Upcoming Wildflower Walkabout tour: Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

If you enjoy the smell of summer flowers, wide-open prairie, or a bit of ghost town mystery, be sure to join MNA for a guided tour of Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County. The tour will be held on Friday, July 12, at 1 p.m. as part of MNA’s 2013 Wildflower Walkabout. The sanctuary, which should be in full bloom this time of year, will feature an interesting bit of history in the midst of a beautiful prairie setting.

Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary displays 36 acres of open prairie, which is slightly out of place amidst the Upper Peninsula’s thick forests. Though the preserve has no trails, the sanctuary’s open expanse allows visitors to navigate with ease. The land’s short grasses allow for the growth of a diverse range of wildflowers, together creating an ideal habitat for birds, insects, and other native creatures.

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A purple coneflower at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Strouse.

Summer flowers native to the area include prairie cinquefoil, toad flax and the sanctuary’s distinguishing feature: the pale purple coneflower. Fred Dye is one of two sanctuaries in Michigan where the purple coneflower is known to grow, and it can be identified by its thin, pink petals, which usually turn downward. Because coneflower taproots must dig deep into soil to obtain water, it has long been questioned how the species arrived in this thin-soiled location. Today, it is generally believed that the plant is a remnant of the past, as its seeds were in the hay fed to logging horses decades ago.

Among its wildflowers, Fred Dye is known for its bird species, many of which can be spotted year-round. Viewers can expect to see many breeding and migratory birds this time of year, as both thrive in this prairie habitat. Particularly, wild spruce grouse can be found in sandy areas of the sanctuary while ruby-throated hummingbirds roam its wildflowers.

Supporting many of its species is the sanctuary’s interesting Karst geology. Soluble bedrock, such as limestone and dolomite, is scattered throughout the area, and these rocks are decorated with algae, moss and lichen. Not only does this topography play a vital role in the sanctuary’s habitat formation, but it also makes it difficult for hardwood forests to develop in this area, contributing to the prairie landscape.

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The logging town of Kenneth, MI in 1908.
Photo courtesy of MNA archives.

In addition to the natural features Fred Dye displays today, the sanctuary also shows traces of an interesting past. Many years before Fred Dye’s founding in 1970, the small town of Kenneth once existed at the site of the sanctuary. Though the town thrived from the logging and limestone business in the early twentieth century, it eventually became somewhat of a ghost town, with the foundations of the old general store and saloon still standing within the sanctuary’s boundaries.

To learn more about Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary’s diverse plant and animal species as well as its mysterious past, be sure to come along for MNA’s guided tour on July 12. For more information on this event or other Wildflower Walkabout tours, visit MNA’s website.

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