History of Friends of Bon Echo
2013 marked the silver anniversary for the Friends of Bon Echo Provincial Park. Twenty five years previously a small group of volunteers initiated an organization that has impacted Park visitors ever since. Their commitment to preserve the natural heritage and cultural history of the Park has resulted in innovative programs which hundreds of thousands of Park visitors have enjoyed. Impetus for the Friends group came from the Park Superintendent Ed Buck who approached the Pioneer Club of Cloyne asking them to consider the formation of a support group. The challenge was accepted. The signing of the official agreement between the Friends and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources took place in a ceremony in September 1988 at the Dollywood Visitor Centre.
The Friends recognized the many assets of this beautiful Park. The diversity of its flora and fauna, its pristine beaches and waterfronts, the majestic eastern white pines and the grandeur of Mazinaw Rock with its geological history, 900 year old cedars and the pictographs left by earlier inhabitants attract over 180,000 visitors annually. Various approaches aimed at increasing appreciation of the Park and the preservation of its heritage have since been utilized by the Friends. Their financial support has enabled the Natural Heritage Education (NHE) program to double its staff each summer. NHE staff offer daily children’s programs, guided hikes, interpretive boat tours of Mazinaw Lake and Rock on the Wanderer, amphitheatre programs including unique presentations and the publication of trail guides. Together all programs attracted and contributed to making Bon Echo Provincial Park one of Ontario’s best. Many enterprising projects have been initiated and carried out by the Friends. Operation of our tour boat has provided an educational and picturesque experience to Park visitors.
The Friends took over the Mugwump ferry service in 1989 allowing visitors access to the Cliff Top Trail where the breathtaking panoramic overview beckons. A year later the Friends commenced operation of the Wanderer, providing an interpretive boat tour highlighting the area history, the geology, flora, fauna, and fungi of Mazinaw Rock and a close-up view of the native pictographs. The Wanderer and the Mugwump provide interpretive excursions for over 16,000 visitors each summer.
For 20 years the rewarding tour boat service was provided by dedicated volunteers serving as captains, deckhands and later as interpreters. The Friends have continued to provide the trained staff to fill these positions as required by government regulations. In the early 1990s the Friends operated the canoe concession partnering with two local business partners to provide another manner to allow visitors to enjoy the lake and approach Mazinaw Rock. This is currently operated by Bon Echo Canoe, owned by Bruce White. The Greystones Gift and Book Shop opened in Dollywood Visitor Centre in 1989 and moved to its present location in 1993. The shop specializes in merchandise chosen to enhance the appreciation of nature. An Art Gallery was added in 1996 to display original art of Canadian nature and wildlife. In 2006 the Friends financed major renovations in Greystones. The structure was strengthened and expanded while maintaining the historic ambiance of this classic century cottage. In 2007 the Friends named the gallery the Colin Edwards Memorial Art Gallery in recognition of Colin’s long-time service as Director, volunteer and artist. The Friends engaged their first Executive Director in 1995. The organization was growing and there was a need for structure, coordination and liaison between the Park, the volunteers and the public.
The numerous programs and volunteers required a focal person to provide leadership and carry out the decisions of the Board of Directors. The highlight for many is the annual Bon Echo Art Exhibition and Sale. Initiated in 1995, an active committee meets regularly to orchestrate this event. The art show continues the rich heritage of original art left to us by the aboriginals in the Mazinaw pictographs, the Group of Seven who painted in the 1920 – 30's and the many artists who continue to capture the beauty of the creation through their handiwork. Over 100 volunteers orchestrate this three day event featuring food, live musical entertainment, Sciensational Sssnakes!! and children’s activities. The quality of the juried original art continues to bring more and more of the public to the show. A strong component of the Friends’ work is composed of education relating to the Park’s heritage.
The Friends have published two books: Massanoga:The Art of Bon Echo (1999) and The Rock: Bon Echo Provincial Park’s Silent Sentinel (2006). The former captures the rich history of the many artists who have painted Bon Echo and the latter serves to alert readers to the importance of this micro geographical area. In the 1990s researchers discovered that Mazinaw Rock was home to bonsai-like ancient cedars some of which are over 900 years old. With the aim of providing protection for the cliff and its rare species the Friends launched the “Adopt-an-Ancient Cedar” project. Numerous small plaques were installed in Dollywood Visitor Centre in recognition of the gifts, often in memory of a loved one. In excess of $10,000 was raised over ten years. This enabled the Friends to produce the full-colour edition of The Rock: Bon Echo Provincial Park’s Silent Sentinel. Funds have gone into a number of other projects that include producing trail guides and educational resources, the Peregrine Falcon release, Amphitheatre programming, most displays in the Visitor Centre, new trail head signs, interpretive cairns and kiosks, the restoration of the Greystones Cottage and Park student staff.
Ten years ago the Friends initiated twice-weekly barbecues at Main Beach. As this operation grew it was moved to the Lagoon shelter and is now providing a much anticipated service every weekend. The annual raffle has featured attractive donated prizes, all of which relate to Park activities. The Friends have applied for selective government grants and corporate assistance to increase their activities and projects. For the anniversary summer of 2013, the renovation of the amphitheatre seating and building/stage was a main project. In 2015, the first phase of restoration of the Cliff Top Trail has been completed as a joint project of the Park and the Friends. The greatest asset of the Friends of Bon Echo is its people. The indispensible resource of faithful volunteers and members is continuing to be fundamental to the many facets of Friends initiatives and accomplishments. New members, both young and older are sought, needed and welcome.
Please come and join us!