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!

Sanctuary Spotlight: Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary

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.

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Fred Dye at the dedication of the sanctuary on August 7, 2004.

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.

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An American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) on a pale purple coneflower. Photo taken at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary during the Michigan Nature Association 60th Anniversary Odyssey Tour, by Marianne Glosenger.

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.”

 

Reminiscing on a Decade of Accomplishments

As we all begin another rotation around the sun, we look forward to what a new year brings with it – hope, optimism, and the promise of new beginnings. We also like to take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of the previous year – though as we begin a new decade in 2020, MNA would like to expand that thought and remember some of our major accomplishments of the past ten years.

Since 2010, MNA has acquired nearly 40 parcels and conservation easements, bringing the total number of nature sanctuaries under MNA management to 181.

In 2012, MNA celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of our organization, which began as a group of bird enthusiasts, whose concern for protecting the ecological diversity of Southeast Michigan grew to become the oldest statewide land conservancy in Michigan.

In 2014, MNA honored its commitment to our members, donors, and the public about our ability to uphold their trust and protect important natural lands forever by successfully earning accreditation through the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission. And we followed on to that commitment with successful accreditation renewal in 2019, joining a network of more than 400 accredited land trusts across the country that have proven trustworthy in their professional excellence and conservation methods.

In the summer of 2014, MNA underwent a major move, from a 2,400 square foot house in Williamston to a 10,000 square foot office space, which we share with a number of other conservation organizations including Michigan Audubon, the Michigan Wetlands Association, and the most recent addition, the Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance.

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MNA outgrew our office in Williamston and moved our headquarters to nearby Okemos – visit us at 2310 Science Parkway!

Also in 2014 and into 2015, MNA was a key stakeholder in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ effort to update the state’s Wildlife Action Plan – a critical and partnership driven tool in defining the wildlife and habitat conservation goals for the state over a ten-year period.

DSC_0073MNA celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2017 and into 2018 with an extremely successful fundraising campaign to expand one of our showcase sanctuaries, Estivant Pines. The campaign celebrated the sanctuary’s 45th anniversary. The newest addition to this landmark sanctuary protects an additional 60 acres of old growth white pine forest in the Keweenaw Peninsula, bringing the sanctuary to a total of 570 acres.

 

Finally, in 2019, we were honored to be a recipient of one of the Consumers Energy Foundation’s inaugural Planet Award grants, which will help us save critical habitat in the state through protection, restoration, and enhancement projects at or adjacent to eleven of our more than 180 nature sanctuaries.

We are so proud of everyone who has helped us achieve each of these amazing accomplishments, and many more, over the last decade.

Sanctuary Spotlight: Franklin F. and Brenda L. Holly

For decades, Frank and Brenda Holly visited the 80-acre family retreat in Mason County, just outside of Ludington. There is a small cottage near the southwest corner of the property that Frank and his family have been slowly building over the past several decades; the rest consists of hemlock and pine forest, featuring wetland and prairie fen. Mr. Holly’s grandfather, Henry Millwood, was a local farmer and artist who spent much of his spare time caring for this property. Mr. Holly explained, “Every year in early December, Henry would walk the mile-and-a-half from his farm, with saw in hand, to this place and look for a tall pine tree with a nicely formed top. Then, he would climb way up high on this tree and cut its top off and carry it home so that it could serve as the family’s Christmas tree for that year.”

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A small stream runs through the Franklin F. and Brenda L. Holly Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Lauren Ross.

The onsite wetlands are part of a much larger wetland complex which extends to the west and the southwest, and which drain into the North Bayou on Hamlin Lake. Exploring the vast forest of this property, one will find patches of sandy earth, ferns and cattails among the red maples, eastern hemlocks, and red and white pines. A small creek runs through the property, one of many in a network of arteries that wind up in nearby Hamlin Lake.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the donation of this unique property in northern Michigan. It also marks the time in which Henry Millwood would have visited the property in search of the perfect tree. In the past year, MNA has been working to develop a walking trail on the property that will serve as an educational opportunity for the local community in conjunction with a partnership with the local schools and community organizations.

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In the summer, the open spaces of the sanctuary become dense with a variety of ferns. Photo by Robb Johnston.

You can learn more about this unique sanctuary, and about the Holly Family legacy in the Fall 2019 issue of Michigan Nature magazine – available online at michigannature.org!