• Hunter Cresswell

Effort underway to protect Wakefield woods

The race is on to preserve a 100-acre forest near Wakefield.

The Hundred Acre Wood, also known as the the Minnes lands, in Wakefield is home to three at-risk species and old growth eastern white cedar. A community effort is underway to buy the land to preserve it for nature and light-recreational uses. Facebook photo

Hundred Acre Wood or Minnes Lands east of Chemin Rockhurst in Wakefield is home to several at-risk species, including western chorus frogs, monarch butterflies, and bobolink blackbirds, as well as eastern white cedars — rare in this area because of logging over the past few centuries. The land is also identified by the National Capital Commission as an important ecological corridor for wildlife moving to and from Gatineau Park.

These aren’t the only reasons why there’s an effort by Wakefield residents to protect the land — people say they love it for what it is now and don’t want that to change.

To that goal, they’ve teamed up with Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment [ACRE] to serve as a land trust. The environmental group has been working on conservation projects outside of Chelsea for about five years.

“This is an exciting opportunity to conserve an ecologically significant piece of land in our community's back yard. Moreover, in these challenging times, the grassroots effort to organize and preserve this land in perpetuity has served to strengthen community bonds over a shared love of nature,” Wakefield resident, fundraiser organizer, and Hundred Acre Woods frequenter Joel Jahrsdorfer said.

The effort to raise the $1.5 million needed to buy the land – independently appraised at $15,000 per acre – from Christopher Minnes kicked off in January, according to ACRE board member and land trust operations director Olaf Jensen.

So far, almost $275,000 has been either pledged or donated. ACRE has also applied for a federal grant and for funding from the municipality of La Pêche Green Fund. Minnes has agreed to donate 20 per cent of the land’s value through a federal ecological gift program. If both those grants come through, Jensen said, there’s less than $400,000 left to raise.

“We’ve been working with the land owner Christopher Minnes for over 10 years,” Jensen said, adding that ACRE signed a promise to purchase in December 2020 with a deadline of Dec. 15, 2021 to close the sale.

“I’m glad to know we’re doing the right thing to preserve it for nature,” Minnes said.

The land has been in his family since they purchased it in 1973 from the Trowsse family. In the past, Minnes has sought to develop the land in a way that was “ecologically sensitive,” but couldn’t find a residential development partner that shared his values. In total, his property is 160 acres, so the 60 remaining acres will continue to be used by his business, Eco Echo, which provides environmental education programs.

In 2013, then-La Pêche mayor, now-Gatineau MNA Robert Bussière, wanted to expropriate 20 to 45 acres of Minnes’ land for development, which is what happened to the land across Hwy 105 where there’s now a styrofoam factory.

Minnes said that he hopes to expand Eco Echo programs in harmony with the Hundred Acre Wood land trust.

This fundraiser comes on the heels of a successful $850,000 community fundraiser in February, which purchased 57 acres of undeveloped forest in Chelsea near the Musie Loop neighbourhood for conservation purposes, with ACRE also acting as the land trust. During an interview for a previous story, one of the organizers of the Chelsea fundraiser stated that they hoped their success inspires others to do the same.

Obviously it has.

To pledge a donation visit acrechelsea.qc.ca or email acre@videotron.ca.

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