Our “Forever Protected” series shares why each and every one of us belongs in Ontario’s parks. In today’s post, biologist Lauren Trute tells us the story of Westmeath.
Westmeath Provincial Park, located approximately 15 km from the city of Pembroke, is one of the most ecologically diverse provincial parks in Renfrew County.
This 610-hectare park sits on the banks of the mighty Ottawa River and offers a glimpse into the glacial history of the Ottawa Valley. This site was also probably an important stopping area for indigenous people and fur traders traveling along the canal.
Representative Westmeath Ecosystems
Located in the rich sands of the ancient Ottawa-Bonnechere rift valley and formed by flowing water from the Ottawa River, Westmeath Provincial Park is an evolving spit of sand.
In glacial terms, the sand spit is relatively young, 5,000 years old, and is still forming. As the Ottawa River turns to flow almost directly north, it deposits sand.
As the sand spit grew, several features formed in the landscape, resulting in an interesting and ecologically diverse package in a relatively small area.
Inner Westmeath contains the oldest areas of sand dunes and has evolved into mature upland forest with a mixture of poplar, pine and oak. Closer to the park boundary and the municipal road, the remains of a red pine plantation and the old mill still influence the forest.
Representative species of Westmeath
Some of the most interesting vegetation is found on and adjacent to the beach and active dune area, where trees and plants must survive exposure to the sand elements.
Here you will find some huge Bur Oak and some smaller “Bonsai” Bur Oak, and some regionally rare or uncommon plants, such as:
- Sand seed (Sporobolus cryptandrus)
- Coastal marijuana (polygonella basiramia)
- Beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa)
- Umbrella Sedge (Cypress with hairs)
- frozen grass (Helianthemum bicknelli)
Poison ivy is found throughout the park and is abundant in many areas.
During fall migration, the sand flats are regularly visited by both Nelson’s and Le Conte’s sparrows, as well as a variety of shorebirds.
Waterfowl are abundant in spring and migrating rusty blackbirds can be seen in lowland forests and wet areas.
Signs of black bears, white-tailed deer, beavers, and muskrats are common. Along the beach you will be able to glimpse one of the several species of tiger beetle hunting for insects in the sand. Maybe even the tracks and nests of a snapping turtle or northern map turtle!
Venturing into the water, schools of small catfish and bass take refuge in the tall reeds and the abundance of freshwater mussels (a primary food of the northern map turtle).
As part of the treaty negotiations currently underway, the Algonquins of Ontario have identified Westmeath Provincial Park as an area of historical and cultural significance within their territory.
Ontario and the Algonquins have agreed to work collaboratively to establish a management planning direction for this and other protected areas located within the treaty agreement area. The negotiating parties have agreed that ecological integrity will be the first priority in the management of parks and protected areas.
Stay tuned for more “Protected Forever” posts about the incredible natural spaces that make up our network of provincial parks.