Upcoming Wildflower Walkabout Tour: Black Creek Nature Sanctuary

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

With warm temperatures and wildflowers in bloom, late-summer is a great time to get outside. Explore what northern Michigan has to offer by joining Erika Vye, MTU Geology PhD student, for a hike through Black Creek Nature Sanctuary on August 3, at 11 a.m. The tour is part of MNA’s 2013 Wildflower Walkabout, a series of guided tours throughout spring and summer featuring the abundant plant life in many sanctuaries. In addition to its diverse summer flora, the sanctuary displays many of the Upper Peninsula’s iconic animal species as well as the picturesque shores of Lake Superior.

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Black Creek’s Lake Superior shoreline.
Photo courtesy of Sherri Laier.

Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is located near Calumet, Michigan in Keweenaw County, off of Cedar Bay Road. Visitors can follow the sanctuary’s marked trail, which is about five miles to the end and back. The trail begins in a sandy, backdune landscape, where visitors can expect to see a variety of blueberry, bearberry and trailing arbutus plants. Further along, the sanctuary is shaded by towering white birch, fir and sugar maple trees.

Many wildflowers are native to the area, including rattlesnake plantain, baneberry, and sarsaparilla. The flowers should be in full bloom this time of year, displaying spots of color along the trail, so visitors will want to bring their cameras along for the hike.

Visitors might also catch a glimpse of some wildlife along the trail, as Black Creek is home to many of northern Michigan’s animal species. Though wolves, black bears, and moose have all been reported in the sanctuary, a more common animal is the spruce grouse, a medium-size bird native to the area. The spruce grouse is known for its immobility, and it will only fly away other animals come closer than a few feet.

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A beaver dam in Black Creek’s lagoon.
Photo courtesy of Charlie Eshbach.

Near the end of the trail lies Black Creek’s picturesque and unique lagoon, located where Black Creek and Hills Creek converge before entering the lake. The lagoon provides a critical habitat for fish and surrounding wildlife, and it is an especially popular location for beaver dams. Depending on the weather, the lagoon’s size and shape is constantly changing, creating an ever-altering landscape.

Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is also known for its shoreline. The first 121 acres of the sanctuary were initially donated in 1991 by Calumet native Ruth Sablich, who hoped to create more public beaches along Lake Superior. A year later, the preserve expanded an additional 120 acres, making it the expansive 241-acre sanctuary it is today. Visitors can follow 1,300 feet of Lake Superior shores, which are angled and capable of producing 18-foot high waves during the most powerful storms.

With an abundance of natural photo opportunities and warm, summer air, Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is sure to satisfy any adventurous spirit. For more information on MNA’s August 3 hike or for directions to the sanctuary, email nancy@einerlei.com.

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Snowshoeing at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary

By Nancy Leonard

Hiking along the lagoon at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Nancy Leonard

Hiking along the lagoon at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Nancy Leonard

With the snow having finally returned to the Keweenaw, the trail at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is finally packed with fluffy new snow just in time for the afternoon snowshoe hike. On January 19, 27 hikers eagerly donned their snowshoes. Led by stewards Peter and Jill Pietila, they trekked along the trail to where Black Creek and Hills Creek join to form a picturesque lagoon.

The sanctuary acquired its name from Black Creek that flows in a northerly direction through the sanctuary before emptying into the lagoon where it enters Lake Superior. Hills Creek also flows through the sanctuary, entering on the eastern boundary and flowing westerly until it converges with the Black Creek at the lagoon.

Ruth Sablich, formerly of Calumet, donated the first 121 acres of this jewel of a sanctuary to MNA in 1991.  Driven by her perception of increased private development in the area and concerned about the future of public access to Lake Superior, Ruth spearheaded a project to raise funds to expand the sanctuary. With her persistence  additional parcels were added in 1992 and 2002 to increase the sanctuary size to 242 acres.

