Ball's Falls. NPCA

Last year was one of distinction for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), with a record attendance of over 90,000 paid admission visitors at its four flagship conservation areas (Ball’s Falls, Binbrook, Long Beach, Chippawa), and some 1800 NaturePlus Membership Passes sold. The NPCA enjoyed an 80 percent increase in sales and admissions from the previous year.

Chandra Sharma, in her second year as CAO of the organization, described the annual report as “telling the story of how we are charting the course for the next generation of work to improve ecosystems, develop resilient communities and shorelines, address climate change, and engage communities in the watershed.”

NPCA CEO Chandra Sharma. SUPPLIED

The NPCA manages 41 conservation areas in total, along with watershed programs and services that safeguard homes from flooding and erosion, while retaining the safety of the region’s drinking water.

Clearly one of the most significant achievements was the completion of the 2021-2031 strategic plan, the blueprint for the organization’s way forward. The NPCA also completed some 1000 planning and permit reviews, and logged almost 9000 hours by over 400 volunteers. Some 75 community groups engaged with the NPCA in conservation work.

The refreshed website received 450,000 hits, and the organization figured in some 900 media stories. Some 60 restoration projects were completed, which included the planting of some 63,000 trees and 7,000 shrubs.

While 2021 was a pandemic year with social distancing directives in place, people flocked to the outdoors for recreation in relative Covid safety.

“Acceptance in the medical community of the needs for well-being and mental health through connections to nature caused people to gravitate towards conservation areas,” said Sharma. “We expect major demographic growth in Niagara in the next ten years, and have purchased environmentally significant public green space as part of our land securement strategy, acquired with the help of donations, and our foundation.”

Sharma noted the Niagara Coastal Community Collaborative (Niagara Coastal) initiative as a community-based monitoring program to engage the coastal communities of Lake Erie.

“It’s an amazing project, using technology to monitor the shoreline conditions,” said Sharma. “People can use a cellphone app to report on the conditions of the shoreline. We’re really proud to be part of this innovation, and are one of only a handful of communities doing it.”

After two years at the helm of NPCA, Sharma has her sights firmly set on the future, and is optimistic about facing challenges and opportunities which develop.

“It’s been a very challenging yet rewarding two years, building and creating a very strong conservation organization. We come to work every day driven by purpose, and despite the pandemic, we were able to innovate and propel the organization forward. Our resilience has been tested quite a bit, but our momentum has been excellent. Our staff team is doing amazing work, with the full support of our board.”

Leadership by example is what Sharma expects of her organization.

“I think that we have clearly articulated our aspiration to demonstrate good environmental management, both through our own actions, as well as convening partners and supporters and communities around the grassroots conservation work. We are building on the success of these past two years, and the past 60 years, to prepare for what’s to come.”

The NPCA’s 2021-2031 strategic plan is available at www.npca.ca, and its annual report at: https://indd.adobe.com/view/5306fcfb-1c8c-436d-901d-a4ffbaf59d71