The Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve consists of 1990 hectares (about 5000 acres) of crown land south-east of Bala, which is administered by the Province of Ontario. The first of its kind in Canada, the Torrance Barrens is now officially recognized as a "Dark Sky Reserve." The geology of the landscape is characterized by low ridges of Precambrian Shield, which was formed approximately 2.5 billion years ago.
The rich variety of vegetation, the geology and the large size of the Barrens have resulted in a diversity of plants and animals, including some provincially and nationally rare species such as the Southern Bog Lemming and the elusive Five Lined Skink, Ontario's only lizard. One might also find the threatened Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, the uncommon Eastern Hog nose Snake and several species of birds and mammals that are at the northern limit of their distribution.
The area is home to many erraticsÃ¢â¬âlarge boulders that were dropped off by receding glaciers.
The troughs between the rock ridges are filled with wetlands and small ponds and lakes. The wetlands are diverse, with dense open-water marshes, peat lands, grassy bog mats, floating shrub mats and swamps dominated by mature conifer trees or shrub thickets. Beavers are active in many wetlands.
The lunar landscape of the Barrens is characterized by low ridges of Precambrian bedrock, separated by wetlands and peat-filled hollows, scattered boulders and even a little soil. The prevalence of bare bedrock is the direct result of wave-washing by the receding waters of the ancient, glacial, Algonquin Lake and Nipissing Lake. The nationally-rare Eastern Bluebird and CooperÃ¢â¬â¢s Hawk can often be spotted on the Barrens and the elusive Wippoorwill and Nighthawk can be heard in late evening. Many diverse vegetative species grow here. The Eastern Massasauga RattlesnakeÃ¢â¬âa threatened speciesÃ¢â¬âcan also on occasion be found here, as can OntarioÃ¢â¬â¢s only lizard, the Five Lined Skink. Amateur astronomers have identified the Barrens as an ideal place to view the night skies with little light infiltration from urban areas.
THE DARK SKY RESERVE
Once the Conservation Reserve was established, naturalists realized that the Torrance Barrens had a previously unrecognized attribute. Because of an absence of light pollution at night, it was a remarkable place to view the natural beauty of the starry sky. Protected or undeveloped land virtually surrounds the Reserve, acting as an additional buffer from urban lighting. This combination of attributes makes the Barrens unique in Ontario. In 1999, the Ontario government acknowledged night-sky viewing as an important use of the Torrance Barrens and added the designation of Dark Sky Reserve to its title. The announcement received national and international attention. This is indeed a special place to view the universe.
The metamorphosed rock is more than two billion years old. It has been under mountains, under water, under miles of ice and under tropical jungles many times in its history. Today, it is under your feet as you look up into the cosmos and appreciate the immensity of time and space. To claim this find, place yourself at the posted coordinates and identify the glacial feature you can see both north and to the south.
The dark sky designation was a project was developed by Muskoka Heritage Foundation director Peter Goering in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources, with support from the Township of Muskoka Lakes Ratepayers Association and the Township of Muskoka Lakes. The growing awareness of light pollution of the night sky and the inability of large sectors of the population to experience and enjoy astronomical events has created a demand for an area where the dark sky can be preserved.
The Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve
A combination of ancient rock outcrops, peaceful wilderness and rare plants and wildlife makes MuskokaÃ¢â¬â¢s Torrance Barrens a unique Conservation Reserve. In 1999, the BarrensÃ¢â¬â¢ nighttime star-filled darkness was designated by the Ontario government as the worldÃ¢â¬â¢s first permanent Dark Sky Reserve Ã¢â¬â a move that recognized the region as a protected space free from intrusion by urban light pollution.
Few natural vistas can match the inspirational panorama of the Milky Way-our home galaxy-arching overhead on a cool, clear summer or early-autumn evening. At the Torrance Barrens, the ancient constellation and planets shine forth in majestic profusion. On occasion, the northern lights (aurora Borealis) are visible Ã¢â¬â often as greenish wisps but sometimes as spectacular curtains of colour. In binoculars, rivers of stars that are completely invisible to the naked eye flow into view. Rich star clusters, wispy nebulas, the cloud banks of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn are all visible with a beginnerÃ¢â¬â¢s telescope.