Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
volunteers rolling out boardwalk

Today’s post comes from Amy Hall, Resource Management Project Technician at Pinery Provincial Park.

Many of our visitors have been coming to Pinery for decades and have witnessed the park change in many ways over time.

If you’ve been here in the last few years, you’ll have noticed that our beach is constantly changing month to month, and even day to day!


Most remember the beach years ago, when Lake Huron’s water levels were lower and our sandy beach was much wider. If you visit Pinery this year, you will discover that this is no longer the case.

Smith Family Camping Diary

  • Date: July 21, 2019
  • Location: Pinery Provincial Park
  • Campground: Riparian area 4
  • Site number: 784

Grades: Beach’s day! We drove to the P9 beach access and parked our car a few meters from the lake. The children got out of the car and immediately ran across the dunes to the water. I noticed a sign that said “fragile ecosystem.” You should ask the naturalist at the Visitor Center about that.

We lock the car and walk to the beach. It’s so small this year! It was barely wide enough to put a towel on. I wonder what happened to that.

I’ve been there, dune that

The history of the Pinery Sand Dunes dates back thousands of years, long before Pinery was a park with hundreds of thousands of beachgoers each year.

Marram grass in the sand at Pinery Beach.

Lake Huron levels have fluctuated greatly over time, with years of record highs and a general trend of levels declining. Lake level fluctuations have established six distinct dune ridges throughout Pinery over a 6,000-year period.

In fact, the formation of sand dunes depends on fluctuating water levels to occur, with periods of high lake levels being responsible for the most rapid formation of dunes. It is this same process, combined with the wind and vegetation, that forms the dunes.

However, it can take centuries for a dune ridge to form due to intermittent erosion events, such as the one Pinery is currently experiencing.

Gone in a splash

Working as a naturalist at the Visitor Center, one of the most common questions is, “What happened to the beach?”

walkway to the beach

Well, the truth is that Mother Nature came to the beach!

When lake levels are high and we experience any type of severe weather, both the wind and waves coming from the lake crash into the shoreline and erode our dunes to varying degrees.

When we’re asked about erosion, we like to tell campers one of our favorite quotes: “Sand dunes are like bank accounts. “Sometimes the lake makes a deposit and other times a withdrawal.”

Rest assured, Lake Huron is a responsible banker. Despite the recent withdrawals, the bank account will likely continue to grow!

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With 6,000 years of good credit, we have complete confidence in Lake Huron.

What are we doing in the meantime?


Sand dunes are tough and built to resist erosion. Marram grass (Ammophila breviligulata) is essential in the formation of dunes in Pinery. This grass is the base that holds together the sand that is deposited on Pinery Beach and allows the dunes to be established.

Sand dunes will recover from erosion as long as Marram Grass is present along our coast. Therefore, we are working to conserve our dune vegetation to prevent further erosion.

Sunset at Pinery Beach.

Sustainable recreation is essential to protecting the health of the Pinery Sand Dunes. We want all of our visitors to be able to use our beach and experience the beauty of Lake Huron, but to do so in a responsible and sustainable way.

Recreation and development are the biggest threat to sand dune ecosystems worldwide.

At Pinery, we are experiencing unnatural erosion of our sand dunes as a result of vegetation being trampled. Well-intentioned beachgoers are ignoring trail designations and forging their own paths through the dunes, killing Marram grass and causing large-scale vegetation dieback (also called “explosion”).

roads and blowoutUndesignated routes and explosion

Explosions occur when there is no longer any vegetation to stabilize a dune and, as a result, the wind coming from the lake blows away the sand, leaving a huge crater-like hole in our dunes.

Smith Family Camping Diary

  • Date: July 14, 2019
  • Location: Pinery Provincial Park
  • Campground: Riparian area 4
  • Site number: 784

Grades: This morning we attended an Ask a Naturalist program about sand dune succession. We learned how rare and fragile sand dune ecosystems are. The naturalist told us that walking on the dunes can damage them a lot. We had no idea! We learned about Marram Grass, explosions and moving walkways. I’m glad to know we can help protect the dunes!

Man-made erosion makes a dune less resistant to natural erosion. When large waves reach our beach and erode our younger dune crest, there is an extensive network of Marram Grass roots that can hold most of the dune in place. But if we kill Marram Grass by trampling it, the extreme weather coming from the lake could cause more damage than a healthy dune.

Just keep going!

The good news is that we have a solution to this problem: moving walkways.

Pinery staff and volunteers installed the first moving walks in 2010. Since then, we have deployed numerous sections of moving walks throughout the park at various beach access points, even improving our moving walk design!

volunteers deploying the boardwalk

Our new design uses a dismantled fire hose from the Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

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Not only is the flexible nature of the fire hose perfect for a boardwalk to contour around sand dunes, but this design also prevents old, damaged fire hose from ending up in the landfill.

We have found that rolling boardwalks have been effective in reducing trampling of dune vegetation and are more accessible to visitors by creating a solid walkway that shows them the direction to the beach.

Fire hose on wooden planks.

This year we plan to install even more moving walks!

Ontario Parks, Friends of Pinery Park and Grand Bend Community Foundation, with support from the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge, have funded a “moving walkways for resilient ecosystems” management project in Pinery for 2020. The Friends of Pinery Park plan to continue this project in 2021.

This project aims to install moving walkways throughout Pinery in high trampling areas. Marram Grass will then be transplanted to the affected areas to rehabilitate the blasts and prevent further erosion by wind and waves.

walk the line

Last year, we suffered significant damage to our coastal infrastructure, including road access to Beach Area 9 (P9) which was washed away and closed indefinitely.

A rolling boardwalk in Pinery.

Beach areas 8 and 9 are very popular beach access locations in Pinery. We will rely on moving walkways to help visitors access our beaches in areas that no longer have car access or stairs available.

Pinery staff have been working diligently to build moving walkways that will be deployed throughout the park in preparation for the 2020 beach season. We want to uphold the ecological integrity of the park while providing fun and safe recreation opportunities for our visitors. .

A staff member shows the extent of the erosion.A staff member shows the extent of the erosion.

The rolling walkways will allow us to mark paths through the dunes, avoiding sensitive areas and species at risk. Through the efforts of staff and the cooperation of visitors, we can reduce the amount of trampling on our dunes while enjoying the park as visitors have done for decades.

Please help us by staying on designated paths and off the dunes.

Smith Family Camping Diary

  • Date: August 1, 2020
  • Location: Pinery Provincial Park
  • Campground: Riparian area 4
  • Site number: 784

Grades: This year we went to our favorite beach spot in P9 again, although things looked a little different.

We drove to P9 and noticed a yellow gate blocking the path to the beach, so we parked in the upper parking lot. It was only about 100m from the beach, no big deal. We parked and the kids got out and ran down the boardwalk to the beach.

I noticed a sign that said “fragile ecosystem” and another that said “Ecosystem Restoration Project, please use designated path.” We lock the car and walk to the beach. I heard a woman say, “The beach is too small.”

I replied: ‘The naturalist at the Visitor Center told me that sand dunes are like bank accounts…’”