“Trouble in Don River paradise”

This column was written by Bill Dunphy, and appeared in the Toronto Sun on July 12th, 1989.

Jeff Goodall slaps at a mosquito that’s buzzing his neck and points proudly out across the little lagoon.
“I always stop by here. There’s ducks and ducklings, and sometimes a heron or two,” he says. His eyes scan the tangled brush by the shore, searching for one of them “fancy” herons.
Jeff is taking me along for part of one of his regular rambles through the Don Valley, exploring up from Pottery Road up to the Leaside Bridge.
We’ve already searched for painted turtles in a sandy little backwater, and now we’re after herons.
We find one, just across the river from the Domtar plant, in the lagoon. The long-legged hunter searches the water for a minute or two then takes to the air as we move in for a closer look.
“I took a picture of a crane once, right over by that log. And there are fish in there – goldfish if you can believe it! One time they were all bunched together and I swear they covered about a four-foot-square area.”
To Jeff Goodall, this lagoon and the surrounding acres of sumach and willow trees, the fields of creepers and thistles, are a haven. An urban wilderness tucked away in the Don Valley.
But, surprise, there’s trouble in paradise.
“When I saw the trail bike right here by the lagoon I was absolutely horrified,” he says pointing up the beaten path snaking off through the trees.
“I wanted to attack the guy, but I thought, smarten up, you’re 43 years old.”
Twenty years ago things might have ended a little differently for the middle-aged accounting clerk.
In the sixties he was a (sic) anti-communist crusader showing up at peace rallies to counter the menace of the peaceniks. He even became press officer for the far-right Edmund Burke Society.
He left the Burkers when he realized that the neo-Nazi’s were taking over.
He’s learned a thing or two about how to get things done since then and so, when the angy snarl of the trail bikes cut through the valley quiet and he began meeting them on the little tracks down in the Don, he turned to city hall.
“They break down the plants at the side to widen the paths,” Jeff says as we move out from the lagoon. “In one spot they’ve even taken a hatchet to the sumach.”
Jeff took some time off work a while back to talk to a Metro committee and they listened.
Metro’s works commissioner, Bob Ferguson, told me that while he doesn’t think the trail bikes do a lot of damage, he is concerned about Metro’s liability if some careless biker gets hurt.
He’ll be reporting back to the committee in the fall on ways of keeping the trail bikes out of that section of the valley.
Ferguson described that area as having “the potential to be an asset for the city. It’s beautiful, but it’s abused and underused. And we just don’t put it high up on our list of priorities.”
Jeff does.
“The plants, the critters and the valley – what the trail bikes do to them is just one more injustice that has to be looked after,” Jeff says as he packs away the camera.
As we’re leaving, a pair of red-tailed hawks ride the valley’s thermals, circling higher and higher until they disappear in the bright morning sky.