Sanctuary Spotlight: Mystery Valley

by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer

If cabin fever is setting in and all of your go-to getaways are busier than ever, it may be time to switch things up and seek out an alternative destination. Presque Isle County in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula is a treasure trove of discovery. Much of northeastern Michigan is composed of limestone rock, but if you look more closely, you will see that there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

There are a number of protected and managed karst features in Alpena and Presque Isle County. Karst terrains are characterized by caves, steep valleys, swallow holes (a place where water disappears or sinks underground), and a general lack of surface streams because drainage is underground. The resulting landscape provides unusual habitats for plants and animals.

Exposed karst formations at Bruski Sink in Presque Isle County. Photo by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer.

In what would otherwise appear to be typical farmland in Presque Isle County are three of these karst features within minutes of each other, and each uniquely different. Bruski Sink and Stevens Twin Sinks are owned and managed by the Michigan Karst Conservancy both offering stellar views of exposed rock faces as well as a short but steep causeway. The 76-acre Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary, which is managed by both the Michigan Nature Association as well as the Michigan Karst Preserve, is regarded as the finest known example of a karst valley with a swallow hole in Michigan.

A welcome kiosk at Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary informs visitors to the features of this unique area. Photo by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer.

Your adventure begins with roadside parking and a trail leading you past a series of earth cracks (Caution: DO NOT CLIMB IN THE EARTH CRACKS!). The path continues further down into the heart of Mystery Valley where you find a recessed valley floor and a large sinkhole. Water rising from beneath the surface often creates a lake that covers the west and lower ends of the valley. Most of the water reaches the surface through a sinkhole in the bedrock at the valley’s west end. Snowmelt and rain runoff also contribute to the water levels. As water flows through the underground drainage system toward Lake Huron, Mystery Valley’s “disappearing” lake drains back through the sinkhole… and disappears.

A sinkhole filled with water at Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Randy Butters.

So if you are looking to experience a unique piece of Michigan nature, look no further than MNA’s Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary, and remember to take only pictures, and leave only footprints.

Learn more and get involved at

MNA’s Guide to Gifts for Nature – Part III

IRA Charitable Rollover

mna logo with red bow

You can give to nature and take advantage of a special tax treat for the year-end giving season with the IRA Charitable Rollover. But it must be done soon to count for 2017.
Here’s how it works:
  • People age 70 1/2 or older can make IRA transfer gifts tax-free to the Michigan Nature Association, a qualified charity;
  • Gifts of up to $100,000 qualify when IRA assets are transferred directly to the Charity;
  • Directly transferred gifts count towards the required minimum distributions you must take annually from your traditional IRAs, but aren’t included in your adjusted gross income and therefore are not counted as taxable income;
  • For married couples, each spouse can transfer up to $100,000 from their IRA.
A recent article in U.S. News & World Report, “How to Donate Your Required Minimum Distribution to Charity,” provides an excellent overview. But time for a qualifying gift for the 2017 tax year is running out. Transfers must be complete by December 31, 2017 for this tax year. To make a qualifying gift to MNA for the 2017 tax year we encourage you to contact your IRA administrator while there is still time.
Thanks for considering MNA in your year-end giving.
Happy Holidays!
Garret Johnson
Garret Johnson
Executive Director 
P.S. Don’t forget, transfers must be made by December 31, 2017 to qualify for this tax year.
Watch for more giving ideas throughout the month!

Donate today at!

What’s the Scoop with Michigan’s Soil?

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Though not always the most celebrated components of a landscape, soils are certainly one of the most important. While plants form the basis of habitats, soils are central in determining which plants can grow where. Consequently, the soil/s of an ecosystem can drastically affect wildlife communities. Soils also play a critical role in filtering fresh water, and have served as the very foundations of civilization. How much do you know about the marvel beneath your feet?

kalkaska sand

Kalkaska sand. Photo: Randall Schaetzl.

In 1990, Michigan declared Kalkaska sand as its official state soil. It’s relatively infertile owing to its acidic nature, but nonetheless abundant. Despite being one of over 500 soils present in Michigan, Kalkaska sand, so named for one of the 29 counties in which it is present, covers nearly 5% of the state. It can be found in the upper half of the lower peninsula, as well as most of the upper peninsula; but just how did it get there?

The movement of glaciers shaped Michigan’s soils over the course of hundreds of thousands of years into what is known as glacial till. Read more about the process here. In the time since, our soils have undergone many changes to provide support for forests, wetlands, prairies, dunes, swamps, and human agriculture alike. In fact, if not for Kalkaska sand, the coniferous forests of northern Michigan may not exist.

Many of the evergreens that grow in our northern forests, including our ever-important state tree (white pine), are adapted to highly acidic, dry, and nutrient-poor conditions. As such, they rely on otherwise infertile soils like Kalkaska sand. The rare Kirtland’s warbler breeds exclusively in jack pine, and many other well-known species depend upon plant communities derived from Kalkaska sand. In a very real way, we have this unique soil to thank for the natural landscape as we know it today.

kirtlands warbler - cindy mead

Kirtland’s warbler in a jack pine forest. Photo: Cindy Mead.

Triple Your Impact

Hurry before the 2015 tax year is over!

There is still time to make your tax-deductible gift for 2015 and have your donation matched two-to-one.

Thanks to generous anonymous donors, all gifts to MNA of $35 or more will be matched, two-to-one, up to $5,000. That means your $35 gift generates $105 for the protection of Michigan’s natural heritage.

And, it gets better!

If you enroll in our Monthly Protector Program the match increases to three-to-one, up to $1,000, and you can quadruple your impact!

MNA’s Monthly Protector Program is a convenient way to help protect Michigan’s natural heritage and spread your gift out over a period of time. By authorizing MNA to automatically charge your credit card or checking account an amount of your choice ($10 minimum) every month, you provide sustainable support to help MNA acquire, protect, and maintain critical habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species throughout the year.

Send your year-end gift in the mail today, make a secure donation online, or give us a call at (866) 223-2231.

Thank you for all that you do to help MNA build a brighter future for Michigan!