Pulling Spotted Knapweed at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

IMG_2038Tucked away behind an interesting little trucking company, Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is a true sanctuary. A hidden, untouched, and thriving ecosystem where you would least expect it. In June, the Michigan Nature Association held a scheduled workday dedicated to the upkeep of this sanctuary. Five Lakes Nature Sanctuary consists of rare habitat, composed mostly of coastal plain marsh. I was told by the stewardship coordinator, Sam, that some of the plants found in the sanctuary are isolated communities that are typically found in marshes on the Atlantic coast. Thinking about the ecological reason as to how these plants managed to find a home in Michigan makes protecting these rare communities all the more important.

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Invasive spotted knapweed

The nature sanctuary not only contains coastal plain marsh, but also other critical habitats such as oak-pine barrens and dry sand prairies. The reason for our workday was focused on preservation of the dry sand prairies, which are susceptible to invasive species such as spotted knapweed. This invasive plant thrives in the soft, sandy soil. Spotted knapweed uses allelopathic chemicals to inhibit surrounding plant growth by exuding the chemical from its roots. For the critical habitat that the Five Lakes Nature Sanctuary protects, allowing this invasive species to spread would be detrimental to the rare marsh plant and wildflower communities.

The workday was led by West Michigan Regional Stewardship Organizer, Sam Brodley, and was attended by the two stewards of the sanctuary. What was unique about the stewards was that they were both young teenage girls. It was cool for me, as an aspiring female conservation biologist, to see young girls actively engaged in natural resource management. My mom and I arrived at the work day a little late, so we missed the group heading to the work site. Not knowing which direction they headed, we ended up going on a bit of a walk in the opposite way. While we missed some of the actual work, we were able to explore some of the sanctuary that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. The trail we were on followed the marsh area and ran deeper into the woods as opposed to the dry sand prairie that we hoped to find. Though we enjoyed the scenic detour, I eventually contacted Sam and found our way to the right place.

IMG_9602The area we were working in was an open area, with sparse trees and shrubbery. Nothing stood out to me at first as clearly invasive, as sometimes plants do when they begin to overtake an area. One of the women who attended the workday told me that once you know what spotted knapweed looked like, you’d see it everywhere. She was very correct. It took me a second to become familiar with the plant, but soon I could spot it amongst other prairie like plants. The plant has a pale green, ashy complexion, which makes it stand out against native species. We were also told to look for its compound leaves to help distinguish it from similar prairie plants. Since the soil was so loose and it had recently rained, it was easy to pull the entire plant, taproot included, from the ground. We were lucky that the knapweed had not flowered yet, so we didn’t have to worry about bagging or burning the discarded plants.

When we had felt like we had made solid progress, we made the walk back to the cars and parted ways. Attending a workday, though shortened by an unfortunate case of misdirection, was a great way to feel involved with the nature of Michigan, even in places you’d least expect it. I got a great breathe of fresh air, and now I will always know how to spot spotted knapweed!

Check out MNA’s event calendar for find a volunteer workday near you!

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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.

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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!

Member Vote Overwhelmingly Approves Five Lakes Muskegon Land Trade

The results are in!

The members of the Michigan Nature Association have approved the proposed Five Lakes Muskegon land trade!

Voting closed August 15th. With 452 votes cast, more than 97% of the votes were in favor of the proposed trade, and less than 3% opposed.

Some of those who voted also passed along comments for and against the proposed trade, including;
• “Great idea.”
• “Well presented and negotiated”
• “Thank you for the excellent presentation”
• “Enjoyed rare plants, trade will make access better.”
• “I hope everything goes well in the land trade. Keep up the good work.”
• “Sad to see you give up any land.”

Now that our members have ratified the proposal the Five Lakes trade may proceed, and MNA staff is now actively working with our partners to finalize the exchange. The trade will join the currently bisected Five Lakes sanctuary into a single, larger piece of property, and will ensure that the core of the sanctuary will never be developed.

The vote on Five Lakes is a terrific display of the MNA membership in action. Throughout our nearly 60 year history, the members of the Michigan Nature Association have played a pivotal role in the organization’s success. In addition to providing generous financial support, MNA members guide our organization by electing our board of trustees, help us identify natural areas needing protection, volunteer countless hours helping us manage the thousands of acres we own, and (as in the case of Five Lakes) make important organizational decisions when the need arises.

The active involvement of our members is truly one of the great strengths of MNA. Without the generosity and willingness of our members to be engaged, we would not be the organization we are today.

Thank you, again, for all you do!