afternoon and weeknight solitude but soon realized my personal concerns were to be eclipsed by something much, much smaller. Yes I said smaller.
I took the whole day to knock on every door and spoke to almost every household along the proposed ATV route. Very few were aware of the proposal or the meeting and the few people who knew, told me that every surrounding township had quietly passed the ATV proposal behind closed doors with no opposition.
That night, exhausted but motivated by the numerous conversations of the day, I called local residents for more information. Some told me that many surrounding closed-door township meetings were overly stacked with out-of-town ATV members to crowd out local residents. This gave the appearance of NO opposition! I called the Township office and was told I could officially speak at the upcoming public forum only if I registered the next day.
Armed with this new information I revisited all those houses from the previous day and people not only responded positively but enthusiastically offered to show up. Many said they had done research after we spoke the day before and were prepared to register that day in order to speak on their own concerns!
Through this two day process I spoke to many residents about the various issues this proposal touched on and gravitated toward research on-line and on the phone regarding the one great pleasure all of my neighbours talked about - watching the annual Snapping Turtle nesting and hatchlings along the very road the ATV’s wanted to drive on.
Turtles on Parade
All I really knew was that every year our walks in June would be witness to various sized Snapping Turtle moms digging nests in the gravel shoulders of the road to lay dozens of eggs. The thrill of seeing these prehistoric looking creatures lumbering along and across our road would also be shattered by witnessing the remnants of their encounter with both unsuspecting motor vehicles and incomprehensible as it sounds suspecting drivers. Neighbours told me they have actually witnessed drivers aiming to hit one of these natural wonders - in this day and age - with whoops and hollers of enjoyment through open car windows yelling “Got ‘em!” after savagely crushing one of these slow moving adult Snappers.
Regardless, nearing the end of the summer the local residents would eagerly anticipate what we call 'the march'. Dozens and dozens of tiny bottle-cap sized baby turtles in herds scurrying their way down driveways and across the road toward the marsh. I’ll sadly say here yes, across the road.
Calling in the 'Authorities'
To make a long story longer, in those two days before the public forum I was also in contact with Conservation Officers at The Ministry of Natural Resources http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/stdprodconsume/groups/lr/@mnr/@species/documents/document/276686.pdf, Federal Committee On The Status of Endangered Wildlife, a biologist at The Ontario Federation of Hunters and Anglers, a Conservation Officer at The Ganaraska Regional Conservation Authority, several biologists and the local Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre. All of whom supplied valuable information for my ‘presentation’ at the upcoming public forum.
The two days since receiving that morning notice from the truck driver flew by and I found myself at the Town Council public forum. I was an hour early and nervously sitting there on the steps of the tiny building to be the first one in. I watched as cars kept driving in and parking. Eventually about two hundred people were in the parking lot all quietly standing around waiting. Were they all those ATV members I was told about here to stack another meeting? I folded my presentation into my lap and didn’t say a word. The Town Council members appeared, didn’t look too surprised at the crowd and opened the doors to the tiny hall.
Everyone was openly eager to get inside to claim a chair. I was in the front row and turned to see there were people standing at the back and down the sides of the hall. The air was thick with anticipation. A police officer was noticeable at the back with his arms crossed. I noticed few familiar faces but that was all. What was I in for when it came time to talk? Would I be harassed?
After opening remarks the floor was opened to those on the list who wanted to speak. I was called first. My heart pounded as I thought they just wanted to get the one dissenting voice out of the way first. I took a deep breath, stood up at the small podium, started my stop-watch (we were each given 10 minutes and then cut off) and so I dove in.
After addressing the Council properly I started by stating my opposition to the proposed route – and the whole hall erupted with people standing up and the yelling enthusiastically – it was deafening! I was shocked and speechless as order was called (actually yelled) over and over again by the mayor. The whole meeting REALLY WAS STACKED! The Council members on stage were visibly rattled and the mayor’s eyes were bugging out of his head as we all realized the hall was filled to the brim with angry residents over this issue and about how it’s been quietly handled over the past year. It was truly amazing! I thought and clearly the Council members, did as well, the ATV proponents had stacked yet another meeting. It turned out that the ATV proponents thought this last township was ‘in the bag’ so nobody bothered to show up. They thought it was just a formality. *cheeky smile*
Meeting the Media
One who did show up was a radio show producer from Canada’s major broadcaster, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). She told me after the meeting that I was not simply up against a local 20-member ATV club, but they belonged to the Ontario club, that in turn belonged to the Canadian club which was given a hefty sum by the Federal Government. She told me this was not just a local issue, but a national issue that was raging on. Apparently we were the very last township expected to approve the ATV’s as all the others had quietly caved in to lobbying.
She drove out to our home the following week to interview me as we walked along the side of the road in question and I pointed out all the Snapping Turtle nests (mounds). She was surprised to see how many there were and her show called ‘Sunday Morning’ aired the story nationally several times over the next few weeks. I had calls from all over Canada from people I knew who heard the show.
Town Council Votes
At the Town Council vote held a couple of weeks after this public forum, the ATV issue was the first motion raised and swiftly voted down! It was short and it was oh so very sweet. The town council chambers erupted … yes, we made sure it was full of residents. [hint: if the public isn’t present to witness council votes, they can still vote in favour of an unpopular proposal … regardless of any public forum.]
The woman from the CBC turned around and looked at me without saying a word. I smiled.
All that was about a year ago. The Snapping Turtles are now about to start laying their eggs and I got a very surprising and encouraging phone call a few nights ago from A Conservation Officer – a Terrestrial Ecologist - at The Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority. He told me that since the Town Council vote he has been working diligently and Town Council recently voted to fund Turtle Crossing signs on our road!
This whole story started out as what I thought were my needs and concerns about quiet, serenity, stillness and quality of life but I came to once again realize everything is connected. It’s about the importance of officially protected wetlands and the species of concern that inhabit those wetlands, humans included. It’s about doing something about our human impact on the environment – which in turn impacts us humans directly and profoundly.
It’s about commitment and if I can do it, you can do it!
It's always interesting to start out in one direction only to find out you end up heading in another.
Be Well & Brake for Turtles!
Jun 22, 2012 - 8:57 AM
Great story Paul. Thank you for stepping up! I never knew snapping turtles while I lived in the West. I love seeing them and we do our best to stop and make sure they can cross the road.
Biography Paul L. Clark is an internationally acclaimed visual communicator with a breadth of diverse experience. His timeless designs and creative ingenuity are seen everywhere ~ on hundreds of websites, television shows, in movies, in the corporate arena, nationally and internationally, and on stores shelves and homes worldwide.
A long-standing member of the Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) of Ontario, Paul is a founding partner in inspirtainment inc. and WAVE Web & Print Design where he co-creates as Creative Director of website content and design, television programming and communication strategies for the international market.
Champion over a potentially fatal illness at the age of eleven, Paul has been a student of all things Spiritual ever since. Studies under a Native American Shaman, Energy Healers in Sedona, and various Spiritual Teachers, have enhanced his early awakening. Paul recently sidestepped his career as an art director for films and television to focus on co-creating Conscious projects like Master Heart Magazine.