BY DAVE EALEY
Officially established under a provincial public land program in 1975, the Wagner Natural Area protects a remarkable diversity of plants and animals representative of our provincial Boreal Forest. As a groundwater-fed wetland complex, it features nutrient-rich fens bearing the right chemistry to support rare and sensitive plants. More than half of the orchids that naturally occur in Alberta can be found here, particularly the yellow lady’s-slipper.
Taking a historical perspective, Wagner Natural Area exists only because the post-glacial conditions, favourable for colonization by native parkland and boreal forest species, proved to be unfavourable for agricultural and other human uses. The site also persisted because William Wagner, the namesake property owner, successfully fended off a company seeking to mine the marl from his wetlands for a cement plant. Since the Wagner Natural Area Society came into being in 1983, other development pressures have been rejected based on sound research of Wagner’s ecological values and public support for a four-season environmental gem within Parkland County. These challenges have included transportation proposals that would have sliced through our sensitive fen and private development that threatened the sustainability of our groundwater aquifer. Committed conservation demands perseverance.
Today, visitors enjoy safe access to a trail maintained by Society volunteers. The Marl Pond Trail meanders through distinctive forest communities and alongside examples of open wet areas. Habitats along the trail serve as summer breeding grounds for insects, amphibians, and warblers, like the yellow-rumped warbler and the ruby-crowned kinglet. A booklet for self-guided hikes along the trail helps visitors interpret the area’s ecological and species stories. Not to be missed: “Toad Alley,” a section of our Marl Pond Trail that on late summer nights features an abundance of some of the largest boreal toads imaginable.
Explore our website at wagnerfen.ca to learn more about the area’s numerous species and enjoy stories from our extensive newsletter archive. Or better yet, come visit and enjoy a hike through an open meadow and a variety of forest types: spruce and tamarack, mixed wood, willow, balsam poplar, and aspen.
We’re located between Edmonton and Spruce Grove on the south side of the Yellowhead Highway. Look for events on our website; we hope to resume our annual Orchid Walk once the turmoil over COVID ends. During the past pandemic year, we’ve seen many of our neighbours in Parkland County come to the natural area and walk our trail. People clearly thrive on their connection with this special place. For many of us who commit so much time to maintain and defend the site, Wagner Natural Area is our place of spiritual nourishment. We always welcome volunteers to bring their talents and interests to supporting this treasured area. Please contact us at email@example.com to talk about how you can get involved.
Dave Ealey is the President of the Wagner Natural Area Society. As a signatory in 1983 to a supporting letter for WNAS addressed to the then-Public Lands Minister, Dave is amazed he is still involved with the natural area almost four decades later.
This article originally ran in Nature Alberta Magazine - Spring 2021.