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Garbage-strewn pond inspires Vaughan woman’s environmental mission

A walk past Golden Forest Pond turned Daniela Palma into an activist.
July 9, 2016
By Noor Javed

Daniela Palma had only meant to try out a new dog-walking route near her home, when the Vaughan resident turned toward a tree-lined path near Golden Forest Pond.

Instead, that walk along the storm water pond near Dufferin St. and Rutherford Rd., turned her into an environmental activist.

“There weren’t any leaves or branches at the time, so you could see the garbage in plain sight,” said Palma, describing the scene from last fall. “There was a lot of garbage around the water, but really it was everywhere.”

Almost immediately, she noticed a few things: there were no garbage cans in the area and no signage about littering. So she notified the City of Vaughan to find out if it could help. When she followed up months later, in April, the city told her the “case is closed,” as they didn’t find any evidence of widespread dumping and had just seen “regular debris,” Palma said.

The city did not respond to a request to confirm details of the matter.

Palma took the matter into her own hands - launching an environmental campaign of sorts to spur her community and the city into action.

“I started cleaning the area myself,” she said, describing how she spent five hours one afternoon in May, picking up garbage around the pond. “I literally picked up hundreds of bags of dog excrement.”

She posted some of her more “shocking” finds on a dedicated Facebook page “Help Save Golden Forest Pond”: the remains of a frog, a dead bird and a broken turtle shell.

She also bought a garbage can for the area, and put up signage telling people not to litter. She started a GoFundMe web page for donations, a petition, and started handing out flyers telling people about a community cleanup.

Her efforts finally caught the city’s attention.

In an email to Palma in May, ward 4 Councillor Sandra Racco told her that the property was “under the maintenance” of a group of eight developers.

In an interview with the Star, Racco said the pond is “owned by the city, but they haven’t assumed it yet” and thus the developers “are responsible for maintaining the pond.”

On her Facebook page, Palma said she spoke to the manager of the developers group and was told they did a “detailed cleaning” at the end of May. But Palma said she took pictures a week later, posted in the Facebook group, that show garbage was still strewn around.

Representatives of the developers did not respond to a request for comment from the Star.

Racco said that after Palma inquired, the city installed garbage cans and signage is on the way. The councillor said her understanding is that the landowners are to clean the walking paths, the area around the pond and the water as well and that they have promised a thorough cleanup in July, she said. “If they are going to say they will do it, we have to give them a chance,” she said.

Racco said the bigger problem is getting residents to change their habits around littering. “People just don’t respect their own communities ... they will litter everywhere,” she said, adding that the city has a big dumping problem.

Palma agreed, but said the city can and should do more.

“Since the city owns the pond, I think she should more strongly enforce the garbage pick up on the developers,” said Palma. “The city needs to make them accountable for their actions.”

In the meantime, Palma has planned a community cleanup for this weekend, and is inviting the neighbours will come out. “I am hoping people will take ownership of this space, and treat it like they do their own property,” she said.