The Region of Queens Municipality (RQM) has been caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
On January 19, the municipality announced on its website that maintenance staff would be clearing away unnatural items in Pine Grove Park, including locally hand-painted rocks that have been placed there over the past few years.
“While some consider these items an added feature of the park, others feel they detract from the pristine natural setting,” read the website notice. “While we appreciated the time and creativity of people, municipal staff today removed the items.”
Pine Grove Park is a 54-acre wooded community enclave situated in Milton. It offers visitors about two kilometres of walking trail with points of interest and a scenic picnic area overlooking the Mersey River.
People were quick to register their reaction to the stony cull, posting a landslide of comments on social media.
“I am so disappointed with this action taken. So many young children (including my grandchildren) enjoyed walking/running along the paths to search for the hidden rocks, fairy homes, etc. They truly looked forward to going there for both exercise and fun while supervised by a parent or grandparent,” said Verna Wagner in a Facebook post.
“Way to take away what little fun children can have during this pandemic,” criticized Angela Mansfield in another comment.
The reaction caused RQM Mayor Darlene Norman a sleepless night, prompting her to reverse the cull, which, she indicated, was her decision. On the morning of January 20, the mayor addressed residents in a video posted to RQM’s social media accounts.
“I’m here to publicly apologize for the removal of the painted rocks from Pine Grove yesterday. I will admit it was my questioning of staff and encouragement of them to remove all the artificial things that have been added into the park,” she confessed in the video.
“It was not until I started reading the objections that I realized I have caused great dismay and have upset so many people within this region,” added the mayor.
Norman said items, such as decorations, will be removed from the park, but the rocks are more than welcome to stay. She later said in an interview that the rocks that were there already were rescued by someone from Queens County Rocks, who will put them back in the park.
Jane Dunlop-Stevenson is the founder of the Facebook group, Queens County Rocks. She’s been encouraging people to paint rocks and place them in the park to make it an even more delightful place to visit. She said she was given permission to do so by the region in the spring of 2020, and reported that the response from everyone has been positive.
She was surprised when she heard about the decision to remove the rocks and decorations.
“I had permission from the municipality. I even have a sign at the park saying Queens County Rocks with a Facebook logo on it. It wasn’t a secret that I was doing this,” Dunlop-Stevenson stressed. “I got on the horn immediately after I found out about it.”
People of all ages have contributed painted rocks to the park.
“It’s an amazing past-time. It is such a great thing to focus on that keeps you busy. In the spring and summer, the kids weren’t in school and it became a very popular attraction,” she said.
She has also posted monthly themes for people to work on and hosted contests to engage even more people.
Dunlop-Stevenson suggested the removal was just a miscommunication. “I don’t think anything was done with malice.”
In the end, she hopes something good will come out of the incident.
In her video, Norman suggested that maybe a Friends of the Pine Grove Park group might be something to start up, and Dunlop-Stevenson agreed.
“I think there are endless possibilities of how we can utilize the park, like putting on festivals or competitions. The sky is the limit for the fun you can create,” she said.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin