• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Utopia Conservation Area gets a facelift!

In Council Watch
Aug 6th, 2021
Utopia Conservation Area

Community Partnership with NVCA and Township of Essa delivers valuable enhancements to treasured conservation area

UTOPIA, Ontario (August 6, 2021) – The Utopia Conservation Area celebrated its grand re-opening today to mark the completion of new updates, including new hiking trails, interpretive signage, first-of-their-kind in Ontario eco-respectful washrooms — all accessible to people of all abilities.

The celebration was attended by MP Terry Dowdell and MPP Jim Wilson, the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA), Friends of the Utopia Gristmill and Park, and the Township of Essa.

To allow better accessibility, the trails are built with gravel and the interpretive signs are designed with accessible fonts, colours, and installed at the appropriate height and angle. The accessible eco-respectful washrooms are made from recycled material and do not require power, bulking agents or mixing. Through a conveyor-belt system, pumped by the user with a foot pedal, the waste is held in a vault where it is consumed by naturally-occurring decomposer organisms.

Accessible eco respectful washrooms at the Utopia Conservation Area

Other enhanced features include a live-stake nursery, planted to assist with NVCA’s restoration projects, as well as stabilizing the century old gristmill. Scheduled for demolition in 2000, the community was able to save this landmark which is older than the Confederation and is the only historically designated property in Essa Township.

Located 15 minutes outside of Barrie, the Utopia Conservation Area is known for its historic grist mill, nature trails, wetlands and abundant biodiversity. The conservation area is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including several endangered Butternut trees.

The Friends of the Utopia Gristmill and Park successfully received sponsorship and support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Ontario’s Rural Economic Development Fund, donations and countless fundraising events. With this funding, NVCA was able to install the trails, washrooms and interpretive signage.


For over 50 years, this conservation area has provided residents and visitors with countless opportunities to enjoy nature’s sounds and sights. Thank you to the Friends of the Utopia Gristmill & Park for spearheading this initiative and acquiring funding for these projects, and to our staff for their work in installing the trail, interpretive signage and eco- washrooms. We have already seen some visitors exploring this trail, while pushing their child in a wheelchair, which attests the accessibility of the trail!
~Mariane McLeod, NVCA Chair

We are delighted that the Utopia Conservation Area has been able to re-open again, offering our community and visitors a wonderful greenspace for walks and the enjoyment of nature. This beautiful conservation area is truly a 4-season natural paradise fitting of the name “Utopia”.
~Sandie Macdonald, Mayor, Essa Township

While this is truly a special day in the life of the Utopia Conservation Area, there remains lots more work and fundraising to do to fully restore Bell’s Gristmill, build a bridge to create a full loop for our trail as well as achieve our many other goals. We look forward to continuing forward with our partners and community, knowing that this opening allows the public to come, enjoy and fall in love with our parkland, all of which it contains and for what it represents.
~Susan Antler, Chair, Friends of the Utopia Mill and Park

About NVCA: The Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority is a public agency dedicated to the preservation of a healthy environment through specialized programs to protect, conserve and enhance our water, wetlands, forests and lands.

About the Friends of Utopia Gristmill and Park: Friends of the Utopia Gristmill and Park focuses on community development through the conservation and preservation of the local natural and cultural resources within the Township of Essa and Hamlet of Utopia.

About the Utopia Conservation Area: A 50-acre property, located in Utopia, Ontario, the Utopia Conservation Area is championed by the Friends of the Utopia Mill & Park with the support of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Area and Township of Essa. Together, the organizations have set a conservation vision to preserve, protect and enhance the naturalized greenspace and wetlands, abundant biodiversity and heritage gristmill resident within the parkland.

Read a related article from Simcoe.com: 5 facts about the recently renovated Utopia Conservation Area

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