BLAIR'S GROVE NATURE TRAIL -Walking time approx.: 1 - 1 1/2 hours The Pine River Watershed Study (1991) defined the Lurgan Beach Area, which includes Blair's Grove, as a fragile environment due to the presence of erosion-prone sand dunes and their associated habitats. The continual growth of residential areas have resulted in a loss of habitat and an increased disturbance of the remaining natural areas in Lurgan Beach. In response to these developmental pressures, M. Vozka donated a 25 acre parcel of land in Blair's Grove to Huron Township under the stipulation that it remain a natural area. However, indiscriminate pedestrian traffic over the years has created a network of unvegetated paths, threatening the stability of the sand dunes. A trail system was developed through Blair's Grove Natural Trail to minimize damage due to trampling while providing an enriching educational experience. Please adhere to the trail for you own protection to avoid the Poison Ivy is wide spread throughout this area. Interpretive stations are located at each habitat along the nature trail to mark areas of interest. A diversity of wildflowers including four different orchid species and two nationally and provincially rare beach grasses exist within this nature area. The only acceptable souvenirs of these plants and others are photographs. En route to the first station, observe the actively eroding sand dunes from the viewing platform.* With time and the elimination of foot traffic, lichens, mosses, and colonizing grass species will re-establish this sensitive area.
(1) Once stabilized by pioneer plant communities, dune systems may support a greater diversity of plant species. Under dry, sandy soil conditions, an Oak savanna has developed, consisting of Red Oak, Common Juniper, Bearberry and Soapberry. This type of habitat is unique to the Lake Huron Shoreline region with the best known example of Oak savanna being found at Pinery Provincial Park.
(2) This clearing is the site of the dwelling in Blair's Grove, which was a 27 x 16 foot long cabin built by William Blair in 1849. Mr. Blair, his wife Susan and two sons traveled by boat from Northern Ireland to settle here as farmers. The Blair’s later moved eastward away from the lake to seek land more suitable for agriculture
(3) The primary vegetation found in this area is Balsam Poplar. This tree is a fast growing, short lived species that requires full sunlight to survive. Other trees in this habitat are the Black Cherry, White Pine, White Ash, and Red Oak. These woody species are long lived and will outlast the poplar in future years. Red Oak seedlings are present which indicates that Red Oak may eventually become the dominant species in the area.
(4) There is great value in this old Black Cherry tree for wildlife habitat. It provides nesting sites, perches and shelter for birds. The tree is also a food source for animals that feed on insects and grubs.
(5) A meadow has developed in this area that is composed primarily of Scouring Rush, Wild Strawberry, Long-Leaved Reed Grass, Canada Bluegrass, St. John's Wort, Sandbar Willow and Balsam Poplar are developing.
(6) A mixed forest is present in this region. This habitat is an example of advanced successional development on a stabilized sand dune. The canopy species composition includes Trembling Aspen, Red Oak, White Pine, White Birch, Cedar, Balsam Poplar, and White Ash trees. The understory consists of Red Osier Dogwood, Common Juniper, Soapberry, and Riverbank Grape. A ground cover including Poison Ivy, False Lily-of-the-Valley, Oak Seedlings, Pink Pyrola, and Star Flowered Solomon's Seal exists.
(7) This vegetation zone differs from the mixed forest because it possesses a high concentration of Balsam Poplar that is well represented in all three forest layers. It appears that this species has secured a strong future representation in this part of the park. Queen Anne's Lace, Poison Ivy, Prickly Wild Rose and Lyre-Leaved Rock Cress are some of the more common ground cover species found here.
(8) A short-cut (denoted by - ->) branches off the main trail and follows the edge of the mixed forest habitat. The dead Junipers along this trail are the result of previous localized herbicide spraying for Poison Ivy. Obviously, a spraying program in not a reasonable means for eradicating Poison Ivy in this natural area, since the Poison Ivy has thrived while adjacent Junipers and other vegetation were killed.
