From The Archives: Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary

Prior to the publication of Michigan Nature magazine, MNA sent out quarterly newsletters to members and supporters. We will be taking a look at some of the newsletter’s feature stories in our new From the Archives series. 

Every Sanctuary Has a Story: Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary

by Katherine Hollins, Regional Stewardship Organizer

Published in the July 2011 edition of the MNA newsletter

Harol Warnes

Harold Warnes

The Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary is a wooded oasis amidst the suburban jungle and open agriculture in Macomb County. In addition to providing important habitat for various flora and fauna, the sanctuary serves as a wonderful spot for people to take their families out for recreation or for nature enthusiasts to study species amidst the hustle and bustle of Shelby Township.

The sanctuary was originally part of an 1833 land grant from President Andrew Jackson. It never left the possession of the Wilcox and Warnes families before being donated to the MNA in 1975 by Harold Warnes. Historically, the southern two-thirds of this 44.8 acre sanctuary were never grazed and only faced selective logging. The northern portion was last farmed in 1957, and now serves as a perfect example of a successional forest. As you walk the trails, you will notice the young forest, thick with undergrowth, gives way to a more open, mature forest to the south.

“It’s an exceptionally special place,” says Kurt Jung, an MNA Trustee and nature enthusiast. After he attended a recent Wilcox-Warnes volunteer day, Kurt encourages everyone to walk through the old woods of Wilcox-Warnes “with its commanding oak and tulip trees and quiet stream.”

Margaret Moran, long-time steward of the sanctuary, fondly remembers spending time there over the past decades. “The trees are gorgeous there, and I am thrilled with the birds. I once watched a turkey vulture stalk around picking up sticks and saw a great horned owl on a nest. I especially enjoy listening for the ethereal song of the wood thrush,” she says. “I hope those things will last in the sanctuary as they last in my memory.”

Fall colors at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo by Jeff Ganley.

Fall colors at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo by Jeff Ganley.

Without Harold Warnes’ generous land donation, MNA may never have acquired a sanctuary in Macomb County.

And although the stately tulip poplars may first draw your attention, keep an eye out for American beech, red maple, white ash, various oaks, basswood, yellow birch, black cherry, shagbark hickory, sassafras, pin cherry, prickly ash, spicebush, serviceberry and flowering dogwood trees and saplings. Spring wildflowers including trillium, dwarf ginseng, foamflower, hepatica, may-apple, and showy orchis can also be found here, along with fringed and bottle gentians later in the year.

You can spend time here searching for frogs and salamanders that make their homes in the vernal pools throughout the sanctuary, or study creek ecology and rest near our excellent bridge. As our Trustees, stewards, staff and members urge, please come out to learn about this lovely forest sanctuary and the communities it supports.

For a schedule of upcoming events, visit the MNA website.

A Leisurely Hike Through Wilcox-Warnes

By Tina Patterson

4/ 18 Wednesday: What a perfect day for hiking: clear blue skies and rising temperatures at the only MNA sanctuary in Macomb County, the birthplace of MNA.  Welcoming us with a big smile to the 45-acre sanctuary was 10-year steward Martha Wolfe. With a brand new parking lot and new signage, Wilcox-Warnes has a fascinating history. Originally part of a land grant signed by Andrew Jackson in 1833 and remaining in the same family until it was transferred to MNA in 1975, this is a very special place to spend a morning or afternoon.  Today’s hike should have been called the “getting to know you” hike as everyone was in a chatty mood and quickly buddied up and made new friends.  Robert Golda, founder of “Hiking Michigan” (a group new to most of us), joined us for the hike and was a most welcome addition. Bob had helped promote the Wilcox-Warnes hike, he knew the sanctuary well, and a number of his members met up with us and learned about MNA. We hope to see them at more of our events. Paul Messing, who is 4 for 4 on our hikes, delighted the group with a Lego creation of the sanctuary – we think he should win a prize for that contribution alone.

