CROW LAKE, Sept. 7, 2021 – A new plaque at Meisel Woods Conservation Area pays homage to one of the park’s most earnest caretakers: Joe Slater.
Joe and his wife Sandi moved to the village of Crow Lake around 1999 to enjoy a quiet retirement outside the big city. They quickly became good friends with their neighbour, Dr. John Meisel, who owned 130 acres of pristine Precambrian Shield surrounding a small lake.
John graciously welcomed the couple to enjoy walks on his informal trails that followed the lake (called Bass or Beaver Lake depending who you ask), which they embraced as part of their new daily routine.
Even after the property was donated to the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation in 2000, in those early years few outsiders visited the property. The Slaters often had it to themselves and cared for it as though it was their own.
But tragedy struck in May 2003 when Sandi died suddenly, leaving Joe to walk the paths alone. In her memory, John and Joe worked with the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation to create the Sandi Slater Memorial Trail later that fall, which Joe diligently maintained until his death in November 2019.
“Staff from the conservation authority would show up to do some work and find that my dad had already done it,” said Sheryl Slater, Joe’s daughter.
Joe expanded and formalized the trail around the lake. He used his background in civil engineering and called on old colleagues, including family friend Graydon Knights, to help design the 40-foot bridge at the south end of the trail. His put his son Jeff’s University of Waterloo swim team to work clearing paths and building rock cribs while they were up to train in the lake each summer.
“My dad really committed himself to it,” Jeff said. “They wanted to give something back to the community and this was the best way he saw that he could do that.”
Volunteers like Joe are key to making sure such pristine properties can be enjoyed by all watershed residents for decades to come, said RVCA’s Conservation Lands manager Chelsey Ellis.
“We are delighted to support the installation of this plaque," Ellis said. "It is our small way of thanking Joe for all his hard work – hard work that can never truly be repaid."
But the out-and-back trails are still unfinished. A 3.5-km rugged trail heads south around the lake, while another 1.5-km trail heads north. But due to a wetland at the north end of the lake, they don't connect. Adding a bridge would be a difficult and costly endeavour, but Jeff and Sheryl hope someday to complete the loop so visitors can enjoy more of the beautiful bluffs and lakeshore that their parents came to love.
For more information about Meisel Woods Conservation Area visit www.rvca.ca/conservation-areas/no-fee-required/meisel-woods-ca. To learn more about donating land or supporting land maintenance through Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation, visit www.rvcf.ca.