Our snowshoe hiking companions! Photo by Nancy Leonard

Our snowshoe hiking companions! Photo by Nancy Leonard

Natural communities known to occur here include dry northern forest, dry-mesic northern forest, back-dune forest, emergent wetland, northern wet meadow, rich conifer swamp, northern shrub thicket, volcanic cobble shore and sand and gravel beach.

That cobble shore and gravel and sand beach in its winter coat is now obscured with fantastical ice hills and valleys and curious “volcano vents” formed by the ice building up along the shoreline.  Curious hikers couldn’t help themselves and many trod carefully upon the otherworldly topography, being careful, though, to not venture too far out.

Peter led the group along the shoreline to the Pietila home. Here, the somewhat tired but very happy hikers were treated to an array of refreshments and a chance to rest, warm , and share their trail stories.

MNA will lead several more snowshoe hikes this winter! Check the Events Calendar to find a hike in your area. We hope to see you there!

The Odyssey’s Finale at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary

By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling

Group along the shore

The group enjoys a beautiful sunny day on the shores of Lake Superior. Photo by Dave Wendling

September 30 was another amazing day in copper country as blue skies and the fantastic fall color welcomed us to the 241-acre Black Creek Nature Sanctuary just outside of historic Calumet. With 1,300 feet of Lake Superior shoreline, Black Creek Nature Sanctuary boasts forested sand dunes, a lagoon, two creeks that empty into Lake Superior, and a beaver dam.  There is also evidence of stamp sand, a barren, and leftover of copper mining in the Keweenaw. Black Creek is home to wolf, moose, black bear, beaver, and of course, the dreaded black fly. While we would have enjoyed spotting any of the aforementioned mammals, we were happy to visit after black fly season!  We are told that this sanctuary is also a perfect place to enjoy winter with snowshoeing and skiing along the softly rolling terrain.

Once again, our expected 20-25 hikers grew to more than 40 as car after car pulled up alongside the road. Our host stewards, Jill and Peter Pietila, had invited friends and neighbors to join us on this easy and well-marked hike, which promised to be a wistful ending to a perfect summer Odyssey. Special guests were Jim and Joy Ziemnick (Jim was the first steward at Black Creek and started the sanctuary on its way to becoming a “Showcase Sanctuary” with his dedicated stewardship) and Bill and Nancy Leonard, who are stewardship coordinators for the Keweenaw Peninsula. After an enjoyable hike through the forested dunes and along the lagoon, our hikers lingered along the beautiful shore of Lake Superior. No one was in a hurry to leave this special place.  Peter even brought his fishing pole and told us of his many fishing adventures here.

Group at Black Creek

We did it! Number 20! Photo by Marianne Glosenger

This is a fitting time to thank every Odyssey steward who is devoted to the cause of protecting one or more of our magnificent sanctuaries. Without them, there would be no “Showcase Sanctuaries”. Thanks to our Regional Stewardship Organizers, Matt, Katherine, and Adrienne, who so strongly supported the adventure, to Dick and Marianne Glosenger who devoted their summer to the Odyssey going on 19 of our 20 hikes and taking amazing photos along the way for all to enjoy. Thank you to Aubrey Golden, MNA Trustee and President of the Michigan Karst Conservancy, who added so much to the 13 hikes he participated in.

Also recognition and thanks to our office coordinator Johanna Swanson who prepared all our materials and kept us well supplied all summer, and to Allison Barszcz who worked behind the scenes to make the blog possible. But most of all thank you to each and every participant from MNA’s Executive Director Garret Johnson, President Steve Kelley, and to all of you who came out to hike with us. Thanks also to those of you who took out MNA memberships or made a pledge to MNA in support of the Odyssey. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!  Thank you, one and all, from Dave “Turtle Man” Wendling and Tina “Super Bee” Patterson. See you on the trail!

PS: As we look back just one week from our last hike we truly recognize how lucky we were–from perfect t-shirt hiking weather, it is now getting cold and blustery along the Lake Superior shore line with snow, sleet, and freezing rain. How fortunate we were to share the beauty of a fall day just before winter arrived!