Lego Wilcox-Warnes

Paul Messing's very creative LEGO model of Wilcox-Warns. Photo: Dave Wendling

No one seemed in a hurry as we strolled leisurely along the well-kept trails, sharing information and pointing out the many delights that we found.  Martha explained that the southern two-thirds of the sanctuary were never grazed and only saw selective logging, whereas the northern portion was last farmed in 1957 and now serves as an example of a young succession forest.  As we walked the trails, we noticed the transition from the young forest, with trees small in diameter and thick undergrowth, to a more open, mature forest to the south with many larger trees – some of which may be more than 100 years old – including many tulip trees, beautiful beech trees, and large cherry trees.  The largest tree that we saw was a massive red oak.  We also noted many large trees that had blown down and were in various stages of decay, creating many microhabitats essential to a healthy forest. In addition, this mature floodplain forest supports a large number of shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, birds, and amphibians.  We saw many ferns just starting to unroll from their fiddleheads, white trilliums, wild geranium, buttercups, violets, and dwarf ginseng, among others.

Dowagiac Woods

Dowagiac Woods is known for its fantastic display of wildflowers. Photo: MNA Archives

This sanctuary survives in spite of being just 26 miles from downtown Detroit and it would surely have become a subdivision or strip mall were it not for the generosity of Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes, who gave this priceless sanctuary to MNA for continued protection.

This completes the first segment of the Odyssey, and interest is growing by leaps and bounds. After a brief rest, we will start our second segment in southwest Michigan beginning with the fantastic wildflowers and ferns at Dowagiac Woods on April 29, followed by a BBQ after the hike on Sunday. We hope to see some of our old friends and many new friends, so please RSVP. On Monday we will visit the Hamilton Coastal Plain Marsh with steward Charlie Goodrich, and Tuesday we will be at the Wade Memorial.

For more photos from the Wilcox-Warnes Odyssey visit, check out the MNA Flickr and be sure to read the fantastic write-up in the Shelby-Utica News.

Volunteers Make Wilcox-Warnes Work Day a Success

By Megan Clute

On Saturday, March 10th, MNA members and volunteers had the opportunity to help clean up the Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary by participating in a Volunteer Day devoted to ridding the sanctuary of invasive species. Approximately 6-8 community members and first-time volunteers spent this warm March day removing buckthorn from the sanctuary to protect the native plant life.

Volunteers help to remove invasive species at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo: Katherine Hollins

According to MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer, Katherine Hollins, participants were able to remove a large amount of young buckthorn by hand-pulling, as well as using saws and herbicides for the bigger plants. As an invasive species to the sanctuary, buckthorn provides a threat to other plants by producing shade that prevents other vegetation from growing. Buckthorn can also crowd out other plant life, which can kill native species. According to Hollins, buckthorn is always growing in this sanctuary, as “seeds can stay viable for 8 years.” Because of this, MNA is always looking for new volunteers and participants for workdays at Wilcox-Warnes as well as the many other sanctuaries across the state. For a list of upcoming Volunteer Days and other MNA events, please visit the MNA Events Calendar.

Macomb County’s Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary has been an MNA property since 1975, but was originally part of a land-grant awarded by Andrew Jackson in 1833. As one of the MNA’s Showcase Sanctuaries, Wilcox-Warnes is a sanctuary that features a diverse habitat, with areas containing both mature and mesic-southern forests. Other interesting characteristics of this sanctuary include its distinct plant and animal life. With tulip trees, monkeyflowers, warblers, and even great horned owls, this sanctuary is sure to create a unique experience for each visitor.

LEGO Map of Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary in Macomb

Check it out! MNA Emissary Paul Messing created a scale model of Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary out of LEGOS!

Wilcox Warnes in Lego Form

What a cool and creative way to show off one of our Showcase Sanctuaries! Great job, Paul!

If you’d like to visit Wilcox Warnes, we have a Volunteer Day planned this Saturday (March 10) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the sanctuary, located in Shelby Township. Visit our website or call 517-655-5655 to learn more!