As the City of Kawartha Lakes defines it, experiential tourism is a form of travel in which the visitor goes beyond the usual mass tourism draws and participates in activities that enable them to experience a place by directly connecting to its history, people and culture.
Visitors can learn new skills, participate in local projects, or work with local masters to create their own masterpiece. By engaging with the locals, visitors experience the authentic hands-on dimensions of a place and its people through storytelling, delicious food and sights that turn to memories to last a lifetime.
Just like the dry stone wall experience, another kind of experiential tourism, Carden Alvar, is a unique Kawartha Lakes’ destination. Located northwest of Lindsay, this is a flat limestone landscape called the Carden Plain. On this vast plain are alvars which occur only on limestone bedrock with little or no soil.
The many native grasses and wildflowers (as well as invertebrate species) found on alvars are very rare. As the Couchiching Conservancy notes, given it is one of the partners protecting this area, “these habitats are globally imperiled, occurring only in the south of Sweden and scattered around the Great Lakes Basin.”
The various kinds of alvar may include cedar trees, juniper shrubs, grasses and forbs, or just open, flat, lichen and mossy rocks, as well as forests and wetlands. They are similar to areas of the Canadian prairies, an ideal habitat for many bird species.
Laurie McCarthy, economic development officer – tourism, for the City, says experiential tourism “is a rising trend.”
She says more tourists are looking for authentic experiences that connect them to the “history, people, culture, food and environment of the place they are visiting,” such as the Carden Alvar nature photography experience, and others.
In this experience participants learn how to “capture the rare birds, wildflowers, and unique landscape of the Carden Alvar and its crucial habitat for the survival of globally rare birds,” according to the City’s website.
This is an opportunity for “expert photographic instruction” with award-winning photographer Arni Stinnissen. Aspiring photographers will hone their photography skills through formal instruction and one-on-one direction in the field.
“Experiential tourism is key to the sustainable growth of the tourism sector here in Kawartha Lakes,” McCarthy tells the Advocate.
She notes that building opportunities for visitors “to create meaning through direct experience” strengthens and connects our communities and increases the economic impact of tourism spending.
“The continued development of experiential offerings allows us to introduce visitors to the stories and hidden gems in Kawartha Lakes that they may otherwise never experience.”
In the case of simply visiting Carden Alvar Plain, without a guided activity, public access is available via two hiking trails along the bordering fence lines. There is parking and washroom facilities at the trail head but hikers are asked to stay on the marked trails for the good of the area.
Carden Alvar is a part of the Kawartha Lakes Arts & Heritage Trail, which was formally launched in 2017 to enhance visitor awareness of the rich heritage and wide variety of museums, historic sites, artist’s studios, and galleries located in Kawartha Lakes. To access locations and information about Arts & Heritage Trail locations go to artsandheritagetrail.com or explorekawarthalakes.com.
For more information contact Debra Soule, economic development officer of Arts, Culture and Heritage at or 705 324 9411, ext. 1498.