Celebrate Earth Day with MNA!

April 22 is the 47th anniversary of Earth Day, a day where more than one billion people around the globe celebrate the earth and take action to protect it.

There are many things that we can do to help celebrate Earth Day and better the environment. By planting trees, recycling and cleaning up trash from lakes, rivers and parks, we are protecting the plants and animals that thrive on a clean environment. MNA has many opportunities to get involved, such as through a nature hike:

Friday, April 21: Earthweek Hike at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary (Muskegon County) 
In partnership with the Muskegon Area Earthweek group, MNA will host a hike at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary in Muskegon County. The hike will begin at 6 p.m. All are welcome! For more information or to sign up, contact John Bagley at jbagley@michigannature.org.


Saturday, April 22: Earth Day Hike at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary (Cass County)
Come celebrate Earth Day at the spring wildflower mecca of Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary! This event begins at 12 p.m. and should be near peak for flowering. Contact John Bagley at jbagley@michigannature.org for details or to sign up.

Supporters can also visit a booth at Earth Day festivals across the state:

Saturday, April 22: Muskegon Area Earthweek Expo at Montague High School in Muskegon County
Check out MNA’s booth at the 6th Annual Earth Fair Expo from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Montague High School. Celebrate Earth Day in Muskegon County with dozens of local exhibitors featuring eco-friendly, natural, and sustainable products and services. There will also be workshops and presentations this year. Families are welcome!

GVSU interns and Five Lakes steward

Sunday, April 23: Ann Arbor Earth Day Festival at Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor
Join MNA at the Ann Arbor Earth Day Festival from 12-4 p.m. at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. Stop by the MNA booth and say hi to our staff and local stewards! We will have a fun and earth-friendly activity for kids (and youthful adults!). The festival is a great opportunity to engage in activities that celebrate Earth and learn about environmental topics through live-animal presentations, naturalist-led hikes, informational presentations and discussions. You can even dress up as your favorite plant or animal! Nature lovers of all ages are welcome. No signup is necessary.

Happy Earth Day!


Showcase Sanctuary: Dowagiac Woods


Hunter’s Creek. Photo: Dan Sparks-Jackson

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Since its establishment as a Michigan Nature Association sanctuary in 1983, Dowagiac Woods has become renowned for its dazzling, weeks-long display of spring wildflowers.  In fact, this in part is what inspired the Michigan Nature Association’s interest; shortly after a member visited the woods in 1975 and noted the abundance of Blue-eyed Mary on a 220-acre forest lot that was for sale, an appeal was made for funding to purchase it. The original purchase has since been expanded to encompass an additional 164 acres.


Trails of Wildflowers. Photo: Judy Kepler

Every year visitors walk the trails meandering through the diverse blooms, some of which are hard to find elsewhere in the state. However, Dowagiac Woods is a unique example of the value of Michigan’s natural heritage, not just for its famed spring wildflowers, but because it’s a largely undisturbed 384-acre block of high-quality forest habitat with ample biodiversity to support a variety of Michigan-native wildlife, including many rare and some endangered species. Nearly 50 kinds of trees and hundreds of various other plant species, as well as close to 50 kinds of birds, have been catalogued by MNA. These include the Yellow-throated warbler whose clear songs grace visitors with joyful notes, the notorious Pileated woodpecker, and the rare and lovely Cerulean warbler.

Large, intact forest blocks like Dowagiac Woods are vital to the composition of habitats that support an array of wildlife, yet are becoming increasingly rare in southern Michigan as landscapes are fragmented by industry and human use. Additionally, the majority of Michigan’s intact forests reside in the upper half of the state. Thus, as the largest MNA sanctuary in the southern Lower Peninsula and a rare, high-quality example of the natural state of Michigan’s mesic southern and southern floodplain forests, Dowagiac Woods is truly a state treasure.


