Sanctuary Spotlight: Mystery Valley

by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer

If cabin fever is setting in and all of your go-to getaways are busier than ever, it may be time to switch things up and seek out an alternative destination. Presque Isle County in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula is a treasure trove of discovery. Much of northeastern Michigan is composed of limestone rock, but if you look more closely, you will see that there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

There are a number of protected and managed karst features in Alpena and Presque Isle County. Karst terrains are characterized by caves, steep valleys, swallow holes (a place where water disappears or sinks underground), and a general lack of surface streams because drainage is underground. The resulting landscape provides unusual habitats for plants and animals.

Exposed karst formations at Bruski Sink in Presque Isle County. Photo by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer.

In what would otherwise appear to be typical farmland in Presque Isle County are three of these karst features within minutes of each other, and each uniquely different. Bruski Sink and Stevens Twin Sinks are owned and managed by the Michigan Karst Conservancy both offering stellar views of exposed rock faces as well as a short but steep causeway. The 76-acre Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary, which is managed by both the Michigan Nature Association as well as the Michigan Karst Preserve, is regarded as the finest known example of a karst valley with a swallow hole in Michigan.

A welcome kiosk at Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary informs visitors to the features of this unique area. Photo by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer.

Your adventure begins with roadside parking and a trail leading you past a series of earth cracks (Caution: DO NOT CLIMB IN THE EARTH CRACKS!). The path continues further down into the heart of Mystery Valley where you find a recessed valley floor and a large sinkhole. Water rising from beneath the surface often creates a lake that covers the west and lower ends of the valley. Most of the water reaches the surface through a sinkhole in the bedrock at the valley’s west end. Snowmelt and rain runoff also contribute to the water levels. As water flows through the underground drainage system toward Lake Huron, Mystery Valley’s “disappearing” lake drains back through the sinkhole… and disappears.

A sinkhole filled with water at Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Randy Butters.

So if you are looking to experience a unique piece of Michigan nature, look no further than MNA’s Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary, and remember to take only pictures, and leave only footprints.

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