Like many of Michigan Nature Association’s more than 180 nature sanctuaries, the Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County is a gem. Containing more than 200 acres of varied habitats including wooded uplands, oak barrens, cattail marsh, and prairie fen, the sanctuary is a testament to the “nature nuts” after whom it is named – Glenna and “Lefty” Levengood.
Take your first step onto one of the two trails that meander through the property, and you will be immersed in a dense forest canopy of oaks. Continue on this trail that runs alongside the cattail marsh and prairie fen portion of the property, toward a savanna-style habitat known as ‘oak barrens’ and you will be welcomed with an open sky and, on a clear day, the warmth of the sun on your arms.
This habitat type – oak barrens – occurs predominantly in the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula of the state, and is characterized by a moderate amount of canopy (between 5 and 60%). According to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, oak barrens is a critically imperiled natural community in the state, due to its reliance on fire to maintain the open understory, which has become increasingly at risk from invasive plants like Japanese knotweed and black locust trees.
Lefglen Nature Sanctuary is no exception to this phenomena, but thanks to conservation partnerships, like the one this sanctuary shares with Dr. Katherine Greenwald at Eastern Michigan University, the health of both the forest and savanna habitats are monitored and maintained on an annual basis.
Dr. Greenwald’s Conservation Biology class has been visiting and conducting research at Lefglen during the fall semester since 2014. In the course, students gain both an academic and applied understanding of the key threats to biodiversity conservation, various analytical methods used to assess biodiversity loss, and proposed solutions to remedy these losses. The class is structured as an “Academic-Service Learning” experience, which means that students take the lessons learned in class to a community service project, where they gain hands-on experience with community partners, like MNA.
At Lefglen, the students are tasked with mapping the various habitat features of the sanctuary, as well as conducting field service work, which helps prioritize restoration work at the sanctuary for MNA and for future classes. These skills can be directly applied to the students’ conservation careers. Because the class has been visiting over an extended period of time, the students also get to see the long-term effects of habitat management first-hand.
This partnership, and others like it, provides a beneficial learning experience for the next generation of conservation scientists, while simultaneously helping MNA to restore critical habitat for a variety of the state’s species, achieving our mission to protect Michigan’s natural heritage.
Learn more about the Lefglen Nature Sanctuary, and plan your next visit using our online sanctuary map at michigannature.org!