Members of the Rainy Lake Conservancy joined together for their annual general meeting at La Place Rendez-Vous on Sunday afternoon, but this meeting was more about celebrating than business, since this year marks the 10th anniversary of the organization.
“Can you believe it’s been 10 years since we’ve been together?” asked president Anne Newhart, as she opened the meeting. “I’m so proud to be a part of this organization—proud that we have brought it where it is today … And I appreciate the faith and support in our mission. We should be proud of our achievements.”
The Rainy Lake Conservancy, whose purpose is to preserve and protect Rainy Lake, has grown from just 11 members 10 years ago to over 200 members today.
And they have much to celebrate over the last decade, since they have plenty of achievements and successes under their belt.
During her president’s report, Newhart explained the group unofficially began in 1996 when several Rainy Lake cottagers began meeting to discuss the possibility of forming an organization to preserve the natural beauty and ecological values of Rainy Lake.
When Goose Island, a 300-acre island on Rainy Lake, came up for development, nearby homeowners joined together to protect it.
In 1997, the founding members of the Rainy Lake Conservancy submitted a proposal to the Ontario government’s Boreal West Round Table to designate Rainy Lake crown land islands as conservation reserves. The proposal was accepted, so the islands cannot be mined, logged or sold.
It was in 1999 that the Rainy Lake Conservancy was officially recognized by the Ontario government as a registered non-profit corporation.
A year later, they were taking their first steps, using start-up funds from founders and new members to sponsor a multi-year biodiversity inventory on Rainy Lake, along with the MNR and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Newhart noted that during that year, biologists discovered 15 species of rare plants and one rare insect—a tiger beetle.
In 2001, the group applied for funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation in order to continue the biodiversity fieldwork about received a grant of $21,000. The study was the first comprehensive biological inventory of the Canadian side of Rainy Lake.
The Rainy Lake Conservancy spent the next few years promoting conservation through exhibits, displays, and presentations.
By 2004, the organization was generating partnerships with other groups, including the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists, who together formed the Northwestern Ontario Conservation Partnership. They received a $48,900 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to preserve the natural heritage of the area.
The following year, Rainy Lake Conservancy volunteers worked with other organizations on programs involving water quality and satellite monitoring, while in 2006 the RLC was really making a difference. The Cranberry Peatlands Interpretive Trail opened, thanks to the 2004 grant, and members helped to assemble loon nesting platforms.
Newhart indicated in 2007, the Rainy Lake Conservancy was honoured to receive the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Great Grants Award in the Environmental category, along with the partners of the Northwestern Ontario Conservation Partnership.
They also helped to identify and slow the spread of the spiny waterflea and the rusty crayfish—two invasive species that had entered Rainy Lake.
In 2008, the Conservancy educated themselves on a proposed hydro-power facility for Namakan River. As it is one of the few undammed rivers of its size in Ontario, and due to its large population of Lake Sturgeon, the Rainy Lake Conservancy took the position that the environmental costs of damming the river far outweigh the potential benefits.
However, there were no updates on the Namakan River project available at the meeting.
Newhart also showed a variety of photos from Rainy Lake which showed how much people enjoy it.
“It’s a place where there is still serenity,” she voiced. “And where people can have fun with friends and family.”
“Going forward into the future of the watershed,” she added. “My hope is that economic benefit through sustainable practice in the nearby communities will be going hand in hand with deep commitments to the preservation of the beauty and ecological integrity of these waters and lands.”
She reported that the organization has a reserve fund of $50,000 for future projects.
The only changes to the board for the upcoming year were Alan Lowe and Kate Peterson stepping down, and Andrea Trembath and Brian Johnson taking their places.
Rachel Hill, district planner with the MNR was the guest speaker and she touched on environmental issues, the role of stakeholders, and the importance of conservation reserves on Rainy Lake.
“We need you,” she stressed, to the Rainy Lake Conservancy members. She noted there is lots of opportunity for input—more than ever before—citing stewardship councils and advisory committees that allow for the RLC to work together with the MNR.