Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Ontario parks, Sandbanks Provincial Park is working with local students to rehabilitate one of its most important namesake features: the dunes!

Sandbanks has the largest freshwater barrier dune system in Baymouth in the world. It is an important habitat to protect and park naturalists work every day to educate people about the importance of this system.

The dunes need the grass

Dunes can only remain stable when adequate vegetation grows. This includes smaller plants such as wormwood and star-flowered Solomon’s seal, but also larger ones such as sand cherry and eastern poplar.

The “superhero” of Sandbanks, however, is Marram Grassperhaps the first plant to appear on our sandy shores thousands of years ago.

Single Marram Grass plant on white sand, surrounded by other Marram Grassesmarram grass

The dunes are dry, hot, changeable and nutrient poor – difficult conditions for most plants to survive. But Marram Grass has special adaptations that allow it to thrive here in Sandbanks. Its long network-like root system and underground rhizomes stabilize the sands around it, facilitating the rooting of other pioneer plant species.

These early dune colonizers have special adaptations that allow them to live in this harsh environment. As these plants grow and die over several generations, they add nutrients to the soil and help stabilize the area. Over time, larger and more varied plants can grow.

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You wouldn’t expect it, but…

Ironically, while these plants have to be tough to survive these conditions, they are also very fragile and die easily if trampled.

A sand dune with Marram grasses and other vegetation.

Last year’s high water levels left our beaches narrower than usual and because of this, park visitors created trails in the dunes directly behind the beach, inadvertently damaging the plants needed to stabilize the dunes. becauseWith nothing to hold the sand in place, it simply blows away with the wind.

Save the dunes!

Girl in purple shirt planting Marram grass on a shady dune

Our rehabilitation project began with visits to local schools. We wanted to help students understand the importance of sandbanks, what they protect and why Marram Grass is so important.

The students were then invited to the park to help us plant Marram Grass. When we finished, a significant part of the dunes on both sides of the Outlet River were planted. Fences and signs were also erected to direct visitors away from planted areas and toward designated trails.

Sandbanks is more than “the beach”

Through these efforts, we teach students that Sandbanks is more than “the beach””, and many students were inspired! Initially, one student expressed her disappointment upon learning that her class was going on a field trip to the beach…just to plant grass. She later exclaimed that she now understood the importance of what she was doing.

Dune with Marram grass in the foreground, poplar trees and campsites in the water in the background

Sandbanks truly is an incredible park and this project has been an opportunity to instill the passion and respect we have for our park in the young people of our local community.

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Thank you to everyone who participated and helped rescue the dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park!

To help celebrate the 125th anniversary of Ontario Parks, parks across the province are hosting 13 stewardship programs to help protect biodiversity in provincial parks.