PPS: If you weren’t able to join us, you can still experience the excitement of the Odyssey! Visit MNA’s YouTube page for videos from several of our Odyssey Tours.

A Fascinating Dragonfly Hike at Black Creek

By Nancy Leonard

Bob Marr Leads the Group

Group members of all ages gather around Bob Marr as he teaches about dragonflies. Photo by Nancy Leonard

Bob Marr was joined at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary by 21 eager participants of all ages on the sunny first day of September.  Bob has been interested in dragonflies for several years and has submitted information to the Michigan Odonata Survey. He has completed species lists for Black Creek Nature Sanctuary and for the Robert T. Brown Nature Sanctuary in Houghton County.

We gathered in the parking area at the Black Creek trailhead and within minutes, Bob had captured a couple of Saffron-winged Meadowhawk dragonflies. He pointed out the yellow coloration on the leading edge of their wings as one of their primary identifying characteristics. How amazing to see the female deposit her eggs on his finger, the rich yellow eggs tiny but still large enough for us to observe!

The group didn’t have to go far on the trail to find a perfect spot for netting and observing.  The vernal ponds have dried for the most part, but small pools remain behind with vegetation providing egg-laying surfaces for dragonflies and damselflies.

Bob Examines a Dragonfly

Bob examines a dragonfly. Photo by Nancy Leonard

Participants that had nets practiced their technique with Bob’s instruction. The Meadowhawks were present in great numbers, many of them identified as the White-face Meadowhawk.  Several species of darners were noted, including the Canada Darner and the Shadow Darner.  Species of damselflies were also observed, including the Spotted Spreadwing Damselfly. Other creatures sharing the place with us were discovered and included a number of Northern Leopard Frogs, plus a juvenile Solitary Sandpiper, busily feeding on a mudflat.

Some in the group lingered with Bob to discover even more species while others continued hiking the trail toward the spectacular creek-fed lagoon overlooking pristine Lake Superior shoreline. Everyone agreed that Black Creek Nature Sanctuary had to be the perfect place to enjoy such a beautiful day in the Keweenaw.

If you’d like to take part in an educational field trip, visit the MNA Events Calendar for a list of upcoming trips near you.

Black Creek Snowshoe Hike

By Megan Clute

Photo courtesy of Nancy Leonard

On January 14, 2012,
29 nature enthusiasts enjoyed a snowshoeing journey through the Black Creek Nature Sanctuary Trail. Despite 18 degree temperature and blustery morning weather, participants experienced the beauty of the snow-covered dunes, creeks and rivers leading to Lake Superior. From Michigan Tech students to retirees, the group consisted of both novice and experienced snowshoe hikers. The trip was guided by stewards Peter and Jill Pietila along with MNA member Nancy Leonard. They trekked through the fresh snow of Keweenaw County in conditions that were “pleasant but not too warm” according to Nancy. She also described the trip as picturesque, featuring the frozen rivers and Lake Superior which appeared as if “it could turn to ice in a moment.”

Throughout the journey, participants stopped for pictures on benches conveniently located along the trails for visitors to rest and take in the sights. After reaching Lake Superior, Peter and Jill led the hikers along the shoreline to their home located on a dune in the area. Participants were able to warm up from the hike and enjoy refreshments provided by the stewards.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Leonard

The Black Creek Sanctuary has been owned by the MNA since 1991, and in 2011 it was named one of the 20 Showcase Sanctuaries throughout the state. The sanctuary features two loops of trails, which are both two miles long, that show off the sanctuary’s sand dunes and lagoon formed by the combined waters of the Hills and Black Creeks. Visitors are welcome year-round to participate in activities such as hiking, taking photos, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Join MNA at our next snowshoe hike at the Gratiot Lake Overlook Nature Sanctuary located in Keweenaw County. The hike will take place Sunday, March 25 from 1-3 p.m. Please visit our website for further details!