Dowagiac Woods the largest MNA sanctuary in the southern Lower Peninsula. Photo: Patricia Pennell

The ecological importance of biologically diverse plant communities can’t be overstated. Plants form the basis of habitats and aid in performing various hydrological functions not limited to natural flood control, water purification, and the cycling of water. They anchor and enrich the soil, cycle important nutrients, and convert carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. Forests also act as important carbon sinks by storing large amounts of carbon dioxide. The more diverse the community of plants that make up a community, the more efficiently it can function as a whole and perform these essential services. When biodiversity drops, ecosystems become less resilient against disturbances like disease or fire, because a single species comprises a much greater proportion of the plant community and its decline takes a greater toll.

With the exception of a section of woods that was selectively cut in the 1960s, the majority of Dowagiac Woods has thankfully remained undisturbed. The Michigan Nature Association’s mission is to preserve and maintain pristine areas like Dowagiac Woods. With soil that has never been plowed and trees that have never been clear-cut, it is the closest illustration of how Michigan’s forests may have looked prior to settlement. Visitors are encouraged to walk the trails and take in the rare sights and sounds of the many unique species found there. With careful management, what remains of Michigan’s natural heritage may yet be enjoyed for generations to come.

From the Archives: Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary

Every Sanctuary Has a Story: Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary

By Dave Wendling, Published April 2009 in the Michigan Nature Association Newsletter

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary is a living example of how the forests were when the first settlers came to Michigan. The sanctuary is a spectacular natural area because the majority of the property has never been plowed or clear-cut, there is an incredible species diversity. Wildflowers, trees, birds, and other animals flourish here, and the great size of the woods is a factor vital to their survival. Thanks to a 150-acre addition in 2008, the sanctuary is now the largest in the Lower Peninsula.

Plants flourish at Dowagiac Woods in countless numbers, with more than 50 species of wildflowers that bloom in the spring. Here is a plant community that shows what a forest floor free from human development looks like.

Nearly 50 species of trees have been found, and at least 49 different types of birds nest here. The woods is also a haven for nine plants and animals classified as in danger of becoming extinct in Michigan.

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanct

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary

Since Michigan became a state in 1837, Dowagiac Woods has experienced only two major alterations. In the early 1840’s, the Dowagiac River, which runs along the sanctuary’s southeast boundary, was channeled and straightened. Prior to the channelization, there were many meanders of the river. Today, one remains as “Crescent Pond”, which can be seen at the north end of the River Trail.

The other change was the selective cutting of timber. This began in the early 1940’s and ended in 1961. Fortunately, the owner Joseph Jerue, selectively logged the woods and used teams of horses to pull the logs out to a sawmill that was located where the pines are currently standing north of the parking lot.

The woods have never been plowed or grazed, nor has it been planted except for the pines and some other trees around the parking lot. It is said that the pines were planted to serve as a barrier to hunters who were in the habit of driving their Model T’s into the woods to shine deer at night.

There have also been a few minor disturbances. Square Pond was created by the Standard Oil Company and was used for water when they drilled for oil in the late 1930’s – early 1940’s. The company never found oil, but hit a brine well which spouted out onto the woods. Some of the brine settled in depressions in the woods and killed the plants and trees growing there. It took years before things began growing again. The well, located southwest of Square Pond, has since been capped.

Dowagiac Woods was well known by Isaac “Ike” Hunter, a local farmer and naturalist. He was a birder and belonged to the Cass County Audubon Society. He was also a member of the Michigan Nature Association, and when the property came up for sale he notified the Michigan Nature Association. He knew its significance and that the blue-eyed Mary grew there.

nodding trillium - trillium cernuum - al menk

Nodding trillium at the sanctuary. Photo by Al Menk.

In MNA’s book “In Retrospect” Bertha Daubendiek, one of MNA’s founders, reminisced:
“It was my privilege in 1981, as we were studying the woods before acquisition, to visit it every weekend for six weeks from the last of March through the first of May. It was an exciting and uplifting experience I have never forgotten. At first a green fuzz appeared everywhere on the ground. Somewhere else, this would have turned into grass, but it soon became apparent that at Dowagiac Woods every tuft of green was topped by a wildflower bud. The progression was slow but steady, until everywhere there were flowers, all jammed together. Some other woods have two peaks of bloom, in April and in the middle of May. But not at Dowagiac. No matter what day you go in that six weeks’ period, blooms are everywhere.”

On January 3, 1983, the Michigan Nature Association purchased 220 acres of this fabulous property.

