Situated west of Edmonton on Highway 16, Wagner Natural Area is a provincial nature reserve that’s home to an abundance of wildlife and biodiversity that connects its visitors to the beauty of Alberta’s natural habitats. Spanning more than 250 hectares and hosting a scenic 1.5 km walking trail, it exists to conserve all that biological diversity for scientific, educational, and research purposes.
“We’re proud that we can share the area with the broader community, said David Ealey, President of the Wagner Natural Area Society, “and they can recognize that there is something special about it.”
What makes Wagner Natural Area so special is its fens–a type of wetland that forms when groundwater rises to the surface–giving the area a strong source of water and nutrients. Fens represent a small sample of Alberta’s boreal forest, and they exist due to the aquifers formed during the last ice age, over 10,000 years ago. Those aquifers allow groundwater to flow underground, which in turn seeps downhill into St. Albert’s Big Lake.
The Marl Pond walking trail is open for visitors, but because of the wetland area, the trail can become incredibly mushy and filled with mosquitoes. Waterproof footwear and insect repellant are highly recommended. Along the trail, you’re likely to see a variety of wildlife such as willow swamps, black spruce forests, and marl ponds themselves.
“The wetland provides suitable conditions for the growth of a lot of different vegetation, which is epitomized by our orchids,” says Ealey. The area hosts 16 of Alberta’s 24 orchid species–including lady’s slipper and the rare bog adder’s mouth–as well as marsh marigolds, sundews, and butterworts.
Bird watchers can have a field day observing such species as the ruby-crowned kinglet, tree swallow, and yellow warbler known to be found in the area around this time of year. Because of the area’s proximity to the surrounding communities, large mammals from beavers and coyotes to white-tailed deer and even moose are harder to come across.
To combat the spread of COVID-19 earlier this year, Wagner Natural Area canceled all calendar events until further notice, although those who look after the area anticipated that summer visiting hours will be known some time during the summer. The washrooms and picnic shelters on-site are also closed. Signage is set up along the Marl Pond Trail that encourages visitors to practice safe social distancing and clean up after themselves so everyone can enjoy the trail.
Wagner Natural Area was originally discovered by naturalists in the 1940s and was later named after property owner William Wagner, who gave the original parcel of land to the provincial government for protection in 1975. Supervising the natural area is the Wagner Natural Area Society, which was created in 1982 under the Alberta Government’s Societies Act to protect the biological and physical wellbeing of the park.
In 1986, the society joined the Alberta Government’s Volunteer Stewards program. These volunteers maintain exceptional park conditions and foster a commitment to conservation for the park. The society functions to coordinate special events in the natural area, such as guided tours for elementary schools, academic research studies for summer students, and hosting Junior Forest Wardens to help evaluate the growth of the park.
According to Ealey, several thousand visitors annually flock to Wagner Natural Area to experience the array of family-friendly events and wildlife. “We have different visitors for different reasons, and people add so much to their personal wellbeing by being able to connect with a natural area that is special, that is cared for, and that is interesting to experience.”
Wagner Natural Area Visitor Advisory
• Soil moisture count is high, so bring waterproof boots
• Keep dogs on a leash at all times
• Insect repellent is highly recommended
• The area is pedestrian-only, so no bikes, ATVs, etc.
• No sanitation-removal facilities are on-site, so take all garbage with you when leaving
• Additional information: wagnerfen.ca