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Chaumont Barrens Preserve is one of the last and finest examples of alvar grasslands in the world, and is a link in the chain of North American alvars forming an arc from Jefferson County through Ontario, and all the way to northern Michigan.
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. Melt water 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.
A tail-wagging warbler with black streaks down its sides, the prairie warbler is found in scrubby fields and forests throughout the eastern and south-central United States, not on the prairies.
A Long History
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.
The preserve is open daylight hours from early May until early fall. Opening and closing dates depend on the annual flooding cycle. For your safety and protection of the fragile soils and rare plants, please respect closure periods indicated on the parking lot sign. Chaumont Preserve has a self-guided, 1.7-mile trail that is uneven in spots. Use sturdy footwear and please watch your step!
Pale swallow-wort is a dangerously aggressive alien plant that invades limestone-based soils throughout central and western New York. For more detail on this weed and how it may threaten your own property, visit www.swallow-wort.com.
Chaumont Barrens supports a wide range of wildlife, including:
- prairie warbler
- clay-colored sparrow
- scarlet tanager
- golden-winged warbler
- upland sandpiper
- eastern towhee
- common yellowthroat
- black and white warbler
- cedar waxwing
In late May, 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 also make Chaumont Barrens their home:
- prairie smoke
- blue phlox
- balsam ragwort
- yellow lady's slipper
- early buttercup
- reindeer lichen
- white cedar
- white spruce
- white pine
Chaumont Barrens is located in Jefferson, New York, within the Alvar Barrens and Grasslands Priority Conservation Landscape.
From I-81, take exit 47 (Coffeen Street) near Watertown.
- West of the ramp, on NY-12F, about 1.5 miles to Paddy Hill, turn right, cross the Black River, and turn left on NY-12E through Brownville.
- Go several miles on NY-12E, through the intersection at Limerick to Chaumont.
- Take the first right in Chaumont, on Morris Track Road (former County Route 125).
- Go about 3 miles, turn left on Van Alstyne Road just after a small cemetery on the right.
- Go about 1.25 miles to the Chaumont Barrens parking lot on the left.