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ICYMI: Grief in Crieff: nature retreat staff concerned about rise in trespassing

Crieff Hills staff are finding evidence of unauthorized foraging, liquor bottles and shotgun shells more often recently

This story was previously published on EloraFergusToday.

PUSLINCH – On Concession 1, right on the edge of where Puslinch becomes Flamborough, is a large nature retreat centre that sees thousands of visitors every year. 

It’s not those visitors the staff of Crieff Hills say are causing headaches, but the rising number of trespassers who are foraging, partying, damaging the forest and hunting that are of concern.

Crieff Hills is a retreat and conference centre on Concession 1 made up of 250 acres of working farmland, trails, retreat houses, event spaces and forest. 

Whether it is a work retreat, a wedding, or just a day visit, It’s a place where people come for some quiet, to be inspired by and getaway to nature, said Crieff Hills director Kristine O’Brien in an interview while walking a trail with facilities manager Jason Dodge. 

It's on this walk Dodge noticed some garlic mustard looked like it had been dug up by someone they weren’t aware of. O’Brien said they have to be careful about over-foraging the plants on the property which becomes hard to keep track of when people trespass and do so. 

“We’re really noticing a decline, you know, we’ve been harvesting for five years now and we’re noticing that they are not as prolific now,” O’Brien said. 

Trying to keep people out of such a large area, with some gaps in fencing and other parts made up of old farm fencing, is not an easy task but their attempts don’t seem to work.

“We have gates but people get around them, we have signs, people ignore the signs,” O’Brien said, or they just pull the signs down, Dodge added.

There’s money to be made in foraging, which O’Brien said is becoming increasingly popular. Dodge noted some morel mushrooms he noticed one Monday afternoon were gone by Tuesday morning. 

“There’s a market for this, to sell morel mushrooms there’s money in it and now that we advertise our own events and foraging educational events… I guess one of the risks of doing that is letting other people know, hey we’ve got this stuff here,” Dodge said. 

They believe most of those trespassing are making their way from Sideroad 25 and they aren’t just taking plants. 

O’Brien said they find liquor bottles, cars parked, unknown visitors approaching retreat centre buildings and shotgun shells a few times.

“That’s a scary one, we have a lot of wildlife, a lot of deer, when you find shotgun shells that have been fired considering how many guests we have that could be walking the trails and you have illegal hunters sneaking on the property,” Dodge said. 

O’Brien said one problem is the money put towards clean up is less money the charitable organization has for other purposes but also for guests’ safety and security. 

“The guests who are here, guests come for rest, they come for relaxation, for quiet spiritual enrichment, for reflection and I want guests to feel safe,” O’Brien said. “When we can’t track people we don’t know who’s here. That leaves you with an uneasy feeling.”

O’Brien and Dodge can give some people the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t aware they were on private property but Dodge has begun recognizing some faces and police have been called to the property multiple times recently.

“We’ve caught the same people trespassing more than once so they can plead ignorance the first time but then you catch them the second time, the third time and the fourth time,” Dodge said. 

O’Brien recently posted the centre’s frustrations to Facebook, calling for nearby neighbours to keep an eye out and let them know if they see someone parked, or going in with a shovel or backpack. 

“If we know, then we can deal with it,” O’Brien said. “We help a lot of people who are really weary … we want our neighbours to help us look after those people.”

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Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for EloraFergusToday, covering Wellington County. Keegan has been working with Village Media for more than two years and helped launch EloraFergusToday in 2021.
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