Ever Seen an Alvar?

Hiking in the Alvar

Hiking the trail at the Carden Alvar Provincial Park

The word “Alvar” is strange, conjuring up all sorts of visions. I had never heard the word before and certainly never seen one, until the first time I hiked on the “Alvar” at Cameron Ranch, I was fascinated. I found out that an Alvar is a very delicate and special habitat and quite rare worldwide. The only North American Alvars are in the Great Lakes region. The word Alvar actually comes from Scandinavia.

Alvar Grassland

Limestone covered in thin layer of moss, lichen and grasses.

An alvar is a habitat of thin or absent soil cover atop a limestone base.  Limestone is a rock that is harvested  for construction and quarries destroy the delicate habitat.

There are over 230 bird species (including several rare or endangered species), over 400 plants (with many restricted to alvar habitat), and 130 species of butterflies and dragonflies.

I am on the lookout for the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike which is a critically endangered songbird. One of it’s habitats is the Carden Alvar. We did not see one, but I did have fun photographing other birds at the Alvar this weekend.

About twenty years ago, a few people became concerned about the Carden Plain in the Kawartha Lakes area north of Toronto, Ontario.  While they were “birdwatching” they noticed the continuing loss of alvar habitat, seeing shrinking grasslands as a part of the decline of many bird species.

They did what some at the time said would be almost impossible… they took action. With a lot of  fundraising, they set out to buy the alvars, to protect them for all time. 

“Cameron Ranch was purchased by a coalition of conservation organizations working in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The ownership of this 1,214 hectare site, characterized as “Ontario’s Serengeti” because of its extensive grasslands, was transferred to Ontario Parks in April 2003. The Couchiching Conservancy contributed $204,000 raised from local sources to assist this exceptional purchase and is now assisting with its management.”

Finally, in the spring of 2014, Ontario Parks formalized the regulation to create Carden Alvar Provincial Park.  This new park encompasses 1,917 hectares of primarily alvar habitat, which are now permanently protected.

Some parks are for camping, some are for exploring and some are just there. Alvars are extremely sensitive habitat, despite their botanical hardiness. There are two hiking trails at the Carden Alvar Provincial Park but no camping or picnic sites, no playgrounds or sports fields. This is a park for enjoying nature and the strange habitat called an Alvar.

It is a habitat that we want to preserve for For Posterity.

Please check out A step into nature  for a great WordPress blog about the Carden Alvar.

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