This spring, Caledon’s Cheltenham Badlands will open to the public. On Olde Base Line Road just east of Creditview Road, this patch of Martian-like topography lures photographers, artists, students, and sightseers from near and far.

Unfortunately, the growing popularity of the site has seen a few problems. Traffic congestion and cars parked helter-skelter along the shoulders of the roads presented a safety concern. As well, evidence of erosion from pedestrian traffic on the terrain called for action to protect the site’s unique natural beauty.

The Cheltenham Badlands management planning team came into being under the direction of the Ontario Heritage Trust, which owns the site.

In May 2015, the team had the area fenced off to restrict traffic until it could reach consensus on how to manage the site. Since then, the planning team has met frequently to discuss and consult. A final public meeting was held on April 5, 2018 before submitting a master plan to the Niagara Escarpment Commission and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

The parking lot is ready to go, a sidewalk is in place and there’s an extensive platform where visitors can view the formations from multiple angles. The plan’s wish-list calls for washrooms, groomed trails with intermittent boardwalks and a realigned Bruce Trail, that will invite visitors to explore beyond the Badlands.

The striking features of the Cheltenham Badlands appeared in the 1930s after poor farming practices caused the top blanket of soil to weather away. The banded red and greenish-gray hills are formed from layers of Queenston shale, which makes up the upper layer of bedrock in much of the Niagara Escarpment with outcroppings in Quebec, southern Ontario, New York state and reaching beneath Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

Nearly half a billion years ago, the oceans covering North America were gradually subsiding under the forces of rising continents and a cooling biosphere. Advancing and receding across the eons, the oceans deposited layers of silt, which eventually formed into shards of shale. Chemical processes created the colours we see today. The red hue is due to oxidized iron particles, while an opposite chemical reaction rendered the other layers their greenish-gray colour.

However nature created this spectacle, it is well worth preserving. As a favourite destination for school day trips, its wow factor can spark the imagination and can sometimes inspire careers in the sciences.

Photo: Viewing area.