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Larry Lamb – Cruickston Park

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					Larry Lamb – Cruickston Park

Recap by Michael Frind

Larry Lamb, a seasoned plant expert, adjunct lecturer and ecology-lab supervisor in the
Environmental Studies Faculty at the University of Waterloo, gave a wonderful presentation
regarding the unique landscape and flora and fauna that are found at the Cruickston Park Nature
Reserve. Larry is one of the members of the facility’s Ecological Advisory Team. Many of the
other members on the team are also members of the KW Field Naturalists (three past presidents).

Cruickston Park straddles the Grand River near Blair (northwest of Cambridge), and
encompasses 370 hectares (913 acres). The property was named after the Cruickston Castle, the
ship that brought entrepreneur William Ashton from England in the mid-1800s. The land was
sold to the Wilks family, who over the course of nearly a century used it for breeding cattle and
horses. The land then passed into the hands of the related Keefer family. The latter gifted the
entire property to the University of Guelph, which owned it for a number of decades. The area is
home to rolling farmland, diverse wetlands, rich forests, dolostone alvars, cliffs, as well as
several culturally significant residences.

After being threatened with the prospect of becoming a luxury-housing subdivision or gravel
pits, the land eventually came to be owned by a voluntary organization known as the Cruickston
Charitable Research Reserve. The property, which lies within Cambridge city limits, is now safe
from urban sprawl, although the possibility of arterial roads being bored through the area
remains. The Region of Waterloo has designated the lands as an Environmentally Sensitive
Policy Area. The long-term goal is to use most of the area both for ecological research and for
interpretive-type activities.

After describing the history of this unique property, Larry focused on the incredible geological
and biological diversity that this inherently urban site is home to. His dozens of superbly
composed slides represented two years of careful photography, and they highlighted an
immensely intriguing site that must be seen to be fully appreciated.

The Speed and Grand Rivers have their confluence on the Cruickston Park lands. A regionally
unique river escarpment, fourteen metres high, lines one side of the watercourse. The majestic
limestone cliffs provide an ideal habitat for Bald Eagles. Other intriguing features involving the
limestone include waterfalls, solution caves (Karst topography), and myriad fossils.
Geologically, the escarpment marks the Guelph formation.

The cliffs themselves are covered with Cliffbreak, a plant which grows in small tufts. It is very
hardy, but is also extremely vulnerable to road salt. Other plants that grow on and around the
cliffs include Bladder Fern, Harebell, Columbine, Herb Robert, and Maidenhair Fern. Rare
Lizard’s Tail grows along the shore, at the base of the cliffs. White Trout Lilies carpet the
floodplain. In the fauna department, Cliff Swallows attach their nests directly to the cliff face.

Cruickston Park also is home to alvars. The term “alvar” is Finnish for limestone plain.
Worldwide, these are very special habitats, due both to their rarity and to the life they harbour.
Alvars can be thought of as horizontal limestone cliffs. They tend to be dry, and thus the plants
must have very deeply penetrating roots. At Cruickston, the alvars were, regrettably, used for
grazing. Today, these alvars are slowly returning to their natural state. Indigenously present
alvarian plants include native Crabapple (with roots that extend to a depth that can be ten times
as deep as the plant is high), Hawthorn, Robin Plantain, and Hairy Beardtongue. The elegant
six-pointed white flowers of Zigadenus glaucus can also be found here. The immense variety of
flora evokes the landscape of the Bruce Peninsula.

The forests of Cruickston Park are equally impressive. They were originally described by
surveyor Adrian Marlet, in 1817, as consisting of maple, beech, and elm. It is gratifying to note
that the forests still retain their stately beech and maple trees. Only the elm have been lost, due
to Dutch elm disease. Hackberry, bur oak, Hill’s oak, and bitternut hickory can be found in this
forest, including some record-setting specimens. On the ground, mosses and giant puffballs
abound. Various salamanders and rare snakes live amongst the leaves on the forest floor.

Small portions of Cruickston Park are traversed by the Grand Trunk portion of the Walter Bean
Trail. The trail is fairly well-respected by the general public. Areas not served by trails are off-
limits to all but researchers. Details regarding Cruickston Park can be found on-line at
http://www.cruickston.com.

Heartfelt thanks to Larry Lamb for giving us such a visually enticing and scientifically rich tour
of this unique and storied property.

				
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