| Mar 19, 2014

No many people know that one of the  pre-eminent biological field stations in Canada is located in our own back yard. The Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre (ELEEC), located in South Frontenac on the shores of Elbow Lake, was established in June 2011 in an agreement between the Queens University Biological Station (QUBS) and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

The center sits on a 400 hectare parcel of land in the richly diverse Frontenac Arch. It was purchased by the NCC in 2006 from computer giant Hewlett Packard (HP), who ran the property as a recreational retreat for its employees. However, because the NCC purchases properties solely for the purpose of preserving natural bio-diversity and is not in the business of managing buildings, Queens University entered into the agreement.

Queens envisioned the buildings on the property as serving as a major center for environmental and educational outreach and signed the agreement to co-manage the centre with the NCC in 2011. In June 2013 Queens University bought a share of the property and now currently co-owns and manages the 18 hectares on which the center sits.

Nestled on the shore of Elbow Lake, the rustic and picturesque center is a nature lover’s paradise. It includes a main pavilion with kitchen/dining and meeting rooms, a day lodge equipped with a kitchen, meeting rooms and washrooms, plus 10 heated sleeping cabins. There is also a beach/waterfront area equipped with canoes, and numerous hiking trails wind throughout the property. The center offers a wide range of activities including school field trips, field courses, club meetings, as well as individual and group retreats, and conferences. Staff at the center welcome visits from educators, academics and conservation partners.

Carolyn Bonta manages the ELEEC and heads up the educational programming. She spoke of what makes this facility special. “The way we distinguish ourselves from similar facilities and groups is by the fact that we are part of Queens University and therefore are able to offer educational programming with a unique academic research slant. So groups who visit the center will not only learn about biodiversity and all the different animals and plants found here, but they will also learn how to sample biodiversity and how to scientifically count and measure what they find.”

A recent Bio-Blitz at the center identified over 600 species of plants and animals. Many of the ELEEC programs aim to promote citizen science and the center offers different research-oriented programs with a scientific edge that show visitors how to count birds, aquatic life and other species found on the property. There are also numerous research projects taking place that include lake water chemistry, plus a wide variety of monitoring studies of birds, frogs, climate, weather and the forest community. The center's programming targets local high school students in grades 9-12 and the programs aim to match the requirements of the current high school curriculum. ELEEC also accepts students from outside the area.

In the summer months the center offers an Eco-Adventure camp to children ages 10-14. ELEEC programming also includes activities for adult groups and organizations and overnight programs are also available.

Bonta said her goal is to keep fees at the center as low as possible. On the day that I visited, a group of 20 graduate students from Queens University's geography department were busy preparing breakfast in the main pavilion. Sinead Earley, a 4th year PHD student in the geography department at Queens, was leading a special social event for the group, who were also gearing up for a snow shoeing expedition. Earley said that every fall new graduate students in the geography department at Queens spend time at the center in an annual welcoming event. She said the ELEEC is able to “add a balance to the lives of students who often get cooped up in offices doing work” and that it is a great benefit to Queens geography students, who will often visit it numerous times during the school year.

The ELEEC will be holding an Open House on Sunday May 25 from 10am-3pm and the general public is invited. Staff and volunteers will be offering guided hikes and paddles and numerous games and other activities. Representatives from the NCC will also be present at the event and there are plans that the center’s new logo will be unveiled at that time. For more information visit elbowlakecentre.ca

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