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.


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