Leslie Street Spit will get an 8 million dollar upgrade

Waterfront Toronto, in partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) , are now moving forward on an $8 million upgrade at Tommy Thompson Park,  affectionately known as the Leslie Street Spit.

Leslie Street Spit will get a $8 million upgrade

by Joanna Lavoie

June 18, 2010

Leslie Street Spit will get a $8 million upgrade. Leslie Street Spit will be home to an upgraded ecological research station and interpretative area, among other additions to the man-made headland, which extends the city’s east end into Lake Ontario for approximately five kilometers. Photo/COURTESY Waterfront Toronto, in partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), are now moving forward on an $8 million upgrade at Tommy Thompson Park affectionately known as the Leslie Street Spit.

The plans for the sustainable infrastructure enhancements were recently unveiled during the park’s 10th annual Spring Bird Festival on Sunday, May 8.

The improvements, which also include an investment in the park’s annual operating program, are part of an overall master plan for the waterfront the Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved back in 1995.

“(Tommy Thompson) Park has been built out far enough that we can now start to invest in its infrastructure,” said Ralph Toninger, a TRCA manager, discussing the five-kilometre long, man-made peninsula created by the dumping of construction materials.

“Given the popularity of the park – we estimate we’re seeing 250,000 users each year – we need the infrastructure to protect it.”

Toninger said a new entrance way design and three new structures inside Tommy Thompson Park will be built as well as various terrestrial and aquatic habitat enhancements undertaken.

At the entrance, there will be a new interpretive area/staff booth. This site is where people can get information about the park and will serve as the spot where visitors can get picked up or dropped off by a shuttle.

Toninger said about halfway into the park – the largest existing natural habitat along the city’s waterfront – there will be a new environmental shelter and washroom facility.

“It’s an adaptable shelter that can be used for school groups and also for a viewing or lookout location for the general public,” he said, noting the interesting aspect of this building is that it’s completely sunk into the ground as to focus on the park’s urban wilderness.

An upgraded ecological research station and interpretative area is set to replace The Spit’s current bird banding lab – a glorified garden shed at this point.

Toninger said the new space will have the capacity to expand the research done there on the more than 300 migratory and native bird species that visit the park each year, while also allowing for better opportunities for interpretation and educational programming.

He said the overall approach to the project is to make Tommy Thompson Park, home to hundreds of plant species, look more like a green space and less like a construction zone.

“All the improvements are part of our goal to extend public access to the site and provide longer hours,” he said of Tommy Thompson Park, which has now reached its final size and shape. Work crews dumping construction materials there on weekdays are doing so for erosion protection, Toninger explained.

“It’s very difficult to get Torontonians to understand what urban wilderness is all about. The infrastructure will allow us to portray that message of urban wilderness and educate park users,” he said.

Toronto-Danforth councillor Paula Fletcher is excited about the infrastructure work being done at the local parkland.

She said recently the improvements fit in well with the space’s overall look and feel.

The Ward 30 representative also said Tommy Thompson Park is one of Toronto’s great urban wilderness spaces that needs to be highlighted.

“I hope that every Torontonian knows about this unique gem in the city’s backyard,” Fletcher said in a recent TRCA release.

“The infrastructure is the next step that will ensure everyone has an enjoyable experience while visiting this exceptional urban wilderness.”

The TRCA, with the support of the Friends of the Spit stewardship group, has managed the urban wilderness park since the mid-1970s. Together both organizations work to keep the site open to the public, free of vehicles and for passive recreational uses.

The goal is to start the infrastructure work this summer and to complete it by the spring of 2011.

Visit www.tommythompsonpark.ca, email ttp@trca.on.ca or call 416-661-6600, ext. 5770 for more information about Tommy Thompson Park.