The Odyssey Tour Visits Dowagiac Woods

By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling

Dave shows the group wildflowers

Dave pauses to show the group some of Dowagiac Woods’ wildflowers. Photo by Tina Patterson

Tina: Did Dave ever stop smiling as we convened at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary the sunlit morning of April 29? I don’t believe anyone ever saw a smile leave his face as we began our hike through his favorite sanctuary, which he has been co-stewarding for years with Maggie Ebrite and Tracy Braswell.  We started the second segment of the Odyssey in southwest Michigan at the second largest sanctuary in the Lower Peninsula: Dowagiac Woods. The sanctuary boasts 384 diverse acres of beech maple and flood plain forest which have been evolving in a mostly undisturbed state. Though the Woods has been selectively logged and the Dowagiac River has been channelized, the Woods has never been farmed or pastured.  The major reason most visitors come to Dowagiac is to view the amazing display of spring flowers, where more than 50 different species can be found, but any time of year is a good time to visit this special place.

MNA’s Executive Director, Garret Johnson, joined us on the hike, to the delight of many hikers who were pleased to have the opportunity to meet the man at the helm.  Welcoming us at the end of the trail was a BBQ lunch hosted by Don & Claudia Stohler of Indiana, who often volunteer at Dowagiac. Don and Claudia had fresh cooked brats, hamburgers, and chicken for Odyssey participants to feast on, as well as baked beans and 60th anniversary cupcakes courtesy of Dave.  On this hike we welcomed participants from three states: Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. It is wonderful to have folks from other states who recognize the beauty that is Michigan and want to preserve our unique and special areas join us on the Odyssey.

Blue-Eyed Mary at Dowagiac Woods

Blue-Eyed Mary and a bee at Dowagiac Woods. Photo by Marilyn Keigley

Dave: Dowagiac Woods is the “Woods That Never Disappoints”.  Ever since I’ve been visiting and stewarding the Woods, there is always something new and special to see whenever I visit, and this trip was no different.  Due to the strange spring we have had here in Michigan, with a very warm March and cool April, Odyssey hikers found a more eclectic mix of plant life than usual.  In addition to the carpet of beautiful wildflowers that are usually present, the many varieties of ferns that grow in the Woods had emerged early!  A small sample of what we saw includes carpets of large-flowered white trillium, large patches of blue-eyed Mary, many drooping trillium, dwarf ginseng, large patches of may apple in full bloom, wild ginger, and 12 species of ferns including broad beach fern, rattlesnake fern, Goldie’s fern, narrow-leaved glade fern, and silvery glade fern.

If you have never seen a seemingly unending groundcover of spectacular spring wildflowers that make this Woods their home, you need to plan a visit – you won’t be disappointed.  We will be writing about the rest of segment two of the tour soon.

To see more photos from the Odyssey visit to Dowagiac Woods, visit MNA’s Flickr page.

Don’t miss out – there is still time to visit many of MNA’s showcase sanctuaries with us.  The third segment of the Odyssey will start on June 5th with the Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary.  Find out what a Karst is!  We will also offer a side trip to see the dwarf lake iris.  Stay in touch to find out more details.

As we continue on our Odyssey, we will occasionally offer additional opportunities. One new addition is on July 14: a kayak tour of the Les Cheneaux Islands. We invite MNA members and friends to meet up for the guided kayak tour offered by Woods & Water Ecotours at just $75 a person for MNA members and $95 for nonmembers. For more details, see the Michigan Nature magazine that will be hitting your mailbox soon, or call (866) 223-2231. This trip is the day before the hike at the Fred Dye Sanctuary. Plan a wonderful weekend with us on both the land and on Lake Huron!

A final note for those planning to join us on the Odyssey in the Keweenaw: If you would like MNA to coordinate a bus trip to the final two Odyssey hikes in the Keweenaw (trips on September 29-30 to Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary and Black Creek Nature Sanctuary), call the office at (866) 223-2231 as planning needs to begin soon, and we need to know if there will be enough interest.

We look forward to seeing you at future Odyssey tour stops!

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