The Barrens has long-been appreciated for its natural features, being historically used for a variety of outdoor recreation purposes such as wildlife viewing, snowmobiling, blueberry picking, and astronomy.
However, as the Muskoka area became more popular, local Muskoka resident Mike Silver became convinced that, in order to protect the locally-cherished area from development, the Barrens needed to be formally preserved. In 1997, a cohort of conservationists, which included Silver and the notable Charles Sauriol (responsible for the creation of Hardy Lake Provincial Park), successfully convinced the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to conduct some studies in the area to explore whether it possessed environmental value. The MNR found that the Barrens possessed unique biophysical features, including remnants of ancient, Atlantic coast flora, as well as rare wildlife such as the Massasauga Rattlesnake and Southern Bog Lemming. With picturesque scenery, ecological significance, and numerous recreational opportunities, the Torrance Barrens was certainly worth protecting. On June 06, 1998, the Barrens was officially unveiled as a "Conservation Reserve".
It was well-known within the Muskoka community that, on clear nights, the Barrens was a special place to gaze at the stars. Mike Silver and Peter Goering led the charge to formally protect this astronomical treasure. In 1999, the Barrens became the world's first, permanent Dark Sky Park. The MNR titled it Canada's first "Dark Sky Reserve", while the Royal Astronomical Society offered it the unprecedented title "Dark Sky Preserve". In response to local, grassroots activism, the neighboring towns established by-laws to minimize light pollution preserve the nighttime darkness for future generations.