The Odyssey Visits Majestic Estivant Pines

By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling

Estivant Pines

The trunk and roots of one of the large trees at Estivant Pines. Photo by Dave Wendling

It did not take much to get us excited about our trip to Estivant Pines; while the point can always be debated, for many MNA members this is the crown jewel of MNA’s 172 sanctuaries. Located just outside of Copper Harbor, the 510 acres of old-growth eastern white pine forest is truly awe inspiring. The trail offers the opportunity to stand next to 500-year-old pines standing more than 125 feet tall.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny as we celebrated our good fortune to be heading out on such a perfect day. There is never a guarantee of good weather in the Keweenaw; in fact, one old joke is “we had a perfect summer in Calumet: it was on August 14th”.  September 29th was going to be another exceptional day as the highs were in the 60s with no breeze, no bugs, and the fall color was spectacular throughout the Keweenaw. We were delighted as the 25 people that we expected continued to grow as more cars arrived until we had more than 40 participants.

Working together

Working together to build a new boardwalk at the sanctuary. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

Steward Ted Soldan, who has been involved with the care of the woods since the beginning, spoke passionately of the Pines and then offered participants the unique opportunity of helping to build a boardwalk that needed replacing. Almost everyone volunteered to participate, and Ted, assisted by his wife Alice, handed out boards, nails, and tools to each volunteer to help carry into the woods. For most people it was the first chance they had ever had to participate in this kind of stewardship project, and much laughter and encouragement ensued. Our youngest hiker was the first to span the bridge. When finished, the hike resumed with the knowledge that “many hands did make for fast work”. How proud we all were to know in a small way we had helped to make Estivant Pines a more welcoming sanctuary.

Following our two-hour hike, we met at the Copper Harbor Community Center, which Ted had reserved for us, and with the help of Bill and Nancy Leonard, and Joan Chadde, we enjoyed a delicious assortment of food from the Keweenaw Co-Op.  MNA Board President Steve Kelley spoke about long- and short-range goals for MNA, and Executive Director

First steps

Our youngest hiker, Flora, was the first to cross the new boardwalk. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

Garret Johnson also shared information about a legislative proposal that we should be aware of that would make all of our sanctuaries accessible to off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. While it is not expected that this bill will be passed by Michigan’s legislature, it is something we do need to be kept apprised of.

With our thanks to Ted and Nancy, and hugs all around, 14 of us wished to continue the fellowship and went across the street to The Mariner North for dinner…and still wishing to continue the “good vibrations” of the perfect day, nine of us and three beautiful dogs went to watch the moon rise over Hunters Point, a township park.  It was hard to believe we had just one more day of the Odyssey. Could it be true that this marvelous adventure was less than 24 hours from coming to an end?  How could we have imagined how hard it would be to say goodbye to all the wonderful people who had made the Odyssey greater than all our lofty expectations?

[Ed. note: Our friends at the White Sky Woods blog shared additional photos and details from the Odyssey Tours of Estivant Pines and Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Pay them a visit!]

[Ed. update (3:48 p.m.): in an earlier version of this blog post, Alice Soldan was misidentified. We apologize for the error and have corrected the mistake in the text above.] 

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MNA Odyssey: Exploring the Spectacular Twin Waterfalls

By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling

Adrienne

Our energetic guide, Adrienne. Photo by Dave Wendling

September 25: Twin Waterfalls has so many reasons to be on the Odyssey list of Showcase Sanctuaries that it is hard to know where to begin.  It was the MNA’s 100th acquisition, and although it is only 15 acres, it contains two waterfalls. The Rudy Olson Falls, previously called Tannery Falls, was renamed in honor of member Rudy Olson, and Memorial Falls is named to honor more than one hundred past MNA members who had contributed to the association by the time of this acquisition. Adrienne Bozic, our very energetic and knowledgeable Regional Stewardship Organizer, led the field trip and explained how this is one of the most visited of the MNA sanctuaries, and that is one of the dilemmas of this natural wonder. Located next to a Munising neighborhood, the falls have for many years been used as a neighborhood park, and evidence of its use is everywhere, and it can be difficult to maintain the sense of isolation that is often valued in a sanctuary. While we hiked, we often came upon other hikers, photographers, and dog walkers.  While used as a location for many wedding photographs and family portraits, the falls are also unique in that one can actually walk behind the spray for a unique perspective of looking out from behind a waterfall.