(9) In this meadow of Horsetail, Wild Strawberry and Purple-Flowered Knapweed are invading species of Balsam Poplar, Willow, and Chokecherry. Notice the White Pines in this area. One can see that they have been planted due to their uniform height and their arrangement in rows. Soil samples taken in this meadow show a layering structure that is nearly the same as that found in the samples of the Beech-Cherry forest. This is strong evidence that the Horsetail-Knapweed habitat is an early successional stage following the clearing of a forest.
(10) Along secondary trail leading to the Beech-Cherry forest, a grove of Pin Cherry trees has developed. Pin Cherry is a fast-growing, short-lived, pioneer species that is adapted to growth on disturbed sites. This stand will provide shade and sil conditions suitable for the growth of shade-tolerant species such as Beech and Maple. These trees will eventually mature and shade out the Pin Cherry. This series of events is part of the ecological process known as natural succession.
(11) You are now entering an American Beech-Black Cherry stand-the most advanced successional community of the Blair's Grove Nature Trail. The very smooth, light gray trunks of American Beech and the black flaking bark of the Black Cherry tree are easily recognized year round. Trilliums, Smooth Salomon's Seal, Mayapple, Branberry and Rattlesnake Fern are just a few plants of moist woodlands which can be found in the ground cover layer at this site.
(12) This forest has the richest variety of tree species of all the nature parks involved in the PCGP. In addition to Beech and Cherry trees, the list includes Hophornbeam, Sugar Maple, Hemlock, Serviceberries and White Ash. An increment bore analysis reveals that one of the older trees in this stand is the nearby evergreen Hemlock which is only 33 feet (10.06 metres) tall but 91 years old. Several American Beech representatives are of similar age (approx. 90 years) but contribute to the canopy with their greater height of approx. 60 feet (18.29 metres)
(13) This area is part of the Balsam Poplar-White Ash association described in station number 7. Black-capped chickadees and cedar waxwings are just two bird species which have been observed perching on the poplar saplings.
(14) A representative sample of all three Poplar species growing in the park are evident in this station. A mature stand of Eastern Cottonwood, a tree characterized by its triangular leaf, is located adjacent to the trail. Balsam Poplar and Trembling Aspen are the other two Poplars in this area. Trembling Aspen can be identified by its small, only 2" (5.08 cm) diameter, nearly circular leaves. Balsam Poplar leaves are larger, up to 5" (12.69 cm) in diameter, are egg-shaped, and have distinctive reddish resin blotches on them.
(15) The diversity of vegetation on the Blair's Grove Nature Trail enables it to supply food and cover for a variety of fauna. White-tailed deer, Eastern Cottontail, Chipmunks, and Garter snakes have all been sighted in this region.
(16) The small wetland you see in the clearing surrounded by Cedar and Birch trees is yet another distinct habitat along the Blair's Grove Nature Trail. This moist area retains standing water until early summer and supports the growth of Canary Grass, rushes and sedges. Please do not disturb the wetland by walking in or near the wet region.
(17) The opening in the canopy provides full sun conditions ideal for the proliferation of the blue coloured Great Lakes Wheat Grass ( Elymus lanceolatus spp. Psammophilus). This grass is rare in Ontario and in Canada. It is very localized in Ontario, only occurring along the shorelines of Lake Huron, Michigan and Superior. It is an important sand binder and dune stabilizer due to its ability to spread rapidly by underground rhizomes, forming a mat of vegetation that reduces erosion by wind.
(18) The dune grass providing thick ground cover around this interpretive station is Long-Leaved Reed Grass ( Calamovilfa longifolia var. magna ). This species is not as localized as Great Lakes Wheat Grass, but it is also endemic of the Great Lake shoreline and is rare in Ontario as well as Canada. Different types of dune stabilizing species have varying tolerances to trampling pressures: it takes only a few passes by an average-sized adult to kill mosses and a few brittle lichens, while 50 passes are all that is required to prevent the recovery of even colonized grass species, such as Great Lakes Wheat Grass and Long-Leaved Reed Grass. Please respect this fact by adhering to the trail systems and avoiding damage to the surrounding environment.
Compiled by: Brian Folmer, B.L.A. Graham Taylor, B.Sc. Margaret Wysman, B.Sc.