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Oak Savanna - A Thumbnail Park History

The variety of habitats in Pinery help make the park a unique place.  The protection of these habitats is just one example of how Ontario Parks helps to preserve Ontario's ecological diversity through its system of provincial parks. One of the unique habitats in Pinery is the Oak Savanna.

In recent history, management and protection have been the dominant factor in the preservation of Pinery's natural environment. This wasn't always the case. Two of the major themes of Pinery's history have been fortune and circumstance. Pinery has been able to escape development a number of times.

Early settlers avoided agricultural development in the park because the sandy soils in the park made for poor farmland. Development of the town site of Grand Bend was spurred by the construction of a sawmill.

Later, in 1929 American developer Frank Salter wanted to transform the area into a million-dollar resort with golf course, clubhouse and yacht harbor but could not generate the financial support to complete the project; once again saving the area around Pinery.

The land for Pinery Provincial Park was purchased in 1957 and opened to the public in 1959 to provide recreational opportunities. The enormous popularity of Pinery attracted over 1.5 million visitors annually and placed pressure on the fragile environment.

Based on forestry practices of the early 1960s, pine plantations were established in the park.  Pressure was created on the Oak Savanna by planting almost 3 million pines.  Managers of the day, unfortunately, viewed the open nature of this ecosystem as degraded.  Forest fires within the park were also suppressed.

Using a prescribed burn to mimic the natural forest fires normally caused by lightning.
It was not until the 1980s that it was realized how rare and fragile the park's Oak Savanna ecosystem was. This globally rare habitat is a transition zone between prairie grasslands and oak forests that is kept stable by periodic forest fires. Over 99.93% of the Oak Savanna in the world has been devastated or altered. However, through deliberate management techniques such as prescribed burns and extensive pine cutting programs, Pinery has restored its Oak Savanna ecosystems. Pinery now protects almost 50% of the remaining Oak Savanna in the world!

 

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