Napanee council discusses proposal for Little Forest

A forest canopy. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

The concept of “Little Forests” has made its way to Napanee — more specifically, to a piece of property that was recently contentious for citizens and Council.

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2024, the Council of the Town of Greater Napanee heard from Marilyn Murray and Amanda Gray of the Lennox and Addington Stewardship Council (LASC) about their proposal to plant a Little Forest on the town-owned green space on Marilyn Avenue. LASC believes that piece of public green space is an ideal location, said Murray, but time is of the essence if they want to receive funding from the Lennox and Addington Activation Fund.

In mid-April, the county approved funding the project with $1,750 from the above fund, pending approval from the Town of Greater Napanee.

In her presentation to Council, Murray introduced LASC as a community volunteer environmental organization, explaining, “For over 30 years, we, along with partner organizations, have strived to protect, enhance, and restore the beautiful landscape of the county of Lennox and Addington.”

According to Murray, in February 2024, LASC sent a letter to Council supporting the Marilyn Avenue parcel remaining as a public green space, as well as a Little Forest enhancement project proposal. Then, on March 4, 2024, LASC hosted a free public event introducing the Miyawaki tree planting method, along with Friends of the Napanee River, Friends of the Salmon River, and Friends of the Wilton Creek Watershed. Little Forests Kingston’s Joyce Hostyn and Josh Cowan presented to the more than 80 people in attendance. 

Since then, LASC has presented the idea to the Recreation Advisory Committee, and Murray has begun taking classes about implementing mini forests through Green Communities Canada.

What is a Little Forest?

Murray explained that a Little Forest — also known as a mini-forest, tiny forest, or Miyawaki forest — is a small area of densely packed, fast growing native trees and shrubs that can be planted within 100 metres squared. Dr. Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist, developed the technique to restore natural vegetation on degraded lands, turning barren plots into ones packed with multilevel vegetation, trees, and complex ecosystems.

The concept has caught on in many Canadian cities, including nearby Kingston, which has been planting Little Forests since 2020.

Murray suggested that a Little Forest on Marilyn Avenue next to J.J. O’Neill Catholic School would provide a natural, biodiverse landscape for residents to enjoy. It would connect to the existing rail bed trail while increasing the urban canopy and biodiversity, providing habitat for birds and small animals.

Little Forests are one way of decreasing the impacts of climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide and cool the air, which in turn benefits health, particularly for the elderly and the very young who are most vulnerable to extreme heat events. Murray explained that Little Forests also protect against the effects of extreme rain events and provide flood mitigation by absorbing water into the soil instead of flooding streets and houses.

The LASC presentation described the multi-step process and provided a rough timeline of events involved, including public consultation, design, site preparation, ordering of native trees and shrubs, and planting in the fall of 2024 and Spring of 2025. 

In the project’s second phase, Murray suggested an outdoor classroom could be added ”so the children can enjoy the forest around them while they’re learning outside” and that the whole Little Forest should be self-sustaining and maintenance-free by 2028.

Council’s reaction and discussion

Mayor Terry Richardson started out the discussion by intimating that it would be good to get approval from Council immediately, which is possible through a two-thirds vote. This way, LASC would not be too late to accept the funding offered by Lennox and Addington County, which depended on the Town’s approval of the project and had a strict deadline.

“The last thing we would want to do is is risk you folks accessing that funding, if at all possible,” Richardson said.

Councillor Dave Pinnell asked what the project’s expected cost would be, given that LASC initially sought $5,000 of funding from the County: “Will you be able to do the project for the $1,750? Or will you be coming to the Town asking for money?”

Murray replied, “No, we will not be asking the town for money. Any in-kind contributions in terms of wood chips would be appreciated, but no, there are other funding agencies. Little Forests are becoming very, very popular throughout Canada. There’s an organization called Green Communities Canada that has a list of funders that we can call on, and there might be other local pockets that we can apply to.”

Councillor Mike Schenk interjected his thoughts that although “I think more trees do better… [and] it’d be an excellent asset to have,” he would rather not decide until the next council meeting in case there was any ”pushback” against the idea from the area’s citizens. He suggested advertising the idea and holding a “public meeting.”

Councillor Angela Hicks wondered whether “the trees are all of a size that they’re not interfering with wires or they’re not prone to limb falls… It’s all urban-sized, I guess?”

Murray explained that the forest comprises canopy trees, and “there are several stories to it… There is a sub-story right down to shrubs, and all of those trees are put in the forest… I don’t believe there are any wires. That’s something we would consult [about] with the Town, of course.”

“I don’t know if you’re getting this, but I’m totally 100 per cent in favour,” said Hicks. “I know we can’t actually do a straw vote, but if you’re looking for an indication, I’m all in.”

Richardson’s mind had changed by this point, and his next comments supported waiting the two weeks until Council’s next meeting. He suggested that if the timing somehow interfered with the group’s grant money, “maybe Madam Clerk will get mad at me, but, if for some reason, or you get some indication that that’s not good enough, reach out to me: we have the opportunity if need be to call a special meeting for something like this.”

He suggested that Council support the proposal in principle and come back for a final decision at the next meeting.

Before the vote, Pinnell reminded Council, “This is a property that we had some contentions on. And for us to make a snap decision on this, even though it’s in principle, I think we need to take more time to figure out and see what the residents want.” He concluded, “I need to just slow down on this.”

Council voted to receive the deputation and support in principle LASC’s proposal for a Little Forest. The motion also asked staff to develop a detailed installation plan ensuring the most effective use of space, the protection of all public infrastructure, and the provision of notice of the plan to the surrounding property owners. Further, Town staff will report back to Council with a detailed plan for final consideration and approval.

Councillor Pinnell abstained, while Councillors Bob Norrie, Schenk, and Hicks voted in favour. Deputy Mayor Brian Calver was not present. The mayor did not vote.

As always, you can read full Council meeting agendas on Napanee’s civic web online, and watch meetings live or recorded on the town’s YouTube channel.

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