This story comes from my old stomping grounds on the east edge of Markham, and is hence a little more personal than usual. The setting? Rouge Park. I have been hiking along the Rouge River with friends, family, pets, and friend’s pets, for at least fifteen years.
I suppose it all began in Bluffer’s Park in Toronto, as it is there where kite-fighting enthusiasts originally carried out their hobby. Kite fighting, for those of you who don’t know, is a sport in which flyers attempt to sever one another’s kite strings. (Think The Kite Runner) However, kite fighting was banned there seven years ago, when the park got busy.
Enthusiasts then moved to Milliken Park, in northern Scarborough. Unfortunately, the sport brought with it dozens of metres of wiry, nylon string, left lying around the park. The string is razor sharp, and strangles birds, sometimes killing them. It has snared animals and created one-legged ducks and geese. The string, like fishing wire, wraps around the limbs of animals and cuts off circulation, eventually causing the limb to fall off. This can be fatal to these creatures.
Not to mention, the string had been cutting local hikers and getting caught in cyclists’ bicycles. There were also reports of dogs getting tangled up in the wire, nearby farmers getting it caught in their machinery, and neighbours of the park having to get up on ladders to remove the string from their trees. One person reported finding the wing of a Canada goose that had been severed.
Needless to say, kite flying was banned from Milliken Park in August 2010. This season, kite flyers have moved into Rouge Park. In fact, the open field shortly beyond the entrance of the hiking trail– one of my dog’s personal favs – is already covered in the dangerous string. It’s hanging in the trees where our local birds used to chirp and sing, undisturbed. It’s a fatal danger creatures won’t ever learn to avoid, since it is invisible. The pieces of kite material have sprung up and lie across tree branches, looking like plastic bags.
Many enthusiasts claim that they always clean up before they leave. However, how can you clean up string that gets caught in the highest branches of the highest trees, a hundred yards into the forest? Even if most flyers do their best, it doesn’t make up for the remaining fifteen percent who don’t bother to even attempt a clean-up.
So while I’m all for enjoying time spent with family and friends in natural spaces, I do not think it is asking too much for us to do so in low-impact ways that do not directly injure and kill the local fauna. For those of us who have seen beautiful birds hanging dead from trees and wings that have been severed off our favourite birds, or who have had to help our dogs untangle themselves from the debris, the banning of kite flying does not sound like overkill. It sounds like a way to enjoy nature while doing as little harm as possible.