MNA turns 65!

This year the Michigan Nature Association celebrates its 65th year of operation. What was started by Bertha Daubendiek as a bird study group in 1951 has grown to now over 170 nature sanctuaries throughout Michigan.

The bird study group was incorporated in 1952 as the St. Clair Metropolitan Beach Sanctuary Association. Two years later, the name became Macomb Nature Association, as volunteers joined and the focus of the group shifted. The Junior Nature Patrol, a club for school children, was established in 1955, and its ranks swelled to 5,000 by 1957. However, we soon realized that educational study of natural habitats was not enough; we then sought to actually purchase natural areas to protect them for future generations to enjoy. Red Wing Acres (now Louis G. Senghas Memorial) became MNA’s first sanctuary in 1960, beginning a long tradition of preservation. In 1962, we celebrated 10 years by helping bring about the banning of any drilling in all state game areas.

Red Wing Acres

Red Wing Acres

MNA continued to grow as we acquired more sanctuaries, including the first outside of St. Clair County in 1963. MNA morphed into the Eastern Michigan Nature Association in 1965. The name finally settled on what it is today in 1970, the same year we proposed and campaigned for the Natural Beauty Roads Act in Michigan, which was enacted by the Michigan Legislature. The Act, which now goes by Michigan’s Natural Beauty Roads Act of 1970, allows citizens to request protection of stretches of roads or streets that are examples of rural and community character. A four-mile stretch of Hamilton Road, near the entrance of MNA’s Julius C. and Marie Moran Peter Memorial Sanctuary, became the first Natural Beauty Road in 1971.

Peter Memorial

Julius C. and Marie Moran Peter Memorial Nature Sanctuary

The three-year-long “Save the Pines” campaign celebrated success in 1973 by purchasing the first 160 acres of what would become Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Fueled by volunteers’ indignation at Universal Oil cutting down acres of this old growth white pine forest, the campaign furiously began fundraising and letter-writing in 1970 to save the forest. Also in 1973, Detroit Edison Co. proposed building two nuclear plants near Red Wings Acres, including 765,000-volt transmission lines that would run through Red Wings; after MNA objected, DTE chose to locate their plants elsewhere. Accolades for our organization came in, with Bertha receiving Michigan’s 1974 Volunteer of the Year and Detroit News’s 1979 Michiganian of the Year for her work with MNA, and the organization receiving an achievement award from the US Department of the Interior in 1980. We reached our personal goal of 50 sanctuaries in 1979. We closed out the decade by acquiring our largest property, Roach Point Nature Sanctuary, a peninsula which now boasts a whopping 763 acres of forest and Munuscong Lake shoreline. It was renamed the Schafer Family Nature Sanctuary at Roach Point in 2011 to honor the donation of time and land by the Schafer brothers, Melvin and Mason.

Roach Point

Roach Point. Photo: Jeff Ganley.

1984 saw an exciting goal achieved – every type of Michigan native tree species was now included on MNA preserves. Our 100th project, Twin Waterfalls, was initiated in 1986, and the following year, Bertha received an honorary Doctorate of Science from Adrian College.

Twin Waterfalls

Twin Waterfalls Memorial. Photo: Charles Eshbach

Big changes came in our next decade. Bertha was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994 and received an honorary degree from Grinnell College in 1997. Pat Grogan Orchid Bog (now Pat Grogan Shelldrake Nature Sanctuary) became our 150th sanctuary in 2000. The next year, Bertha retired from her 49-year position as a volunteer Executive Secretary, and an executive director position was created. Jeremy Emmi was hired in late 2001 and oversaw MNA for the next ten years, until Garret Johnson came in 2011. In 2002, Bertha received a lifetime achievement award from the Wildlife Habitat Council.


Bertha receiving her honorary Grinnell degree

As our organization and the number of sanctuaries we maintained grew, we discovered we needed more help. Sherri Laier was hired in 2004 as our first stewardship director, fueled by this new level of commitment to land preservation and giving local volunteer stewards the resources needed to better protect land. One of Sherri’s most important contributions was her management of Goose Creek Nature Sanctuary, which had been overrun by invasive species. Sherri coordinated a 5 year plan to burn and spray the glossy buckthorn growing in Goose Creek, allowing endangered and rare species to grow in place of it.

Sadly, 2005 saw Bertha’s passing, marking the end of an era. We still think of her when we visit our favorite sanctuaries. On a happier note, we hit a special milestone in 2011, as we surpassed a total of 10,000 protected acres.


