A Day at Goose Creek

Watching the wind flow through the tall grasses and listening to the birds sing, it is impossible not to let your worries be lifted away and an instant calmness overtake you when you enter Goose Creek Grasslands Sanctuary.

Photo by Carolyn Sundquist

The eight-person volunteer group piled out of our cars and into the beautiful, breezy morning on Monday, July 19.  We were brought together by our desire to help protect MNA’s Goose Creek Grasslands.

The volunteer day, hosted by Eastern Regional Stewardship Organizer, Matt Schultz, had our group working in the northern section of the property removing the invasive glossy buckthorn plant.

Clippers in hand and knee-high boots on our feet, we began our walk to meet up with the other half of the group, who were lucky enough to kayak. They paddled in on Goose Creek, which runs throughout the property and provides an easy, but curvy route to where we were working.

Pitcher Plant

Photo by Carolyn Sundquist

While the walk wasn’t as fast, it was just as enjoyable. We observed native plants such as the pitcher plant, which is carnivorous. Plants have been forced to adapt to the nutrient poor soil in this sanctuary. The pitcher plant, for example, traps curious insects in its pitcher-like leaves. The insect is then stuck at the bottom of the pitcher and digested for its nutrients. Matt also pointed out non-native plants, like the well-known purple loosestrife on the boundaries of the property.

The ground was spongy under my boots as we hiked about half a mile to our destination. I blindly followed Matt through the knee-high terrain, as there wasn’t a direct trail leading us to our work spot.

Photo by Carolyn Sundquist

Once everyone was together again, they worked furiously to cut down the buckthorn bushes with clippers. Once cut down, the herbicide applicator was used on the remaining stumps to prevent re-growth.  Look for the next entry to learn how to make an applicator of your own!

After a quick break for lunch, a spotting of a garter snake climbing a tree, and some more work on the buckthorn, we made our way back to the cars and said our goodbyes.

While we didn’t take care of the entire glossy buckthorn problem at Goose Creek Grasslands Sanctuary, we did put a dent in it. If everyone made a dent, we could keep the buckthorn from invading our rare prairie fen!

Another volunteer day will be happening at Goose Creek Grasslands Sanctuary soon, so keep checking our event calendar!

Huckleberry and blueberry’s cousin

It’s not a huckleberry, and it’s not a blueberry. It’s Vaccinium cespitosum Michx., the dwarf bilberry.

Compared with its relatives, the dwarf bilberry could be considered a dwarf—it tends to grow dense mats close to the ground. The bilberry plant does this by making clones of itself which are all attached either directly or indirectly, to the original parent plant. Some mats have reached sizes several meters in diameter.

In Michigan, the dwarf bilberry was first discovered in 1980. Today, it only exists as a few individuals at nine sites located in four Michigan counties and Isle Royale. The bilberry prefers dry habitats with sandy soils in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The plant also resides in dry sand prairie mixed with dry northern forest accompanies by seasonal moisture that resembles meadow habitat.

Despite its threatened status within the state, the dwarf bilberry also spans Canada and the northern part of the United States, specifically Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, the bilberry has also migrated to Colorado, California and some southwestern states.

The bilberry has small, light pink or white cups for flowers which bloom from late May to early July. The flowers are supported by green foliage with small leaves shaped like rounded fan blades.

Bilberries are arranged on the plant in singles or pairs. Blueberries, in contrast, are found in a cluster and display larger leaves. Blueberries also exhibit a deep blue color while the skin of a bilberry is often almost black with a hint of blue. Fruit is visible from late June to August.

Though members may miss seeing the bell-shaped flowers and dark fruit of this plant in September, they may view a threatened species of Michigan that has continued to remain part of the “family” when the Michigan Nature Association visits sanctuaries on its annual Fall Adventure to the Keweenaw.

Don’t miss out on this and other adventures. Find out more about the Fall Adventure by visiting our Web page.

The secret behind the Copper Country’s native deposits

A unique geological feature made copper mining an integral part of Michigan history in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and this area is also the destination for members attending MNA’s annual Fall Adventure.

The Michigan copper mining boom of the 1800s is often told with photographs and stories. The Keweenaw Peninsula’s history is told with volcanic eruptions and faults.

One billion years old, the peninsula holds a secret—one that Theodore Bornhorst says visitors can only see in a few, specific places. Bornhorst is a professor of economic and engineering geology as well as the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum director at Michigan Technological University.

