Chaumont Barrens Tour

Join local naturalist Julie Covey for a 1.7 mile walk on the trail at the Chaumont Barrens to look for native flora and fauna in the unique alvar environment of Jefferson County. The name may be barrens, but it is anything but in the springtime when flowers and birdsong abound. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes – preferably hiking boots, bring binoculars, a camera and water.  We will meet at the barrens. Saturday, June 4th, 9 to 11 am. 

A Closer Look at Alvar Barrens

Alvar barrens are highly unique, prairie-like landscapes that rest atop a foundation of limestone bedrock. Scientists disagree on the reason there is so little soil on alvars—they may have been swept away during a cataclysmic drainage of glacial waters, or swallowed up by abundant fissures in the limestone. 

In any case, what remains is a flat rocky terrain of grasslands, limestone woodlands, cedar forests, pavement barrens and globally rare plant communities. Alvar communities are adapted to survive extreme conditions: shallow soils, regular spring flooding, and summer drought. 

This particular landscape developed after the last glacier retreated from this area some 10,000 years ago. Meltwater pummeled the landscape, cutting deep fissures into the bedrock. Over time, a striking, linear pattern of vegetation – including many prairie-type plants that are rare in New York – grew on this shallow soil. The resulting vegetation mosaic includes fossilized bedrock, deep fissures, rubbly moss gardens, and patches of woods, shrub savannas, and open grasslands.

The bedrock found throughout Chaumont Barrens is about 450 million years old. Scientists say that at that time, Chaumont was at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea near the equator.

If you look closely, you can find the remains of primitive marine animals, such as cephalopods, that lived in the ocean. These creatures were the top predator of the marine food chain and are related to the modern-day squid and octopus.

Animals: Chaumont Barrens supports a wide range of wildlife, including porcupine, coyote, prairie warbler, clay-colored sparrow, scarlet tanager, golden-winged warbler, upland sandpiper, eastern towhee, whip-poor-will, common yellowthroat, black and white warbler, and cedar waxwing. 

Plants: In spring, peaking around mid-June, visitors can enjoy a diverse succession of native wildflowers in bloom, especially prairie smoke, which can be seen nowhere else in the northeast. Many other plants make Chaumont Barrens their home: prairie smoke, blue phlox, bloodroot, balsam ragwort, yellow lady’s slipper, ram’s head, early buttercup, reindeer lichen, white cedar, white spruce, and white pine.