After being closed for several years, the Utopia Conservation Area is once again open for visitors.
The Conservation area was reverted back to a more natural setting several years ago and maintenance was ceased on the property and existing buildings. While visitors could still walk through the park, there were no amenities.
Eventually the park was closed although local residents did still enter to walk the trails and give their dogs some exercise.
The Conservation Area has now received a facelift and is once again welcoming visitors. The project was made possible through a partnership between the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority and the Township of Essa.
New updates in the park include new hiking trails, interpretive signage, first-of-their-kind in Ontario eco-respectful washrooms, and accessibility for all individuals.
The trails were officially opened on August 6, with Simcoe-Grey MP Terry Dowdall, Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson, members of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority, and Friends of the Utopia Gristmill and Park, and the Township of Essa attending.
To allow better accessibility to the park, the trails are built with gravel and the interpretive signs are designed with accessible fonts, colours, and installed at the appropriate height and angle.
The eco-respectful washrooms are made from recycled material and do not require power, bulking agents, or mixing.
Other new features in the park include a live-stake nursery planted to assist with the NVCA's restoration projects. The nursery also serves to stabilized the ground around the century old gristmill.
The gristmill was slated for demolition in 2000, however the community rallied to save the mill and is the only historically designate property in Essa Township.
Money obtained for the Park's facelift came through an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant, Mountain Equipment Co-op, and Ontario's Rural Economic Development Fund.
Friends of the Gristmill also accepted donations and held fundraising events.
“While this is truly a special day in the life of the Utopia Conservation Area, there remains lots more work and fundraising to do to fully restore Bell's Gristmill, build a bridge to create a full loop for our trail as well as achieve our many other goals,” said Susan Antler, chair of the Friends of the Utopia Mill and Park. “We look forward to continuing forward with our partners and community, knowing that this opening allows the public to come, enjoy and fall in love with our parkland, all of which it contains and for what it represents.”
The Utopia Conservation Area is located at 8609 Line 6, Utopia, just east of Angus.
Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times