The Cass County Audubon Society played a very important role in both the fundraising and in the care of Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. They held various fundraisers to raise money to buy a section of the woods. They were not alone in this effort – residents of Cass County raised 20% of the money needed to purchase the sanctuary, quite an accomplishment during hard economic times.

“Titmouse Tales”, the official minutes of the Cass County Audubon Society wrote in 1982:
“July brought a lot of extra activity on the Dowagiac Woods Project as Bertha Daubendiek cracked her whip and we jumped into action. Isaac Hunter became a qualified tour guide, Carl Biek became chief engineer and recruited help in building a bridge across the creek, Gene Fuessle recruited help from his students who helped as guides and in any way they could, Frank McKaye became so involved in lecturing and showing film strips that Millie almost divorced him on grounds of desertion, Ann and Naomi Biek took care of registration and the distributing of fact materials and became an accomplished trail hiker. Other members did their part by providing articles to be raffled off at our meetings, and Gretchen Lenz was invaluable at plant identification. The monthly raffles continue to bring money toward our pledge for the woods.”

The Audubon Society formed a Care Committee that became involved in maintaining the trails, building boardwalks and making bridges. The committee often led groups of local Boy Scouts on work days and one of the scouts constructed the largest bridge at the sanctuary as an Eagle Scout project. The bridge crosses a tributary of the Dowagiac River that was named “Hunter’s Creek” in honor of Ike Hunter after his untimely death.

MNA Kicks Off Spring with Wildflower Weekend Getaway

May 2-4, 2014

A hepaticia flower. Photo by Aaron Strouse

A hepaticia flower. Photo by Aaron Strouse

See wildflowers and celebrate spring with MNA! Join us for a weekend bus trip, featuring the wildflowers of southwest Michigan. The Wildflower Walkabout will kickoff with tours through Phillips Family Nature Sanctuary, Brewer Woods Nature Sanctuary, Trillium Ravine Nature Sanctuary, and Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary.

The Phillips Family Nature Sanctuary is home to many rare and unusual plants and is one of three MNA sanctuaries that protect coastal plain marshes. The flora that grow at the sanctuary are known as coastal plain disjunct plants because they are separated from their main populations along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Visitors will get to see bald-rush, seedbox and tall beak-rush, which are only found in Michigan’s coastal plains. The Virginia meadow beauty can also be found and can be identified by its bright purple and rich pink flowers. These four-pedaled flowers have eight stamen with striking orange and yellow anthers.

Your visit to the Brewer Woods Nature Sanctuary will present you with a remarkable array of spring ephemeral wildflowers. You may also get a glimpse at the eastern box turtle or the hooded warbler, two species that protected by the state of Michigan and reside within the sanctuary. This sanctuary is one of the few remaining areas of mature beech-maple forest left in Kalamazoo County.

The intense beauty of the Trillium Ravine Nature Sanctuary will make your visit memorable. This mixed deciduous forest that is set along a glacial ravine is littered with striking spring ephemeral flowers that will be abundant on your visit. The trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger and yellow trout lily are some of the wildflowers found throughout the ravine, and beech and sugar maple are the predominant hardwoods that tower above.

The yellow trout lily. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary is considered the “crown jewel” of MNA’s sanctuaries. The 384-acre mesic forest serves as a travel through time to what Michigan looked liked prior to plowing and settlement. A diverse range of plants and animals call this sanctuary home and the 1.5 mile trail allows visitors to observe all that the sanctuary has to offer. An abundance of wildflowers can be found along the Dowagiac River and oxbow ponds. Some flowers found in the floodplain are jewelweed, skunk cabbage, marsh marigold and golden ragwort. 50 species of nesting birds like the barred owl and yellow-throated warbler use the river and forested habitat along with several species of reptiles, such as the black rat snake, are common sights.  New discoveries will be found with every visit to the Dowagiac Woods and it will surely be a visit to remember.

This weekend getaway is just $275 for double occupancy. The price includes two nights at the Four Points by Sheridan, transportation, and meals and snacks. To sign up, contact Danielle Cooke at 866-223-2231 or dcooke@michigannature.org. Additional information is available on the MNA website.