MNA Founder, Bertha Daubendiek

2014 marked a big year as we received national recognition by meeting the highest standards in land conservation when we were accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a mark of distinction that only a select group of land trusts has achieved. In 2015, the support of MNA’s members and donors allowed MNA to acquire additional land on Brockway Mountain on the Keweenaw Peninsula. It’s one of Michigan’s most iconic landscapes, and many vacationing families from across the state (and beyond) pause at the summit and gaze in wonder at the breathtaking view of Lake Superior – the largest freshwater lake on earth. Working together, MNA and the local township have now protected roughly 600 acres of contiguous land around the summit of Brockway Mountain.

Brockway Mountain

Brockway Mountain. Photo: J. Haara

Coming full circle in 2016, MNA created additional initiatives to focus on education and connecting children with nature, just like our early leaders in 1952. MNA worked with school teachers across the state to inspire children to become Michigan’s next generation of conservation leaders. Our exciting schools-to-sanctuaries initiative is one where we connect our conservation work at specific nature sanctuaries with nearby schools. MNA also launched the Environmental Education Fund to provide financial assistance to teachers across the state to help them provide school kids with first-hand opportunities to experience nature. To continue our conservation education, MNA hosted the Race for Michigan Nature, a statewide series of Family Fun Runs & 5Ks stretching from Belle Isle in Detroit to Marquette in the U.P. Each race spotlights one of Michigan’s rarest species and helps promote the importance of protecting Michigan’s remaining natural areas.

Kids Day

Kids Day in Newaygo

February 21st, 2017, was our official 65th birthday, but we are extending the party throughout the rest of the year. Join MNA at upcoming volunteer workdays, nature hikes, the Race for Michigan Nature Series, Members’ Meetings, and other events to celebrate our 65th anniversary!


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service celebrates Endangered Species Act’s 40th anniversary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

In 1972, President Nixon declared that “conservation efforts in the United States aimed toward preventing the extinction of species were inadequate,” and asked Congress to develop comprehensive legislation regarding endangered species. The Endangered Species Act was passed on December 28, 1973, and is considered the most important piece of endangered species legislation. Since its inception, the act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects.

2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is honoring  the anniversary with a year-long celebration of the law and the country’s conservation efforts. Check out the timeline below for a list of significant events and achievements in the Endangered Species Act’s history. For more information on the legislation and the 40th anniversary celebrations, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

ESA timeline

MNA Protecting Michigan History

by Hannah Ettema
MNA Intern

Not only does MNA protect nature throughout Michigan, but at the Sauk Indian Trail Plant Preserve, a little piece of Michigan history is saved forever.

The Sauk Trail has witnessed magnificent changes in history. From glacial changes to population changes to technological changes, the trail acts as a worthy marker of history and its unyielding power as a force of time.

Early History

The land on the preserve was once part of the Great Sauk trail, which ran from western Illinois to Detroit.

Based on excavated evidence by paleontologists from the University of Michigan, some theories suggest that game animals were using the trail as migratory routes more than 10,000 years ago.

By the time Europeans arrived in Michigan in the seventeenth century the trail was already a well-established pathway through the wilderness. The trail roughly followed the line of abundant forests to the north as it connected with open grasslands to the south.

map Sauk Indian Trail Michigan

the Sauk Indian Trail through Michigan

With the construction of the Eric Canal in 1825, the traffic on the trail increased. Travelers would leave their boats in Detroit and continue west towards Chicago or other cities along the way.

The same year the canal opened, the United States appropriated $3,000 for the Sauk trail. As the second federal highway in the nation, the money was needed to accommodate for the large amount of traffic.

As traffic continued, towns began growing along the trail. Spaced at about fifteen mile intervals, small agricultural towns like Saline, Clinton, Jonesville, Allen, Quincy, Bronson, Sturgis, White Pigeon and Niles grew and served as station stops for the trail.

Transportation Advances

After the Civil War, the railroad system grew throughout the country. Recognizing the geographic sensibility of the trail, a railroad was constructed parallel to it bringing more wealth and affluence to the people and towns along the corridor.

With the railroad’s arrival, some small farming towns became industry centers. Washtenaw County in Southeast Michigan became one of the leading producers of wool in the country because of sheep raisers from England settling there off of the trail. Their wool would eventually be used for soldier uniforms in WWI and II and later for car upholstery.

Soon the automobile was the means of transportation in America and with it came the need for roads. In 1916 Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act with hopes of constructing a highway system that could replace the railroad as the major means of surface transportation in the country.

