By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling
Yes, on July 18 we woke up to thunder and rain, but no one was complaining. How wondrous in this July drought to find ourselves going on a hike after a welcome thundershower. The rain stopped 10 minutes before our hike, and everyone’s spirits were up and we were excited to visit the 53-acre Genevieve Casey Nature Sanctuary in Oceana County. With the smell of wet grass and pine needles under our feet, another special Odyssey day had begun. Our guide John Hendrixon, steward since 2008, was waiting for us, and once again, we were happy to welcome three first-time participants to the Odyssey, including MNA Life Members Robert and Clarice Williams, who came all the way down from Higgins Lake to join our hike!
John began by sharing the story of Genevieve Casey and how this sanctuary dedicated to her came to be under the protection of MNA. As we entered the sanctuary we passed through one of the pine groves that Genevieve Casey herself planted years ago. If you come here in June, pink lady’s slipper can be found among the pines. When we entered the barrens, John explained how this land was lumbered and once farmed until the thin top soil was blown away following a series of very dry years that left only barren sand. He stated that this area looks a lot different now than when Genevieve Casey owned the property. Indeed, you can envision the succession that has occured as you stand on one of the few bare sandy areas left in the sanctuary. There are large areas where hair-cap moss and various lichen have stabilized the sand. Here can be found rein-deer lichen, British soldier lichen, and the earth star mushroom. In other areas are large patches of club moss and bracken fern. The three club mosses that are found here are common club moss, blue ground cedar, and southern ground cedar. As the soil stabilized, the trees and shrubs started moving in and are now well on their way to reforesting the barrens.
John then took us through the new 2011 addition to the sanctuary, guiding us along the proposed new trail that he had flagged. This addition, which doubled the size of the sanctuary, contains a large area of floodplain forest which gave a sharp contrast to the dry barrens. We were able to hike along sections of the meandering Bender Creek which flows through the sanctuary and eventually into Stony Lake, and then into Lake Michigan. MNA is proud to protect Bender Creek and its floodplain along with the sensitive freshwater species that live within the creek, including trout, sculpin, and stickleback. The find of the day had to be discovering several orchids growing in the floodplain!
With two loop trails that are well-marked and a new trail under development, the Genevieve Casey Nature Sanctuary will long be remembered by the visitors who shared a morning in its quiet beauty. We also remember Genevieve Casey herself, who recently passed away, and the wonderful contribution she made to MNA and nature itself.
[Ed. note: This entry was updated on August 15, 2012 to correct two spelling errors. Our apologies for the mistakes.]