History and ecology intersect at Motts Mills Conservation Area

Award: Coolest history!

 If the land could talk, imagine its stories.

Thankfully, at Motts Mills Conservation Area we can at least tell you about the past 200 years, and how the historic dam has long shaped the Hutton Marsh wetland and the community it serves. 

Hutton Marsh is part of a provincially significant wetland complex.

The modern Motts Mills dam near Lombardy was built in 1952, but an even earlier dam was built around 1826, shortly after brothers Hiram and Abel Mott purchased the property to operate a sawmill.

It would have been a seasonal mill, primed to do most of its work during peak flows in the spring and using an undercut waterwheel to create power. The mill operated until about 1870, and the original dam would have been removed around 1900. 

The wetland was then left to its own devices until 1952, when Kitley Township requested the province build a new dam to control water levels and to stop local cattle from getting mired in mud while watering at Hutton Creek. At the time, the wetland would have been much swampier: if you look closely, you can still see old snags from the white cedar trees that would have thrived in the soggy soil. 


The RVCA took over dam operations in 1989, and in 1991 acquired another 3.5 acres around the dam for maintenance operations. But it quickly became clear the dam was reaching the end of its life and would need to be restored or replaced. 

Almost everyone involved, including local landowners around the marsh, agreed that simply removing the dam and allowing the marsh to drain wouldn't be good for the wetland, the wildlife or the people who live nearby.

Eventually, after much consultation, it was decided that the RVCA and Ducks Unlimited Canada would instead build an earthen berm to replace it. With grants from South Kanata Development Corporation, Wildlife Habitat Canada and provincial funding, the berm was constructed in 2015 and has been managing water levels ever since. 

Remnants of the old, decommissioned dam stand nearby, a testament to the past. 

Today's earthen berm facility is just a few metres away from the remnants of the decommissioned 1952 dam.
Remnants of the 1952 dam still stand in the creek.

But the work in this provincially significant wetland isn't done. Over time, the marsh has become choked with cattails: only 10 per cent of the marsh is now open water. This isn't good for biodiversity, and it has cut local residents off from the water, too. 

That's why the RVCA, Ducks Unlimited and other partners have begun to restore Hutton Marsh back to a healthier hemi-marsh state (50 per cent vegetation and 50 per cent open water). Crews constructed three 0.5 acre ponds and 500 metres of channels to provide new fish passages and areas for spawning and feeding, support critical life stages for amphibians, turtles and other wildlife, and encourage ducks and other waterfowl to visit the area. 

Check out our video of the restoration work in action: https://youtu.be/vPmO7gcqXOU 

This summer, head to Motts Mills Conservation Area to see for yourself this significant marsh steeped in history, community and natural splendor. The short trail along the babbling Hutton Creek offers a lovely spot to reflect at the base of a small waterfall, where dancing dragonflies alight on overhanging leaves and water snakes look for their next meal. 

And the vista view of Hutton Marsh itself will reset your inner stress gauge immediately.

For all the details and directions visit https://www.rvca.ca/conservation-areas/no-fee-required/motts-mills-ca

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

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Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
3889 Rideau Valley Drive
Manotick, Ontario K4M 1A5

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613-692-3571, 1-800-267-3504

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