Exposed sections of the Keweenaw Fault often look like the rock wall above-Graphic courtesy of Theodore Bornhorst

A clay and broken rock mixture that appears near places like Douglass Houghton Falls and Hungarian Falls is like the spine of a book—it shows what may be there without revealing the full story.

What the mixture isn’t telling is that it is a modern-day remnant of the inactive Keweenaw Fault. If not for this fault, the 6.6 million tons of refined copper produced by mines in the region between 1845 and 1968 would have never been.

The Keweenaw Fault runs from the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to the Wisconsin border.

“There has been no movement we know of on the Keweenaw Fault in the past 500 plus million years,” Bornhorst said.

Bornhorst has studied various aspects of the fault for 36 years.

But movement was the key to the fault’s formation.

The Keweenaw Fault was formed by extension of the Mid-Continent Rift. This rift system begins in eastern Kansas, stretching 2,000 kilometers to the western part of Lake Superior before traveling down into Michigan in a southeastern direction.

The rift system was formed by upward moving mantle. Mantle is the solid or partly melted material below the Earth’s surface.

What Bornhorst described as a “mushrooming plume” created “normal faults” when the plume of mantle spread parallel to the crust and on the underside of it, creating a rift.

The mantle created the rift when the crust was stretched and eventually torn apart to form a depression in the middle.

Formation of the rift from which the Keweenaw Fault came began when mantle moved upward, stretching the crust and breaking it- Graphic courtesy of Theodore Bornhorst

“Imagine that you’re taking something that’s rigid and you’re pulling it apart,” Bornhorst said.

A normal fault has one side of rock that moves upward, called the hanging wall. The other side moves downward and is called the footwall.

Lava flows eventually formed eruptions on land, filling the rift and the Keweenaw Fault with volcanic rock. Streams brought additional layers of gravel, silts, sands and mud. But all was to change.

Compression occurred 50 million years after the fault was created when a tectonic plate collided with North America. In a drastic change, the Keweenaw Fault became a reverse fault, in which the footwall slid lower than the hanging wall and volcanic rock from past eruptions and other minerals filling the middle were forced upwards. This created the Keweenaw Peninsula.

But the event helped create something else. Bornhorst wrote in a paper that this event may have created the pathways—fractures, cracks and faults—that allowed copper-carrying fluids to rise.

These fluids began as “hot, mineralizing waters” reaching temperatures of more than 437 degrees Fahrenheit. These waters eventually became ore fluids delivering native copper and other minerals to spaces in the rock filling the rift.

A compression event may have encouraged formation of native copper deposits near the Keweenaw Fault - Graphic courtesy of Theodore Bornhorst

“As they moved upward then they cooled down and had chemical reactions with the other rocks and mixed with other things to make the copper come out of solution,” Bornhorst said.

The compression, which created more pathways, may have helped the fluids to rise by slowly leaving native copper deposits behind.

“This specific situation has happened elsewhere in the world, but the bottom line is never to this extent,” Bornhorst said.

He said a similar example is located in Quebec, where small amounts of native copper are found associated with the Gaspé Peninsula. Despite the similarity, copper deposits formed near the Keweenaw Fault remain the largest.

“We’ve never found any other place that has had this mass of mineable native copper,” Bornhorst said.

That mass of mineable native copper remains the largest on Earth.

Personality Profile of a Harebell

Harebell

The harebell is a native Michigan wildflower. Photo by Liz Burke.

Campanula rotundifolia L., or harebell, is almost pixie-like in appearance. Thin stems lightly support blue-violet bell flowers. These stems grow thin, slender leaves dispersed sparingly along the length of the stem. But harebell faints easily—the stems often become weak, allowing the bells and the plant to turn downward or fall over.

A native wildflower, harebell is cheery, commonly decorating Michigan’s dunes and beaches in the summer. Harbell is also versatile, inhabiting a variety of other habitats including rocky slopes, dry meadows or prairies, wooded areas, limestone cliffs and even Michigan roadsides.

It is found in every county in the Upper Peninsula except for three and inhabits many counties in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula aside from 15 near the thumb, making it adventurous and persistent. Its range also includes all of Canada, Alaska and much of the contiguous United States

Summer is the harebell’s favorite time. It flowers from June to September and prefers to spend its time with hummingbirds and bees in the sun.

Want to meet the harebell face to face? Join MNA members and staff in the Keweenaw this September for our Fall Adventure! Details can be found on our Website.