Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to visit forests of the Kawarthas centuries ago, before the transformation of the landscape into family farms, Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park is a great place to explore. The management of this site is remarkable more for what isn’t done that what is. The Burnham family acquired the property in the 1830s, and unlike just about everyone who was trying to make a living by creating a farm from the woods, they left a tract of land as forest.
Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park is managed to allow the forest to just be a forest. Fallen trees are not removed (except from the pathway) and allowed to be part of the evolving forest ecosystem. It is home to many fungal colonies as the timbers feed the growing forest. This drumlin supports many old trees. At the Burnham Woods visitors can witness forest succession in real life: regrowth in openings created by windthrown trees and how the various sites favour certain species. One thing that is striking, compared to some younger forests, is how open the woods are under the forest canopy.
The Burnham Family were members of the Anglican Upper Canada elite. Zacheus (also spelled Zaccheus) Burnham was raised in New Hampshire, and moved to the present day site of Cobourg, where he became a land speculator. Many prominent Upper Canadians dabbled in land, and Burnham was conspicuously successful, arriving with perhaps $100 and becoming one of the most notable gentlemen in the district. His son was a pupil of John Strachan, the Anglican Bishop of Toronto and key figure in the Family Compact. Mark Burnham trained to be a minister, preaching at St. Thomas and later Peterborough. The Reverend’s adventurous son, Zaccheus Jr. returned penniless from the California Gold Rush, only settle as a gentleman farmer on a lot he acquired from his father, and built the Burnham Mansion next to the park. His son, Mark S. Burnham farmed the property, and in 1955 the Provincial Park was founded, after the family donated the land.
On the Trail
Mark. S. Burnham Provincial Park offers visitors a short loop that takes about 15 minutes, and a longer course that is about half an hour.
The Burnham Woods are home to many native trees, including many striking beeches, with their smooth, grey bark. Unfortunately, some visitors carve their initials onto the beeches, which can make them susceptible to Beech Bark disease. It’s hard to believe that such a towering tree may eventually die from such a small scratch.
A Stand of Hemlocks
Hemlocks are much better than other species at growing in dense shade. This stand of hemlocks is located on the north slope of the drumlin, being one of the darkest parts of the forest. These trees can be surprisingly old.
Though at first glance it might seem unsightly, when winds topple mature trees, it provides an opportunity for younger trees to grow in the sunlight that then reaches the undergrowth.
At Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park, fallen trees are not cleaned up, but are allowed to decompose and allow natural regeneration…
And the woods are home to many different fungi.