Sanctuary Spotlight: Five Lakes Muskegon

Tucked away behind a series of commercial zones in Muskegon County, the Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is a beautiful 106-acre complex of wetlands, oak-pine barrens, and dry sand prairie. With land acquisitions by MNA beginning in 1977, the sanctuary has grown many times over the years, with the latest acquisition of 25 acres in 2011.

Intense timber harvesting by the previous landowners resulted in thick regeneration of oak saplings and other woody species that began to shade out the savanna oriented understory. In 2018, MNA entered into a partnership agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to enhance the savanna/barrens community by conducting woody growth mowing across the new parcel.

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Aerial view of coastal plain marsh. MNA Archives.

The sanctuary is located within the Five Lakes Muskegon area, so named because although the Federal survey of 1836 showed one large body of water, it has long ago shrunk to what is known locally as the “Five Lakes”. This change in the water level could be the reason for the several different types of natural communities found here.

Such a diverse landscape as found here supports an impressive array of herptiles, particularly turtles and frogs that depend on the wetlands for water, with turtles using the surrounding sandy soils for egg laying sites. A variety of bird species use the sanctuary throughout the year; the state-threatened common loon, special-concern classified American bittern, and many species of conservation priority species including the pied-billed grebe, great blue heron, red-headed woodpecker, and field sparrow are annual visitors. The sanctuary also includes an extraordinary number of rare wildflowers, sedges, rushes and grasses.

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A volunteer holds a green frog. Photo by John Bagley.

The biodiversity of this sanctuary makes preserving this habitat a high priority in Michigan. The work being conducted at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is an excellent example of how MNA approaches stewardship at special sites. By scientifically assessing restoration needs, seeking partnerships to secure needed resources to conduct restoration, and providing ongoing monitoring and maintenance, MNA staff and volunteers are in the best possible position to sustain imperiled natural communities and expand habitat for the rare plants and animals found within them.

MNA’s conservation work at Five Lakes Muskegon was recognized by the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition in 2019 with a “Sustainability Champion Award”; a testament to the hard work of the volunteers, stewards, and partners that help MNA achieve its goal of protecting Michigan’s natural heritage.

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Volunteer Steward, Claire DeBlanc, and Director of Outreach & Education, Julie Stoneman, accept the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition “Sustainability Champion” Award.

You can help MNA maintain this, and many other unique nature sanctuaries by joining a volunteer sanctuary workday – learn more at michigannature.org!

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