By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling
Could it be any hotter July 17th at the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary? It did not seem all that strange that there were cacti growing in this nature sanctuary as the heat beat down. Gratefully we accepted umbrellas and cold cloths from volunteer photographer Marilyn Keigley and we wondered how the four volunteers who were pulling invasive were going to survive much longer. Three were college students (Rebecca Andrews, Cara Burwell, and Rowanna Humphreys) getting degrees related to conservation and doing internships. How appreciative we are to see young people dedicating themselves to the environment and helping MNA maintain Newaygo Prairie. Chuck Vannette, the steward at Newaygo, greeted us along with John Bagley, the new steward at Karner Blue, and both helped guide the stalwart Odyssey participants that turned out in the almost 100 degree heat. We were delighted to see Regional Stewardship Organizer Matt Schultz arrive to support the Odyssey, and it also meant all three RSOs have now joined us on the Odyssey. Thank you, Katherine, Adrienne, and Matt.
Chuck has been interested in prairies for a long time, and now he lives across the road from the MNA sanctuary. When he is mowing his lawn he has to break for Karner Blue butterflies in his yard! This delicate beauty can only be found in prairie savannas where lupine grows since its larva depend on lupine as a food source. The Karner Blue is a very small butterfly that flits about in an erratic manner and is hard to capture on film.
It is amazing that anything can survive in the dry prairies under normal conditions, let alone in this drought. The Odyssey is bearing witness to what is happening at the MNA sanctuaries in this record hot and dry year. We saw reindeer lichen that was crisp and brittle, but after a rain it will soften up and start photosynthesis again. The hair cap moss folds up and turns brown only to open its leaves and green up again when the conditions are more favorable. It has been doing this for thousands of years. The lupine were shriveled up, but I’m sure they will be back again next year since they have adapted to the conditions here. The prickly pear cacti looked good, and we found one still in bloom! They did not look stressed at all. Many of the plants at these two prairies will survive the drought because they have very deep roots; however, most of them were not blooming in order to conserve their energy and survive the conditions. I don’t remember ever seeing the common milkweed shriveling up like it did this year, but it also will be back next year. We did not get a view of a prairie in full bloom as we had hoped, but we did get a better idea of how nature adapts to extreme conditions.
How lucky we are to have our two extraordinary photographers, Marianne Glosenger and Marilyn Keigley, along with us again to record all the beauty we are experiencing. With seven more sanctuaries to visit, we know our photo album will be award-winning! We were also grateful to Newaygo steward Chuck, who let us park at his home, use his air-conditioned bathroom (big thanks!) and also provided fresh melons to hydrate our parched lips. Once again, it is the support and cooperation of so many wonderful people who have made this adventure the thrilling success it has been and continues to be!
We hope to see you on the next round of Odyssey trips beginning August 26 at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary near Grass Lake!