By Tina Patterson and 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.
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.
The Schafer Family Nature Sanctuary at Roach Point stands out for so many reasons. It is MNA’s largest sanctuary, thanks in the greatest part to the generosity of the Schafer Family. The sanctuary was formerly called Roach Point Nature Sanctuary and is the result of nine acquisitions beginning on July 21, 1978. The name was changed on April 26, 2011 to honor brothers Mason and Melvin Schafer for their many contributions to MNA, and to this particular sanctuary, over the years. The final donation from the Schafer family was 259 acres in 2010 following Mason’s death; Melvin knew that this would honor the memory of his brother. Sadly, Melvin passed away in August and will be greatly missed.
Roach Point is in the eastern U.P. on the south side of Munuscong Lake. It consists of a peninsula jutting out into the lake along with land along the southern shore of the lake. The point is virtually an island, a large rock outcrop separated from the mainland now and then in times of high water. The forest here is a transitional northern hardwood forest intersecting with northern boreal forest. The boreal forest contains black and white spruce along with tamarack, jack pine and balsam fir. There are also deciduous trees that are mixed in among the conifers that include white birch, maple, and poplar. The central highest point of Roach Point contains the sugar maple-hemlock dominated northern hardwood forest. The sanctuary is also wondrous with a vast array of other ecosystems, including poor conifer swamp (black spruce dominated), rich conifer swamp (tamarack and white cedar dominated), bog, high quality Great Lakes marsh, northern wet meadow, and northern shrub thicket.
On top of that, it also has an essential shoreline ecosystem that provides a protected home for aquatic invertebrates and many species of minnows, tadpoles, frogs, turtles, birds, and snakes. Each creature plays an important role in the food chain, all the way up to the larger prey species of fish, birds, mammals, and humans. Lake Munuscong and the nearby St. Mary’s River channel are included in the Lake Huron coastal wetland ecosystem and watershed. The coastal marsh provides nesting and staging areas for thousands of migratory and nesting birds, including wading and shorebirds, ducks, geese and swans, and several species of terns and gulls.
Bigger is truly better, especially when you have the high quality ecosystems that exist at the Schafer Family Nature Sanctuary at Roach Point.Keep an eye out for MNA’s Fall/Winter Events Guide and check MNA’s website for upcoming field trips and work days as well as the winter snowshoe hike in the Schafer Sanctuary; it is truly an amazing place to visit any time of the year.