One of the distinguishing characteristics of a Michigan Nature Association nature sanctuary is its accessibility to the public. Some sanctuaries are so “off the beaten-path” that they require a heavy duty off-road vehicle, and lots of determination on behalf of the visitor to make the journey. Others are so easily accessed, you might accidentally stumble across them during your daily commute. The Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County is one of the latter.
Located along the side of M-123 at the ghost town of Kenneth in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, the sanctuary was originally named “Purple Coneflower Plant Preserve” due to the abundance of purple coneflowers that can be found blooming here in late summer. It was renamed in 2004 to honor former MNA trustee, steward, and outstanding volunteer Charles Frederic Dye, Jr.
This sanctuary is unique among MNA sanctuaries, as it contains notable cultural, natural, and geological features within its 21 acres. Visitors to the sanctuary will find karst features such as exposed bedrock, thin soils, and deep earth cracks; a unique local feature resulting from the Niagara Escarpment rock formation. There are also numerous prairie species typically found in the tall grass prairie region of Illinois, Iowa and southern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The ghost town of Kenneth was a small and thriving logging town from the 1880s through the 1930s, which laid along the railroad line. For a short time until the 1930s, Kenneth established a Civilian Conservation Corps camp housing 300 men who worked primarily on repairing forest fire damage in the surrounding forests after a series of forest fires between 1915 and the 1930s. What is now the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary used to contain the town’s general store and saloon, the foundations of which can still be found in the sanctuary.
Although there are no official trails at Fred Dye, it is easily navigated due to its open prairie habitat. As you travel along M-123 roughly 20 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge, be on the lookout for the distinctive MNA sanctuary sign along the west side of the road and remember to “take only pictures, and leave only footprints.”