Nature's meeting place
Fragrant evergreen forests, wind-swept prairies, steep mountains and deep lakes meet in Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada, where plants and animals from the humid Pacific Northwest mingle with those of the prairie and northern forests.
No protected area of similar size in the Rocky Mountains has as much ecological diversity as Waterton Lakes National Park. The park represents a small portion of the Crown of the Continent where ecosystems from north, south, east and west converge at the narrowest point in the Rocky Mountain chain.
Watersheds meet here too, supporting migration and dispersal of plants and animals. From Waterton, water flows north then east into the Saskatchewan River system, across the plains, and through the northern forests into Hudson's Bay.
Movement on the Lewis thrust fault gave rise to the park's abrupt meeting of mountains and prairie. Powerful forces shoved colourful rock formations, including Waterton's unique red and green rock, toward the sky. Since that time, the ancient rock has continually been eroded and moved from high elevations to be deposited on the plains below.
Waterton's mountains also intercept the weather from both the east and west, making it one of the wettest and windiest places in Alberta.
A mosaic of fascinating plant communities, including more than 1000 vascular plants, is found within the park. The warm, windswept habitats of Waterton allow many plants normally found only in prairie grasslands to thrive in a wide elevational range, from prairie to mountaintop.
Grasslands reach into mountain valleys, sweeping up their lower slopes. This meeting of plant communities is a key example of why Waterton supports abundant and highly visible wildlife.
The park has also become a meeting place of people and cultures.
There is a long history of Aboriginal hunting and gathering along Waterton's lakes, in and over its mountains. Present day hiking trails now follow historic routes over mountain passes. Ranchers and farmers now raise cattle and cultivate the surrounding land. Roads bring industry - oil and gas and logging - and visitors. Annual park visitation of over 400,000 people affects the park's landscape and wildlife.