Much of the Beaver Hills contains wetlands and small lakes that were formed as the glacier that produced the moraine disintegrated and melted, leaving shallow aquatic habitat.
Where does the water go?
Many people living in the Beaver Hills have noticed that water levels in lakes, wetlands and creeks are low. This is because the moraine has suffered from drought conditions for the better part of the past decade. Most of the Beaver Hills wetlands and lakes are shallow and maintained by precipitation so when there is a drought, effects on water levels are noticed in a relatively short amount of time.
In addition to recent droughts, the moraine as a whole acts as a groundwater recharge area, as few of the wetlands or lakes actually have outflows. Instead, water percolates through the underlying sediment into aquifers which feed into regional aquatic features like Cooking Lake, Beaverhill Lake and the North Saskatchewan River.
What about water quality?
The limited research available suggests that most lakes and wetlands in the area fall within normal bounds for parameters such as nutrients, metals, pH, etc. The wetlands and lakes in the Beaver Hills provide important water filtration function for surface run-off due to precipitation and spring snowmelt. Healthy, undisturbed wetlands are important for local and regional water quality.
Rare & Unique Features
Dominated by the arrowgrass family, they are found along Elk Island National Park’s eastern boundary and south of Walter Lake.
The evaporation of ground water at these locations contributes to the accumulation of soluble salts at the surface. Poorly drained, these soils support a unique community of alkali grasses. Publicly accessible soap holes are located in Elk Island National Park on the east side of the Hayburger Trail.
Needle-Leafed Evergreen and Deciduous Wetlands
These swamps consist of a mix of white spruce, black spruce and larch. The only wetland of its type in Western Canada, it is found in various locations throughout the Beaver Hills, including the northern section of Elk Island National Park.
Spruce Islands of Astotin Lake
Large mature stands of native white spruce grow on several islands in Astotin Lake. These unique areas escaped the effects of fire and browsing by ungulates. They are important habitat for some species.
Old Growth Mixed Wood Forest
The most representative areas of old growth mixedwood forests are found in the northern part of Elk Island National Park and on the islands of Cooking Lake. Loss of these small, localized habitats would be devastating for certain birds species.
A small, isolated stand of jack pine grows west of the parkway, south of the turnoff to the Elk Island National Park administration building. Recent surveys located only one living jack pine in this stand.
The Sand Hills
Sandy soils are naturally exposed in three areas of Elk Island National Park—southeast of Moss Lake; the southwest corner of the Wood Bison Trail, known locally as the Blueberry Hills; and the west side of Walter Lake. The Blueberry Hills, where soil conditions have turned the aspen bark white, are of particular interest.
White Birch Communities
White birch communities are rare in the area. They occur in closed stands and are prominent on the west side of Tawayik Lake in Elk Island National Park.
Natural Licks and Ground Water Springs
Various springs are located throughout the Beaver Hills and provide a source of minerals for animals like deer and moose. The water chemistry of the springs also helps support unique vegetation.