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Designed by Polly Ko

The Northumberland Forest

by Barry King
Cobourg Daily Star and Port Hope Evening Guide
Dec. 13, 2005

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The earliest descriptions of the landscape of Central Northumberland reveal that there actually was no forest where it exists today. Instead, a vast prairie and savannah thrived here, with great swaths of native wildflowers adapted to survival on the glacially deposits of dry sandy soils. Highly valued as prime hunting ground by the indigenous people, these Rice Lake Plains supported a large variety of wildlife. This was the northeastern extreme of North America's tallgrass prairie, and only grew here because of the deep sandy soils that allowed the quick passage of water to the aquifer. Richer soils would have fostered greater forest coverage.

One early visitor in 1795, surveyor William Hambly, described parts as "bushy or burnt plains" and some areas even "having no timber or even bushes". A 1796 survey of the seventh concession of Haldimand Township, by Aaron Greeley, found it "principally covered with oak and pine bushes and now and then a large oak or pine". In 1835, Catherine Parr Trail described the plain's flora as "rivalling any garden in beauty during the spring and summer months". Field botanist, John Macoun, echoed these thoughts in his explorations. It was likely that Aaron Greeley's description of the soil: "light black sand" and "excellent wheat land" that encouraged the cultivation of the plains by European settlers. This succeeded for less than a century, as the fertile layer was quickly exhausted, leaving the farmers unable to grow even enough seed for the next planting season. Many farms were abandoned, leaving areas of eroding sand where prairie had once been the dominant cover, behind them. In 1924, a reforestation program was undertaken to control the erosion. Red and White Pine were planted in an area straddling Hwy. 45. Encompassing more than 2000 hectares, the forest provides a modest logging operation and has a budget of $56,000. With over 40 km of multi-use trails fending their way throughout the forest, it is difficult to imagine the original landscape of windswept tallgrass prairie, with great drifts of wildflowers extending to the horizon.

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