The mission of Salmonier Nature Park is to provide exemplary learning opportunities and visitor experiences that connect people with the natural communities of Newfoundland and Labrador. These experiences must encourage a better understanding of and contribute to a sustainable future for people, wildlife and the environment on which they depend.
Salmonier Nature Park, which opened its gates to the public in 1978, was originally established as an environmental education centre, not as a tourist destination. However, over time the Park’s role as a major tourist destination on the Avalon Peninsula has increased significantly. Its role has also evolved to include wildlife rehabilitation, research and environmental monitoring.
The primary mandate of Salmonier Nature Park remains environmental education and the main target audience is the Newfoundland and Labrador public, especially family groups and children. An average of 40,000 people visit the park annually; nearly 5,000 of the total is comprised of youth visiting the Park as part of the on-site school programming during the Spring and Fall. The park also plays a role within the nature-based tourism market and about 10% of visitors are non-residents interested in learning about and viewing native wildlife.
The role of the park is to help visitors gain an understanding and appreciation for wildlife and the natural community it inhabits. This role is based on the premise that it’s difficult to appreciate that which you don’t know. In order to help people gain this understanding and appreciation, Salmonier Nature Park provides visitors with a unique opportunity to view Newfoundland and Labrador wildlife face to face. However, the mission of the park extends beyond wildlife as it is traditionally thought of and includes the plants, insect life and landscapes of our Province.
Salmonier Nature Park would like to break down the tendency, especially in young people to isolate themselves from nature. The early approach to development was to maintain the beauty and integrity of the landscape while making it suitable for wildlife displays. Rather than being teachers, park staff see themselves as creators of a learning environment.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Rehabilitation Program is also coordinated out of Salmonier Nature Park. It serves a significant role in this Province as the main facility involved in the care, rehabilitation, release or captive placement of injured or orphaned wildlife. Where possible, animals brought to the park for care are returned to the wild, or if that is not possible, they are incorporated into the on-site educational programming.
The park also plays a key role in research within the Province. In 1995, park staff designed and constructed a large state-of-the-art enclosure for the captive breeding of Newfoundland marten, which was designated by COSEWIC as endangered at the time. In 1999, the first captive bred litter was born at the Park. A remote video monitoring system was put in place to allow animal care staff and visitors to view this unique and endangered species with a minimum of human disturbance to the animals. During the summer of 2006, one captive born Newfoundland marten was relocated to a newly designed enclosure within the park, which now provides visitors with an opportunity to view this animal in a natural setting. This live marten display has become an integral part of the park’s educational programming. In 2007, the Newfoundland marten population was downlisted from “endangered” to “threatened” status due to an increase and subsequent stabilization in its population.
Development of Salmonier Nature Park began in 1973 and the park opened its gates to the public in 1978. Beginning the park in the early 1970’s represented very progressive thinking on the part of the original developers, since there was very little action in the field of environmental education at the time. The park is quite different from people’s perception of a zoo. The overall design and broad environmental education mandate sets Salmonier Nature Park apart from most similar facilities.
The layout of the Park is based on a nature walk. The animals are in large natural enclosures scattered along the park’s boardwalk trail. This allows visitors to see animals that are part of their natural surroundings and also encourages visitors to feel they are part of these surroundings. Salmonier Nature Park takes people into the landscape where the animals are displayed in settings that are as natural as possible.
The emphasis at Salmonier is on quality, not quantity. Unless an animal can be displayed well, it is not displayed at all. Most display animals come to the park injured and unreleasable. Because of the naturalistic displays and the need to balance the needs of the animal and the desire of people to see them, the Park does not guarantee that the animals will always be visible. Most visitors see about 80% of the animals during one visit.
Upgrading of the trails is continuous; as of 1998, the trail is completely boardwalk. This makes the park more accessible to families using strollers and people using wheelchairs. Planning is presently underway to have the park wheelchair “accessible” versus wheelchair “friendly” in the near future.
Aside from the 40 hectares of the park containing nature trails and animal displays, there is an additional 1415 hectares which is undeveloped. This area, which abuts the Avalon Wilderness Reserve, includes mature boreal forest, barrens, peatlands, and the headwaters of the Salmonier River. Within the park, 84 species of birds, 15 species of mammals and over 170 species of vascular plants have been recorded. The area affords splendid opportunities for field research in a well protected and managed environment.
Salmonier Nature Park, its environmental education and wildlife care/research programs fall within the Stewardship and Education Section of the Wildlife Division, Department of Environment and Conservation. Funding is nearly 100% provided by the provincial government.
The most important message for Salmonier Nature Park to communicate to visitors is that people are just one part of an intricate, interdependent natural system. With the incredible power people have to influence natural systems comes great responsibility. The job of Salmonier Nature Park is to help people think in those terms!