If you enjoy strolling through a leisurely wooded waterfront trail, you’ll love Massassauga Point Conservation Area. If you have an interest in environmental science, you’ll love it even more.
The park, located in northern Prince Edward County, is home to a rare ecosystem called a Bur Oak Savanna on Alvar. An Alvar environment supports uncommon wildflowers, mosses and lichens and rare birds and insects. It’s such an ecologically important area that Quinte Conservation, the organization authorized to maintain the site, goes to great lengths to protect it.
To the untrained eye, Massassauga Point is breathtaking on its own. It has six trails which total roughly four kilometres. The trails wind through open grassy areas and thick forest and offer waterfront views. In total, the conservation area covers 24 hectares and has more than 1,200 metres of Bay of Quinte shoreline. It’s a great stopover for boaters and the perfect place of picnicking or hiking. It’s even got a little history to it – the park was once the site of a large resort. It was dismantled in the 1940s, but the trails its guests walked on still remain.
The park is accessible from Highway 62, south of Belleville, just below the Bay Bridge. Take County Road 28 from either Rossmore or Fenwood Gardens to Massassauga Road. Follow the road for nine kilometers and you’ll end up in the parking lot.
Once you’re there, enjoy the environment but don’t take it for granted. An Alvar Community is defined as an area where the thick limestone is found just inches below the soil surface. This leads to extreme pooling during the wet season and extremely dry conditions at other times of the year. These conditions support only rare species, which can survive in harsh habitats. Alvars also provide some of the most species-rich communities in the world. Exposed rock in Alvar communities may be home to unique and rare lichens and moss not found in any other habitat in the world. The open areas in the park are also home to a specialized community of plants, some of which are designated as globally rare or at-risk.
There are six types of Alvars and Massassauga Point is considered a Savanna Alvar, the most uncommon of all. A Savanna Alvar typically has scattered trees. In the case of Massassauga Point, these trees are Bur Oaks, which provide unique ecosystems on their own. “The importance of preserving this habitat cannot be overestimated,” said Maya Navrot, an education co-ordinator with Quinte Conservation. “The Nature Conservancy of Canada has given Bur Oak Savanna global ranks of G1 and S1, both of which describe an extremely rare habitat.”
Navrot said Quinte Conservation does significant work to maintain Massassauga Point. It’s regularly been subject to controlled burns designed to destroy invasive species such as buck thorn. The ashes of the burn also create an environment for some of the Alvar species to grow. Another burn is expected to take place in the near future.
Yet, every year the park attracts many tourists who presumably aren’t aware of the extraordinary measures taken to protect the land or how rare the species are. But even if it didn’t have a unique history and ecology, the park would still be a special setting. It’s a peaceful place where guests can get lost in thought, enjoying the tranquil sight of calm bay waters. It is minutes away from a big city – and a stone throw away from a rural neighbourhood – but it sometimes seems like its miles away from hectic, urban life.
In some ways, it’s a secret. But those who know about Massassauga Point know it’s worth preserving.