In the early 1920s paving began of the Chicago Road (Sauk Trail) to become US-112.

wildflowers at the sanctuary

wildflowers at the sanctuary

Since the construction of I-69 and I-94 across the state, traffic on US-12 has shifted allowing for history to be preserved and the route to still be used as a regional connector.

For more information about US-12, click here.

For more information about Sauk Indian Trail Plant Preserve and other MNA properties, click here.

Why Michigan is shaped like a mitten: A Glacial Review

by Hannah Ettema
MNA Intern

Everyone does it.

Person A: “What city are you from?”

Person B: [holds up hand and points to location of town.]

Has anyone from Michigan not used their hand to pinpoint their hometown? This is so normal for any Michigander to do. Using hands as maps is a part of Michigan culture.

How exactly are we so lucky to have our state shaped like a mitten? If you were thinking glaciers, you’re absolutely right.

MNA trustee and geologist Mary Ann Czechowski shed some light on Michigan’s glacial history in a recent interview. Mary Ann is a geology consultant and the author of Gold in Michigan.

A glacier is essentially a large river of ice that flows through a landscape.

glacier near lake

Johns Hopkins and Gilman Glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Today, glaciers can be found on every continent except Australia.

There have been four Ice Ages in the Earth’s history.  In the last Ice Age, the Pleistocene Epoch began and lasted from approximately two million years to 12,000 years ago. During this time, warm and cool temperatures alternated and glaciers retreated and advanced in interglacial periods. Around the world, glaciers carved and influenced much of today’s landscape, including the Great Lakes and the state of Michigan.

Like bodies of water, the first glaciers flowed south from what is now Canada seeking the areas of least resistance. It is believed that the Great Lakes were once ancient riverbeds, providing the glaciers perfect pathways south.

With each advance and retreat of the glaciers, the shape and water level of the lakes changed. These changes weren’t happening in a matter of months, but over thousands of years.

small dune among trees

Manistique Dune and Swale Nature Sanctuary with prehistoric beaches. Photo: Keith Sayor.

As the shape and water level of the lakes changed, the beaches did as well. When water from the glaciers retreated, it left behind a beach. The Manistique Dune and Swale Nature Sanctuary, recently visited on MNA’s fall adventure, has excellent evidence of these prehistoric beaches. In the sanctuary, a swell of sand will appear out of place among the trees but as you continue to walk towards the current water’s edge, you will walk through various sand swells among trees representing past water levels of Lake Michigan.

Evidence of glacial beaches can also be found at Frink’s Pond and Carl E. McAlvay Memorial Plant Preserves. See the MNA’s sanctuary page for more information on these sanctuaries and others throughout the state.

Many of Michigan’s inland lakes, including Walled Lake and Higgins Lake, were also formed by glaciers. These lakes are called kettle lakes, and were created when chunks of ice would break off the glacier and become embedded in the ground. When the ice chunk would melt, a kettle hole would be left and be filled by water from natural sources.

green grasslands

Goose Creek Crasslands Prairie Nature Sanctuary. Photo: Matt Schultz.

As the glaciers carved the landscape, they left deposits of sediment. Small pieces of rock originally from Canada have been found as far south as in Indiana and Ohio. Here in Michigan the Goose Creek Grasslands Prairie Nature Sanctuary rests in a glacial trough where raw gravel was left by retreating glaciers. Timberland Swamp Sanctuary is a basin that was formed by debris left by the glacier.

fal flowers in wetland

Saginaw Wetland Nature Sanctuary. Photo: Meghan Good.

Michigan sits atop bedrock composed of many rock types, including sandstone. As the glaciers eroded the landscape of Michigan, sand became much more prevalent, giving us our sandy beaches, sand dunes and wetlands. The sand blocks the drain of water from land into the lakes, and trapped water creates wetlands, such as the Saginaw Wetland Nature Sanctuary in Huron County.

The sand eroded by the glaciers has also shaped Michigan’s shorelines today. Michigan receives mainly westerly winds, causing the Lake Michigan coastline to have significant dunes not only along the shoreline, but also further inland than usual.

coastline with dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Lake Huron on the other hand, has fewer dunes due to the fact that the westerly winds blow the sand back into the lake, making for a sandy bottom. Redwyn’s Dunes Nature Sanctuary on the shore of Lake Superior has the only sand dunes on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which were blown in after the glacial retreat

For more information volunteering or visiting sanctuaries, please visit the MNA website . Special thanks to our members for their support and help throughout Michigan.