Have you ever heard of Burnt Lands Provincial Park near Almonte, west of Ottawa? If not, it’s not really surprising. In fact, I had never heard of it either before I happened to drove by on the way to Purdon Conservation Area. This park is a non-operating provincial park, but since it is a public land, it is still possible to hike there.
But what is a non-operating provincial park? It is a protected provincial park but on which there is no basic infrastructure, no visitor centre, no parking and, usually, no staff. Many of these parks protect watercourses, as well as rare flora, fauna, and geological landscapes. There are over a hundred across the province.
With a name as evocative as Burnt Lands, I admit that finding about this provincial park, which I did not know existed, aroused my curiosity. So I decided to see if I could explore it a bit, which is easier said than done since there is no official entrance or no official trail map. Following the park boundaries along Golden Line Road, I ended up finding an entrance and what seemed like a trail. I parked my car on the side of the road and I started following the trail into the forest of Burnt Lands Provincial Park.
The provincial park protects a particular ecosystem called alvar, an open natural habitat resting on limestone rocks, with a thin layer of soil and sparse vegetation. This habitat is home to rare plants and animals, often typical of the prairies. The alvar between Almonte and Ottawa is one of the best examples of this type of ecosystem in southern Ontario.
And because the soil layer is thinner on an alvar, these lands dry up faster in summer and are therefore much more prone to forest fires. They also take much longer to regenerate. In 1870, a large forest fire swept the region, destroying hundreds of farms and lands and eroding even more the thin layer of soil. That’s how this area ended up being called Burnt Lands.
A more recent forest fire (in 1999) also occurred in the area. This one has left traces which are still clearly visible today. This is what I found at the end of the mysterious path that I followed in the forest. A clearing where you can still see the burnt and twisted trunks left by the fire. Burnt Lands definitely lives up to its name.
The trail, which had been mostly in a straight line since I entered the park, disappeared in the clearing. It must be said that the rocky ground made it more difficult to find traces of an unmarked trail. As the vegetation of the alvars is fragile, and since I did not want to get lost either, I eventually turned around and walked back to my car. In all, I will have walked almost two kilometres in the provincial park. Not a long hike, but just enough to allow me to appreciate this particular ecosystem!
Perhaps there is a better way to explore Burnt Lands Provincial Park. According to my research on the internet, it would also be possible to visit the area north of March Road (while I was in the southern area), which looks really like a prairie. But some of the lands in the area are private, others belong to the federal government, so make sure you know the boundaries of the provincial park before going there. And as I wrote earlier, the vegetation of the alvar is fragile and rare, so if you go there, stay on the trails and leave no traces!