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A Brief History of Success

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

When the Conservancy began in 1993, the spark was indeed a small group of ordinary people around a kitchen table. Family members with deep roots in north Simcoe, concerned that wetlands, forests and grasslands in this region are at risk. Individuals willing to lead, rather than waiting for governments to act. People with deep faith in the capacity of communities to take on tough challenges themselves.

From those early discussions, a land trust organization gradually took shape. An organization designed to avoid public advocacy and controversy, but rather oriented to seeking common ground and finding creative solutions. An organization ready to work in partnership with landowners and businesses, with other groups and governments, to achieve its goals. We chose a different path than the confrontational tactics often used by environmental groups, and time has proved the wisdom of those choices.

Increasingly, in an atmosphere of environmental despair, the Couchiching Conservancy offers hope. What’s more, it offers tangible results.

Before long, several brave souls decided to place their trust in the Conservancy and donate natural lands. Word spread, and a growing number of members and volunteers offered their support. The Conservancy founders knew the importance of a strong Board, and put considerable effort into finding the right people for that role – local folks with talent and strong links to the community, willing to weigh risks and rewards, and to act boldly when necessary.

The ability to act boldly depends on having done your homework. In our case, that homework began with a science-based analysis of our region to highlight natural areas most in need of attention. One such area is the Carden Alvar, where increasing interest from the quarry industry threatens globally-rare alvar habitats and a cluster of species at risk. The challenges here are much larger than our local capacity, so we actively sought out the involvement of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and other groups. Together, we have now purchased and protected over 8000 acres of exceptional habitat in that natural area alone.

Our community support grew with every acre protected. Projects that seemed impossible in our early days now stretched our limits, but were successfully achieved. Working closely with a volunteer committee from Shanty Bay, we raised over $600,000 to preserve The Church Woods. In Orillia, we negotiated a conservation easement to protect the natural values of Scout Valley, making Orillia the first municipality in the province to sign such an agreement with a land trust.
As the Conservancy approaches the 20-year mark, we have over 10,000 acres under protective ownership or management. We have evolved into an organization with a small staff, and been widely recognized as one of the leaders in the land trust field in Canada. We may not have changed the world, but we have changed the future landscape of this region much for the better. And nearly all of that tiny group of ordinary people who dreamed big in 1993 are still actively involved, along with many members of the community like you who have come to support that dream.

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