Lonely Planet Writer

More steps made to preserve Frontenac Arch, Ontario's last remaining nature highway to the USA

It’s just a small strip of land, little more than ten kilometres in width. But Canada’s Frontenac Arch packs an incredible amount of wildlife within its narrow confines – so much so that it is being called nature’s highway between the USA and Canada.

Fontenac Arch can bee seen from the International space Station
North America at night. Image courtesy of NASA.

The land is the densest forest in the province of Ontario, a last remaining outpost of the wilderness that once covered large parts of the continent. Frontenac Arch is even visible from the International Space Station as a slim sliver of darkness in the bright lights in the region. Now, the popularity of the region for walking and hiking is spreading further afield as attempts are made to preserve the entire region.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has just taken ownership of six large tracts of land across the Frontenac Arch to keep it as a wilderness preserve. One of the parcels of land was donated by its owner to help them protect the green belt that runs from New York’s Adirondack Mountains to the Algonquin Highlands north of the border.
Gary Bell of the NCC told Lonely Planet that ironically what had helped preserve the area was the fact it was of little use for agriculture.

Forest scene at Fontenac Arch
Deer in the forest at Fontenac Arch. Image by Nature Conservancy of Canada.

He said: “It’s really poor land, hard scrabble polished rock with shallow soils. It wasn’t good for much … people cut trees and back in the day when you could make a living off a small farm, people got by, but eventually it just became impossible. “In the last twenty years, most of the farms have gone back to forest. And so today the Frontenac Arch is the most heavily forested part of Southern Ontario.

“You can see it from the space station, there is this dark band from the Adirondacks and up to Algonquin. It’s so distinctive and important to see this little narrow green band when everything else has been chopped up and turned to agriculture and human development.”

Fontenac Arch's Red Maple Swamp
Red Maple Swamp, Freeman property. image courtesy of Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The area is alive with flora and fauna, especially reptiles and birds that are found few other places.
“It is one of the most biologically diverse areas in all of Canada,” said Gary Bell, “and that’s why we have concentrated resources in acquiring big pieces of land to make sure that it stays [that way], trying to create a string of pearls.”

The area is getting increasingly popular with visitors not just from the nearest major cities of Toronto and Ottawa, but much further afield. Among the rare species that call the Frontenac Arch home are endangered Blanding’s turtles, and an array of other creatures from the same family. Also found there, and unusual to Canada, are gray rat snakes, Ontario’s only lizard, the five lined skink, and the smallest species of heron, the least bittern.