April 30: Two Magnificent Odyssey Hikes

By Dave Wendling and Tina Patterson

Hamilton Township Coastal Plain Marsh: April 30, Monday

Charlie Goodrich with Hamilton Cookie

Charlie Goodrich shows off one of his wife Nancy’s delicious Michigan cookies – complete with a sanctuary locator star!

Can one person truly make a difference in the world? If your name is Charlie Goodrich, you already have and continue to do so. Charlie has dedicated his life to the Hamilton Township Coastal Plain Marsh in a huge way. If you are walking on a trail there, Charlie carved it out. On a boardwalk? Charlie built it. Sitting on a bench and relaxing? Charlie put that there, too. Sometimes family and friends help Charlie in his work, but the hand of Mr. Goodrich is everywhere.  His dedication and enthusiasm is boundless, and when he is not working in “his” sanctuary he is working at another MNA sanctuary or helping to restore the Historic Hamilton Grange Hall which adjoins the Hamilton Coastal Plain Marsh.  Oh, one more thing about Charlie – his wife Nancy made the most delicious cookies in the shape of our “mitten” with a little candy dot to show where the sanctuary is! What a yummy confection our 12 hikers had at the end of the trail.

This sanctuary consists of a 79-acre recovering woodland that surrounds a coastal plain marsh. Charlie led the hike and also gave a bit of history as to how the plants, called coastal plain disjuncts, in the marsh came to be there. Only found on the eastern seaboard, and in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, it is believed the plants were transported here 11,000 years ago as the last of the Wisconsin glacier receded, creating a drainage channel down the Hudson River connecting Michigan with the Atlantic coastal plain.  Among the rare plants that grow here are meadow beauty, tall beak-rush, bald-rush, and seedbox.

Surrounding the marsh you can find Virginia chain fern, large patches of buttonbush, and winterberry. There is a large colony of black gum trees on the eastern edge of the marsh with drooping branches and leaves that turn bright scarlet to deep red in early to mid-September. Continue reading

The Odyssey Will Explore the Fascinating Karst Geology at Mystery Valley

By Chelsea Richardson

[Ed. note: Chelsea Richardson has joined MNA for the summer as a Communications Intern. Chelsea is a student at Central Michigan University, studying public relations. She will be contributing to both the blog and Michigan Nature magazine. We’re excited to have her on board!]

MNA’s June 5 Odyssey Tour will visit Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary in Presque Isle County. Mystery Valley is home to one of the largest karst collapse valleys in the Great Lakes region.

Mystery Valley Sinkhole

Mystery Valley’s sinkhole. Photo from MNA Archives

Karsts are extremely fascinating.  They are an area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced cracks, sinkholes, underground streams and caverns.  Limestone forms from the shells of mollusks and coral reefs accumulating in seas over vast periods of time and being compacted into rock.  In Michigan this deposition occurred in the early Palezoic era, roughly 500 million to 350 million years ago. Lands that karsts occur on are generally lacking surface streams, so water drains mainly or exclusively underground.

The Mystery Valley karst was formed by the collapse of the surface into a network of underground chambers created by erosion of the rock below. Several dramatic earth cracks have formed along with a lake that rises and falls, and sometimes disappears altogether!  Mystery Valley is 1.5 miles long, 500 yards at its widest point and about 150 feet deep.

Here visitors can explore this unique geologic wonder by following the 1-mile Earthcrack Trail. Hikers can view large cracks caused by the moving rock.  These cracks can span more than 100 feet deep in some places.

Mystery Valley Crack

One of Mystery Valley’s deep cracks. Photo by John Porter

Together, the Michigan Karst Conversancy (MKC) and MNA work to protect this natural wonder and its surrounding area. To learn more about karst geology, check out Living With Karst: A Fragile Foundation.

Join Dave Wendling and Tina Patterson on June 5 at 10 a.m. to explore this extraordinary karst, and don’t forget your camera! To RSVP for the Odyssey (and for driving directions), visit the MNA website.

If you can’t make it to the Odyssey Tour, MNA’s Fall Adventure will also tour Mystery Valley, along with several other sanctuaries in the northern Lower Peninsula. Learn more on MNA’s website.

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. Continue reading

MNA Urges Congressional Leaders to Make Changes to the Farm Bill

By Allison Barszcz

Before Congress left for spring recess, MNA and other conservancies across the state sent a joint letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts urging the strengthening of the Farm Bill by allowing federal funding for land acquisition or conservation easement projects where groups like MNA own the land or hold the easement, not a government agency.

The recommendations address a key federal program, the Forest Legacy Program, which aims to protect privately-owned forests from development and conversion to non-forest uses by purchasing land or securing conservation easements from landowners. The Forest Legacy Program has helped protect more than 425 square miles of Michigan’s privately owned forests, including lands that buffer more than 192 miles of Class A trout streams, protect more than 300 inland lakes and preserve 52,000 acres of forested wetlands.

However, the program has the potential to do much more. In its current form, the Forest Legacy Program does not allow for a direct partnership with nonprofit conservation organizations. Current law allows only government entities to own the land or hold the conservation easements, which can create a significant long-term financial strain on state agencies and prevent important conservation projects from moving forward.

If enhancements are made to the Forest Legacy Program to allow government agencies to partner with qualified nonprofit conservation organizations, organizations like MNA could more easily preserve forested areas buffering nature sanctuaries, protecting habitats at a much greater scale. Studies have shown that conserving land at a larger scale helps protect sensitive habitat from the potential effects of invasive species, altered hydrology, climate change and other threats.

The last Farm Bill passed in 2008 and will expire this year unless Congress acts. Changing the Farm Bill’s Forest Legacy Program to allow groups like MNA to hold the easements it funds would reduce costs for government agencies, allow for additional investment from private funding sources, and significantly expand the success of the Forest Legacy Program.

You can read the latest about the Farm Bill in this posting by the National Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture.