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Orangeville Green Leader turns property into family’s dream playground

Orangeville, ON, April 11, 2011 – Growing up in Orangeville, Cara Burleigh enjoyed its small town feel – a place where everybody knew your name and where you were never far from the countryside and nature’s beauty. Orangeville was an ideal place to grow up and live.

Cara loved the outdoors and took every opportunity to enjoy all its splendours. However, as time passed, she could see Orangeville changing – the things that attracted her to living there were starting to slip away. The small town feel was replaced by something bigger and more impersonal.

As Orangeville grew so did the distance to the countryside. Cara felt disconnected from nature she loved and with two young sons she faced a difficult decision. “I wanted them to get the same experience and enjoyment from being outdoors and in the country that I did,” said Cara. “As Orangeville keeps growing and as the kids get into other activities, I feel like that is going to be very hard to do if we continue to live in town.”

Cara did try to make it work. When the boys were very little, she would take them to the Bruce Trail. She later made them books to transform their hikes into scavenger hunts. They looked for animal tracks, insects, birds, different plants and trees and whatever else she could think of to make the hikes as interesting as possible.

Then she discussed with her husband Dave the possibility of buying land and settling their family somewhere on the outskirts of Orangeville. Neither of them had lived in the country but for Cara this seemed like the best way of giving her children that connection to nature.

“I said to my husband, let’s buy some land and transform it into our own outdoor playground. We can create our own Bruce Trail right in our very own backyard!”

In 2008 they began looking for and found the ideal property – a 10-acre parcel of land only four minutes from town. The property was flat with few trees and was surrounded by miles of farm land. The previous owners had lived in the new home but leased the land to a local farmer who farmed many of the adjoining properties.

Said Cara, “To us, it was perfect. It had a beautiful new house to live in and a blank canvas of land to mold into our dream outdoor playground.”

Black Cherry seedlings on just one of the many rows of trees planted on their property through the 50 Million Tree Program      

Cara Burleigh and her son Zack, 5, stand beside the family’s dream property

Eager to create her future masterpiece, Cara searched the Internet to learn about how to undertake a major tree planting. She knew it could possibly be a lengthy and time consuming project and the trees would take decades to mature. She found the Ontario government’s 50 Million Tree Program. This program is managed by Trees Ontario in partnership with local tree planting agencies and conservation authorities across the province. The program provides subsidies and tree planting support to landowners with the goal of planting 50 million trees in the province by 2025.

Trees Ontario connected Cara with Dave Wiley from Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVCA) who visited and surveyed her property and discussed her tree planting goals. Cara wanted trees on the back six acres of the property and also wanted space between the trees for future hiking, snowmobile, ATV and cross-country ski trails.

Dave developed a plan for the planting that Cara eagerly approved. This past spring Dave and his team from CVCA planted 4,100 trees on the property including white spruce, black cherry, red oak and eastern white pine. He also suggested that a cover crop of barley and clover be planted over the area first to help keep the weeds and tall grasses in control so they would not choke out the new seedlings.

Cover crop of barley over top of clover 

“We thought the cost and labour associated with planting trees on six acres of land was going to require us to do it in stages over many years,” said Cara. “With the subsidies and support you get through the 50 Million Tree Program, we were able to do it all at once.”

“I am almost embarrassed to say how easy and little work it is for the landowner. Dave and his team were great to work with. They brought the seedlings and did the entire planting. They returned to monitor the seedlings’ growth and have given us tips to ensure the trees are healthy. The program is amazing,” she added.

And as she did when they were younger, Cara wants to use this experience to teach her children about trees and the environment. “We talked with our boys (now eight and five) about the planting, why we were doing it and why trees are so important to the environment. Now that the trees have been planted, each child has adopted a section of the land to care for. They have a competition going to see whose section is growing faster and better. They could be some of the youngest ‘land stewards’ in the province!”

Three years after their move to the country, the Burleigh family is having more fun than they could ever have imagined. “We love every minute of it. The kids have been tobogganing down a small hill in the back and we have made an ice rink for them to skate on. They are enjoying riding the ATVs and snowmobiles. Needless to say, they have become quite popular with their friends who want to hang out here every weekend,” said Cara.

It has been more work than both Cara and her husband thought but “It’s fun work”. Cara has found she loves gardening. This spring she is planning her first vegetable garden using vegetable boxes she made with her dad. “This will probably be the house I will remain in so why not create a beautiful space that will give us years of enjoyment well into our retirement …and what a legacy to leave our kids and the community when we are gone,” added Cara.

Red Oak seedling benefitting from the cover crop

The new trees are already working their magic. This winter they saw the first deer on the property and the children look forward to daily fox sightings. “Seeing the excitement in our boys makes it worth it. I know we made the right decision to move to the country and in planting all these trees. It has brought us even closer together,” said Cara.

In recognition of her tree planting efforts and commitment to the environment, Cara has been named a Green Leader by Trees Ontario – a designation recognizing those who have shown leadership in tree planting and environmental stewardship.

“Cara Burleigh and her family are splendid advocates for the 50 Million Tree Program and fighting climate change,” said Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey. “I encourage others to contact Trees Ontario to find out how they too can participate in this important program.”

For more information about the 50 Million Tree Program and other tree planting programs as well as local tree planting workshops to help you get started, visit: