Nature Conservancy of Canada strikes nearly $3M deal to preserve island in Lake of the Woods
Non-profit must raise money by summer 2022 to keep City of Kenora from selling land
A national conservation group has made a deal to buy a mostly undeveloped island in northwestern Ontario's Lake of the Woods, keeping the City of Kenora from potentially selling it to developers — as long as the group is able to raise $2.85 million by summer 2022.
That price tag includes the cost of the land, plus an endowment to help care for Town Island in the long-term, the Nature Conservancy of Canada said in a news release on Thursday.
The island — about 50 kilometres east of the Manitoba-Ontario border — previously drew attention in 2019, when the City of Kenora posted an expression of interest to find potential buyers for the roughly 70 hectares of land.
That brought on criticism from cottagers and people who used to go to camps in the area, including a group called Friends of Town Island, who said the island should remain public.
Kenora's city council authorized the negotiation with the Nature Conservancy in October, though the deal wasn't finalized until now.
David Nelson, a member of Friends of Town Island, said as a lifelong Lake of the Woods resident, he's grateful the conservation group stepped in.
"I also want to recognize the 12,000 individual Friends of Town Island for making your voice heard and recount[ing] the importance of the formative times that were, and perhaps still are, spent on Town Island and beautiful Lake of the Woods," Nelson said in the news release.
Town Island is mostly wild and only accessible by boat, with about a dozen public campsites and trails. It's located just a few kilometres south of Kenora, which is roughly 200 kilometres east of Winnipeg.
The island comprises about 82 hectares of land, approximately 12 of which were sold in 2014 to its sole resident: B'Nai Brith Camp (or BB Camp) which has been there for 65 years.
Camp Stephens, just south of Town Island, also uses some of the island's public areas.
The City of Kenora will get $2.25 million out of the deal, which will be used for capital projects in the region, Kenora Mayor Daniel Reynard said in the news release.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada said the agreement presents a chance to work with campers, cottagers and community members "to ensure the conservation of the island's unique biodiversity, while still allowing them to maintain their important connections with the island."
Lake of the Woods has more than 14,000 islands and 105,000 kilometres of shoreline, the news release said, and is closely connected to Shoal Lake, which supplies Winnipeg's drinking water.
Its forests are home to black bears and moose, while its shores and coastal wetlands provide nurseries for fish and habitats for migratory birds, the release said.
But in recent years, the area has faced pressure from developers, contaminants, algae blooms and invasive species — which is why the conservation group said it wanted to step in.
"Town Island is an important area, both for nature and for people. We look forward to working with the community on this special project," said Kristyn Ferguson, program director in the conservation group's Ontario region.
With files from Holly Caruk and Jeff Walters