Walking along the trail

Walking along the trail. Photo by Dave Wendling

The geology here also makes for an interesting experience and in a large part determines some of the special plants that can be found here.  The majestic vertical walls of both of the waterfall canyons are part of the Munising Formation, which consists of ancient sandstone that is about 550 million years old.  The buff, rose-colored sandstone is soft rock easily eroded by ice and water, due to its composition of small quartz partials that resemble beach sand. The upper rock capping the Munising Formation is made of harder dolomite sandstone, known at the Au Train Formation. This cap erodes at slower rate than the surrounding rock, which results in the shelf over which the water drops.  One special fern that requires this type of habitat to survive is the slender cliff brake fern.  It grows in the large horizontal crevices in the sandstone where seepage through the rocks supplies constant moisture.  Unfortunately for us, this year was especially dry, and the fern was not at its best.  Many other ferns and interesting plants can be found on the sandstone and throughout this sanctuary.

As Adrienne led us into a grove of American beech trees, she showed us white streaks that were covering the smooth bark of all the beech trees. She explained that this is the characteristic sign of beech bark disease, which will, sadly, kill all of them within the next five years.  She explained that the entire Lake Superior shoreline beech population is being disseminated as a result of this disease.  Beech bark disease is caused by an alien beech scale insect Cryptococcus fagisuga, which feeds on the sap of the trees and allows at least two species of Nectria fungus (one of which is alien) to enter the inner bark and kill the tree.  The white streaks are produced by the scale insect which secretes a wax-like substance that covers their bodies.  This waxy material will actually rub off on your fingers.  Adrienne worried about what will happen to the bears and other woodland animals that are dependent upon the beechnuts for their survival.  She warned that beech bark disease is likely to spread south and affect all of Michigan’s beech trees.   There is some hope because some trees may be resistant to the disease, but the majority of our beech trees are not.

Sharing the same sandstone rock formations as the Pictured Rock shoreline, the Twin Waterfalls Memorial Plant Preserve is a somewhat challenging hike due to the changes in elevation and narrow trails. At many points, however, it is truly spectacular and an especially interesting sanctuary to introduce children to the wonder of the natural world.

Under the falls

The group stands behind the falls. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

MNA Odyssey: A Challenging Hike at Roach Point

By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling

Stormy Skies

Stormy skies at Schafer Family Nature Sanctuary at Roach Point. Photo by Dave Wendling

Sunday, September 23

“Oh no, is it going to rain?” was the thought as we arrived at our first stop on the final segment of the Odyssey. As Marianne Glosenger set up her tripod the skies opened, and our group photo was taken in quite a downpour. However, as we entered the woods to begin our hike just as suddenly as the rain came, it stopped, and for the next three hours we enjoyed clear skies and muddy feet. Thankfully we had come prepared with bog boots!

The Schafer Family Nature Sanctuary at Roach Point is, at more than 830 acres, MNA’s largest and most challenging sanctuary. It is not a wise move to attempt to navigate this sanctuary without a guide or excellent compass skills as it is easy to get lost. Luckily, no one was injured, but while traveling through the thick grass and many half-buried tree roots, even a brief moment of inattention can result in a fall.  We were fortunate to have as our guide the very experienced and knowledgeable steward Mary Powell who is an off-trail hiker and had prepared a route for us where no trail had existed before. Even with the blue ribbons she had tied onto tree limbs, it was easy to get that momentary panicky feeling when the group split in two.

Hiking

Hikers along the trail. Photo by Dave Wendling

A surprise to some hikers was learning that there is a native Phragmites plant that is found in this sanctuary. We had only heard the term applied to the dreaded invasive and did not know there is a desirable Phragmites, too. Mary pointed it out, showing us its reddish stalk and feathery plume that distinguish it from the wetland invasive form.  It was growing in a scattered colony near the bay and coexists with the other native plants, whereas the invasive Phragmites grows in large dense colonies chokes out other plants. Continue reading