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A Natural Dream Realized – Naturalists from across Ontario came to the opening of the Sydenham Nature Reserve south of Alvinston

By Heather Wright,
The Independent,
May 11 2017

Larry Cornelis could barely contain his excitement.

The Lambton County naturalist was in his element, the 193-acre forest which hugs the Sydenham River and stretches over Lambton and Middlesex Counties south of Alvinston.

Cornelis, a member of both Lambton Wildlife and the Sydenham Field Naturalists, has been a fan of the area for some time. Just over three years ago, he learned the owners were ready to sell the property and Cornelis went to his clubs and Ontario Nature to try to get one of the last remaining true forests in the area into public hands.

Cornelis told the groups about the rich and endangered aquatic species that live along that stretch of the river, including 34 mussel species. “It is one of the most biologically rich rivers in Canada,” he says of the Sydenham. “And this is the best portion with most of the species in it.”

Cornelis also pointed out some of the rare trees in the region including the Kentucky Coffeetree and the wildlife which makes its home in these woods.

The naturalist groups jumped at the idea of preserving the area. Lambton Wildlife contributed $150,000 to buy the land, the Sydenham Field Naturalists another $50,000. Ontario Nature began fundraising
for the rest of the cost, about $660,000.

That goal was reached earlier this year and Sunday, about 135 naturalists from across Ontario came to get their first glimpse of the rare land. Many paid tribute to Cornelis’ efforts to have the land preserved.

“We have to thank Larry Cornelis for finding this fabulous property and bringing it to our attention,” says Dave Smith of the Sydenham Field Naturalists.

“Without people like Larry who are knowledgeable and looking for ways to preserve nature… we wouldn’t be here and who knows what this world would look like?”

Felicia Syers-Nicol of Lambton Wildlife agreed. “This is a unique situation; a gem in Lambton County and it only could have been found by Larry.”

The two local groups will manage the forest. They plan to return several parcels of land which were once farmed into a nature reserve in the future. A new canoe launch is also in the works so people can view the beauty of the reserve from the river.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority will spend years figuring out what is actually living on the acreage.

For Cornelis, it is an exciting time even if he knows there is a lot of work ahead.

“This is a dream come true and it has taken three years,” he said Sunday.

“It is an amazing opportunity to share a special spot with people. Most people don’t get to see such an ecologically rich area.”

“And it is a thrill to show it.”