Have you ever driven by an interesting public green space and thought to yourself, “I should stop and have a look at that someday?”
I’ve had that thought many times over the years as I drove past a small park-like area on Central Avenue in Thunder Bay. That is until recently when I stopped, parked and took time to wander.
The urban park setting is the Central Natural Environment Gardens, open to the public and managed by EcoSuperior volunteers. Even though there’s a busy road beside it, the Gardens offer a peaceful retreat with the trees, shrubs and plants. There’s even a sheltered picnic table area and benches.
The Gardens were developed on the empty road base left behind when Central Avenue was re-routed in the early 1990s. Twenty-six years ago in 1995, EcoSuperior (formerly Thunder Bay 2002 Clean & Green) partnered with City of Thunder Bay to make the space into a biodiverse garden space. Credit for the original garden design goes to Janet Rice-Bredin of Morning Glory Designs. EcoSuperior is a non-profit organization offering environmental programs and services in the Thunder Bay area. Their mission is “To build a healthy future for people and the planet.”
The Gardens’ purpose was to be a demonstration garden where visitors can learn about native plant species and organic gardening. An on-site interpretive panel reads, “The natural landscape is an example of how natural species contribute to the biodiversity of the neighbourhood, provide food and shelter for wildlife and create a uniqueness where people can connect with nature.”
So, what’s in an environmental garden? This one has a winding hard-packed gravel trail that weaves through features like the bird and butterfly garden; interpretive wildflower garden; edible food shrub garden; pollinator garden; solar-powered water pump, human sundial; and, a timber frame shed with living roof. There’s also weathered tree formations placed in a mulch garden and the wooden bird houses are set on skyward-projecting branch stumps of an old tree trunk which is surrounded by plants and trees.
The Central Natural Environment Gardens is a boreal treasure right in the middle of the city. Glad I finally stopped to explore.