South of the downtown core, in a slow suburban area, the trees give way to an interesting sight. The ground underfoot loses the grass, becoming sandier, and the view gives way to reveal Piney Sand Dune.
The dune is located at the corner of Pineland Ave and Vaan Dr. It’s the only inland sand dune in Ottawa and has survived for an impressive amount of time – it dates back to the ice ages, some 10, 000 years. The dunes were created the usual way – in the waning years of the ice age the area used to be an inland sea that eventually drained and changed until only the dunes were left.
The dunes and surrounding forest became a conservation area in 1984 when donated to the NCC by Mr. Pinhey.
As one can expect from a unique ecosystem, there are several plants and animals that can only be found in this location. As can also be expected, it’s an environment that has required some special care in order to survive.
Biodiversity conservation was responsible for its restoration in 2011. In 2012 a non-profit, Pinhey Dunes Watch, took over stewardship of the area. Without this work it would probably take only a decade for the dune to disappear, taking its unique ecosystem with it.
The Biodiversity Conservancy maintains a list of the species that can only be found locally in this location, most of which are insects, beetles, and butterflies, along with specialized plants. The Ghost Tiger beetle that blends into the sand where it lives; the Antlion beetle that has a trapping method for hunting and eating ants; Carex rugosperma a grass that can only grow in sandy soil; Star Fungus, which grows primarily around the edges of dunes; the Pinklady Slipper Orchid which has a symbiotic relationship with fungus in the area and would not survive transplantation efforts.
There used to be thriving spider populations as well but an increase in herbicide usage nearby during the 80s led to their disappearance.
It’s an interesting relic from a different time – for those who like to explore the area they live in and find unexpected treasures in their backyard, Pinhey Sand Dune certainly fits the bill. An unexpected geographic feature tucked away, hidden unless you know where to look.