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The Glen Stewart Ravine in The Beaches which supports a rare and sensitive red oak forest, officially opens May 26, 2012. Shown is a newly constructed boardwalk section.Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

In Toronto, heavily forested ravines occupy about 11,000 hectares of land. These protected green oases are to this city what the canals are to Venice. And, with the weekend's unveiling of the Glen Stewart Ravine revitalization in the Beach neighbourhood, the City of Toronto's urban forestry department is honouring a complex ecosystem while heightening public access.

Fed by clean ground water from Ames Creek, the 11-hectare ravine of red oak and red maple has long been a secret hangout for those who liked to scramble up and down its slopes or wander along its muddy tracks. Now, for a total project budget of $1-million, the Beach ravine can welcome people interested in fitness, people pushing carriages or in wheelchairs. Designed by EDA Collaborative with careful attention to robust materials and sensitive detailing, the improvements include an elevated boardwalk installed with two wooden pedestrian bridges suspended over delicate wetlands. Eastern white cedar fencing using post-and-paddle joinery – rather than nails – has been installed to lead visitors into the natural refuge while keeping them off newly planted areas. Damaged slopes have been reinforced with 16 retaining walls of sand bags, to be interplanted with hundreds of herbs and grasses such as wild geranium, Canada wild rye, sky-blue aster and woodland sunflower. Invasive heavily shading trees such as the Norway maple and Manitoba maple have been removed, to be exchanged for native species such as red maple, red oak, black cherry, hemlock and yellow birch.

A monumental staircase constructed of oxidized cor-ten steel and topped with hemlock railings rises up through the forest to Balsam Avenue. Ravines in the city are not always treated this way. Some of them are still treated as dumping zones. Not so at High Park or Rouge River Park where ravines are being protected and heightened with sensitive design interventions. Buffered from the sounds of traffic, surrounded by towering trees and a lush understorey of planting, the Glen Stewart Ravine offers a powerful elixir for anybody with nature deficit disorder. Says the city's urban forestry planner, Ruthanne Henry, who managed the Glen Stewart project, "We really need to work on access to our ravines. People want more and more to be in touch with nature."