I respectfully acknowledge that the land in and around Wagner Natural Area is located within the Treaty 6 Territory, the ancestral and traditional territories of the Woodland Cree, Cree, Michif Piyii (Métis), Tsuu T’ina, ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᐊᐢᑭᕀ Nêhiyaw-Askiy (Plains Cree) people. Source: native-land.ca
As I opened my gear closet to gather my hiking and camera gear together for the next days adventures, it felt like I was uncovering relics of a forgotten era. Everything was left exactly as it was since mid-2020 from when I got back from my last hiking trip. (Aside from moving homes of course) There was a fine layer of dust on my totes, snacks were well past their expiration date, my hiking boots definitely need some leather conditioner, hiking clothes were unpacked, but surprisingly my GPS battery was still at 100%. It felt like an eternity since I last opened these totes, and even longer since I stepped out on the trail.
I ended staying up later than expected that night as I was going through everything ensuring that I had what was needed and that my camera gear was ready, and I realized that I am definitely out of practice getting my gear together in record time. (Mainly due to it previously been strewn out across my living space and reasonably ready to go at a moments notice). Needless to say, I didn’t get out as early as I had hoped for which led to an unexpected last minute change of plans.
Initially we had our sights on exploring Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary, as this has been our go-to hike for a number of years. But as we approached the area we could see a plethora of vehicles lined up and parked along both sides of the road (I counted at least 20 on the road while driving past), and this didn’t even include the jam-packed parking lot with more vehicles than should have been in there. It was absolute madness and clearly no one had read the Sanctuary’s visiting guidelines that say: “If the parking lot is full you need to come back another day.” Parking alongside the road is prohibited at the Sanctuary. (When we had gone pre-pandemic, there was maybe 6 vehicles in the parking lot on a busy day).
Without a backup plan, we took a drive down random roads in the area thinking of our next plan. We did not want this day to be just a quick little drive out of the city, we wanted to get some hiking in. It has been long overdue!
Conveniently, I was working on trail research the day before and had a list going of hikes around the Edmonton area and knew I had one listed that was nearby. A few gravel roads and past some cute sheep later, we arrived at Wagner Natural Area to hike the Marl Pond Trail (which is sometimes also known as Wagner’s Bog).
The Marl Pond Trail is an easy, short hike at 1.5 kilometers and takes you through diverse habitats across the Natural Area. First you will walk through a successional meadow, traverse through willow swamp, aspen parkland, a fragrant black spruce forest, white spruce forest, and finally the marl ponds.
The trail is on the South side of Highway 16, so the busy highway traffic can be heard a bit. I wasn’t actively paying attention to the road noise throughout the trail, but did find that I stopped hearing it about mid-meadow and didn’t hear it again until I was closer to the trailhead near the end of my hike.
Along the trail there are numbered posts that point to features of interest that you can follow along in the guide book. (You can pick up a guide book in the box at the large sign at the beginning of the trail, and there is another guide book box near the end of the trail where you can return it once you are done) You can also view the guide online at the Wagner Fen website here. I recommend taking some time to follow along and learn more about the interesting features while on your hike.
According to the guidebook, there are a few animals and insects that can be seen in the area. We weren’t so lucky spotting much during this visit, but we did see a White-Throated Sparrow, a few unidentified Butterflies or Moths, and what I think were possibly baby Water Beetles. The only blooming flora that we had spotted were a couple of butterburs.
A fun fact about Wagner Natural Area: due to the quality and chemistry of the fen groundwater, 16 out of the 24 orchid species that are known to occur in Alberta have been spotted here (the Yellow Lady’s Slipper is one of them), it is also home to several carnivorous plants. (I had no idea that carnivorous plants grew around here, so neat!) I absolutely cannot wait to head back in a couple weeks to check out the trail in it’s summer glory!
Hiking through the unique landscape that this trail showcases was a much needed break from the everyday city life. I felt so relaxed and forgot about the stresses of everything going on in the world. I was able to be one with nature, soaking up the sunshine and just taking in the moment.
Although, during this hike I was definitely reminded that I am out of practice with photography. I guess that is what a global pandemic does when you don’t get out and photograph as much (or at all) as you wanted, and I didn’t get any “winning” shots as I had hoped for this time around. And I totally forgot to take out my macro lens on my iPhone to shoot some detail shots as intended. Whoops! I guess I know what I will be focusing on this summer.
Until next time, chase the stoke!
- More information about Wagner Natural Area can be found on the Wagner Fen Website.
- The area is free to visit, but they accept donations for the upkeep of the area and for scientific research. (Donation boxes are located on the trail, or you can find additional information about donating via cheque or e-transfer on their website.)
- Trail details can be found on AllTrails.