Wagner Natural Area


Wagner Natural Area is a 620-acre site south of the Yellowhead Highway between the cities of Edmonton (to the east) and Spruce Grove (to the west). Managed by the Wagner Natural Area Society as its official steward, it provides an oasis of boreal forest diversity, including rich fens and marl ponds, as urban development closes in.

Jones’ Pond, a large marl pond in Wagner Natural Area, looking south. (PCotterill, 2009-06-03)

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Map of the Area

Any maps and map views are for general information only. Do not rely on them for navigation or to determine legal boundaries.

Other Information

NATURE CLOSE TO URBAN CENTRES. Wagner Natural Area is a 251-hectare (620-acre) Natural Area located a few km east of Spruce Grove on the south side of Highway 16. It was originally protected for its rich calcareous fens, a type of peatland, although it encompasses upland plant communities as well, including coniferous and mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, willow shrublands and old fields. It features a 1.2 km Marl Pond Trail loop traversing several plant communities, starting at a parking lot accessed from a service road. Pit toilets and a picnic shelter are accessible from the trail.

ORCHIDS AND MEAT-EATING PLANTS. The site is known for its variety of orchids, its carnivorous plants and brown mosses characteristic of rich fens. It is home to a rich variety of insect life (including mosquitoes) as well as Boreal Toads, Wood Frogs and Boreal Chorus Frogs. It has been managed by a volunteer steward group, the Wagner Natural Area Society, since 1982. The Society has an recreational lease to the site.

SPRING-FED FENS. Wagner lies on the gentle south slope of the shallow valley in which Big Lake, northwest of Edmonton, lies. It exists because springs rich in calcium and iron emerge along this slope and the spring water flows gently downslope, forming patterned fens in places or pooling in marl ponds. These open fens consist of low ridges or islands of vegetation called strings and shallow channels called flarks. Elsewhere the waterlogged soil (which results in the formation of peat) is covered in a dense fen forest of black and white spruce and tamarack trees. Peat cores indicate that the area has existed in more or less its present form for at least 4,000 years.

HISTORY OF PROTECTION. Wagner was purchased by the Alberta Government in 1971 from the farmer-owner Mr. William Wagner as a two quarter-section property. Still popularly known as “Wagner Bog,” it officially became a Natural Area in 1975. The eastern springs were threatened by a proposed extension south of the Villeneuve Highway, 794, in the early 1980s, and Wagner Natural Area Society was initially formed to fight for the Area’s protection. With public support the initiative was successful, and the highway alignment (now Highway 44) was relocated further east. More land was added incrementally to the original 320 acres by the Government, and with the gift of 32 hectares on the west side by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Natural Area reached its present size of 251 hectares (620 acres). 

DEVELOPMENT AND WATER. However, although road development is no longer a threat, the integrity of the fens could be threatened if the groundwater recharge area in the south, which replenishes the aquifer that supplies the springs, is compromised by development.

RESEARCH AND STUDY. Wagner has long been a place for research and study. Over 350 species of vascular plant have been recorded from the Natural Area, with lesser but impressive numbers of mosses, liverwort, lichens and fungi. The fens have been known to naturalists since at least the 1940s, including pioneering botanists Dr. Ezra Moss of the University of Alberta and Dr. George Turner of Fort Saskatchewan. Film photographer Edgar T. Jones of the Alberta Wildlife Foundation and many members of the University were instrumental in gaining formal protection for the Area in the 1970s. Wagner’s eastern fen portion was used by University of Alberta classes for soil and bryophyte studies in the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently Dr. Ben Rostron of the Earth Sciences Department of the University conducted extensive research on Wagner’s hydrology. Over 20 permanent sample plots have been established throughout the Natural Area in order to monitor changes in vegetation. Other studies have included diatoms, amphibians, moths, spiders and orchid occurrences. May Counts of birds and plant species in flower occur at the end of May every year. School classes and scout troops undertake field trips under the guidance of volunteers.

Site Statistics

Site NameWagner
Site TypeNatural Area
SubtypeOrder-in-council (OC)
Natural Region(s)Central Parkland
O.C. No. (Land Ref. Manual)346/04
PASite ID (Map Ref #)142
Site # (Parks Website)570
Total Area218.88 ha. (540.85 ac.)
Steward-Status4. Unknown
Recreation ActivitiesBirding, Hiking – front country
IUCNIII
Operated ByParks Division
Notes and Comments
Statistics and Details for Wagner

References, Further Reading and Links

  1. Information & Facilities – Wagner Natural Area | Alberta Parks.
  2. Wagner Natural Area website.

Further Reading [OPTIONAL]

  • Cotterill, Patsy, 1985. The Wagner Natural Area: Safeguarding a Jewel. Alberta Naturalist, Vol. 15 (2).
  • Cotterill, P. 2006. “The Wagner Natural Area” in Wein, Ross W., ed. Coyotes Still Sing in My Valley: Conserving Biodiversity in a Northern City. pp 180-190. Edmonton, Spotted Cow Press.
  • Hendry, A. “Wagner Natural Area and the Wagner Natural Area Society” in Hitchon, Brian, ed. Preserving our Natural Environment: Celebrating the Centennial of the Edmonton Nature Club. pp. 87-95. Edmonton, Edmonton Nature Club.
  • The Edmonton Naturalist. December 1982. Special Issue: The Wagner Bog. Vol, 10, No. 2. 52 pages. Edmonton, Edmonton Natural History Club.
  • Wagner Natural Area Marl Pond Trail: A Guide to Some of Its Natural Features. 2013. Wagner Natural Area Society.

The following links are provided as a courtesy but are not verified or endorsed by SAPAA. Clicking on the link will cause you to leave the SAPAA website.

[Why don’t we add more photos on the site page, instead of just the blog?]

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