By Tina Patterson
4/17 Tuesday morning: The day started with promise, clear and cool as we headed out to meet steward Larry Detter at the Rizor Memorial Sanctuary. What a nice surprise to see he had made up very professional signs directing people to the sanctuary, and then we were treated to even more surprises as carloads of people kept arriving. Initially we thought that if 5 people joined us for a weekday hike it would be a success, so we were not prepared for the 30 energetic hikers who could not wait to hit the trails. Larry, a retired school teacher turned out to be a very impressive guide who led us through the beautiful 20-acre sanctuary. A highlight of the tour was seeing a bridge that Larry and a group of friends had built over crystal clear Cornell Creek completing it just in time for our visit. At one point the group split in two each going a different way up a pine ridge, crossing in the middle and coming back to our starting point.
A creative and fun way to keep people engaged. Having John Smith, a birder and naturalist, along was an added bonus as he was also able to be an excellent resource.
With its interconnected and well-marked trails, bridges, streams, and multiple habitats, Rizor seemed like much more than 20 acres to us. This sanctuary is jam packed with interesting plants and animals. Larry told a story of seeing coyote cubs on the sanctuary and how special that moment was to him. A screech owl is using the sanctuary as well as many other birds including wild turkey. We heard a leopard frog calling from one of the wet areas. The butterflies, especially red admirals’, were flying. Patches of wildflowers were noted, and the first of the golden ragwort were in bloom.
But the trees and shrubs dominate this sanctuary’s various habitats. In the southern floodplain forest you can find tamarack, swamp white oak, basswood, blue beech, ironwood, highbush cranberry, nannyberry, elderberry, hazelnut, ninebark, and red-osier dogwood. In the upland areas are white and red oak, black cherry, big tooth aspen, shagbark hickory, sugar and red maple, serviceberry, flowering dogwood, witch hazel, and maple leaved viburnum.
As soon as our Rizor hike was complete Dave hopped into his car, and thanks to Mapquest, quickly reached the 245-acre Timberland Swamp. The largest MNA sanctuary in southeast Michigan, Timberland is truly a “must see”. There we met up with Walt Kummer, one of MNA’s most dedicated stewards, who has cared for Timberland for more than 27 years! While we had hoped to hike here on Sunday, due to the threatening weather that day we decided for the sake of safety to postpone our visit until today.
For those who were lucky enough to change their schedules and join us, we found what an amazing experience a swamp hike is, and when it is highly suggested to wear waterproof boots we all learned there is a good reason. Walt certainly knows his swamp, and the group following him was delighted to experience this eco-system with a true expert. Some of the group decided (regrettably) that after almost two hours of hiking they had to head back to the parking lot, but others enthusiastically went on even further with Walt. We saw our first snake on the trail thanks to the sharp eyes of Maura Jung, and after looking the brown snake over we quickly released it back into the muck. If anyone wants a picture of Tina kissing a snake please contact the office and they will share it with you. We were sorry to have to say goodbye to the swamp and Dick and Marianne Glosenger who had to head back home and had been our unofficial photographers for our first three showcase sanctuaries.
Walt not only is a dedicated steward but is very knowledgeable about the sanctuary, the forest ecology of the swamp, and the island of beech maple forest that exists here. He explained how farmers once tried to grow potatoes there but did not succeed because of many wet years. One can still see their attempts to drain a portion of the swamp by the semi-straight streams that are now again part of the swamp ecosystem. He explained that once 10% of the trees were ash, but they have all died by now at the hands of the emerald ash bore; and indeed, many of the fallen trees were ash.
He also explained how shallow-rooted trees in swamps were and can be blown down quite easily. These trees give much back to the ecosystem, as they form vernal pools at the root bases, and as the logs decay they support life and nourish the soil. This sanctuary was once covered in wildflowers, but they are in decline in large part due to excessive deer browse. He explained that MNA is now starting a deer browse management program there in hopes of turning this decline around. In spite of the deer, we saw many wildflowers, including acres of sedges and skunk cabbage dotted with the yellow of marsh marigolds, white trillium, dutchman’s breeches, trout lily, may apple, spring beauties, and violets.
There are still many opportunities to join us on the Odyssey Tour! Visit the MNA website for a complete list of upcoming dates. We hope to see you there!