From The Archives: Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary

Prior to the publication of Michigan Nature magazine, MNA sent out quarterly newsletters to members and supporters. We will be taking a look at some of the newsletter’s feature stories in our new From the Archives series. 

Every Sanctuary Has a Story: Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary

by Katherine Hollins, Regional Stewardship Organizer

Published in the July 2011 edition of the MNA newsletter

Harol Warnes

Harold Warnes

The Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary is a wooded oasis amidst the suburban jungle and open agriculture in Macomb County. In addition to providing important habitat for various flora and fauna, the sanctuary serves as a wonderful spot for people to take their families out for recreation or for nature enthusiasts to study species amidst the hustle and bustle of Shelby Township.

The sanctuary was originally part of an 1833 land grant from President Andrew Jackson. It never left the possession of the Wilcox and Warnes families before being donated to the MNA in 1975 by Harold Warnes. Historically, the southern two-thirds of this 44.8 acre sanctuary were never grazed and only faced selective logging. The northern portion was last farmed in 1957, and now serves as a perfect example of a successional forest. As you walk the trails, you will notice the young forest, thick with undergrowth, gives way to a more open, mature forest to the south.

“It’s an exceptionally special place,” says Kurt Jung, an MNA Trustee and nature enthusiast. After he attended a recent Wilcox-Warnes volunteer day, Kurt encourages everyone to walk through the old woods of Wilcox-Warnes “with its commanding oak and tulip trees and quiet stream.”

Margaret Moran, long-time steward of the sanctuary, fondly remembers spending time there over the past decades. “The trees are gorgeous there, and I am thrilled with the birds. I once watched a turkey vulture stalk around picking up sticks and saw a great horned owl on a nest. I especially enjoy listening for the ethereal song of the wood thrush,” she says. “I hope those things will last in the sanctuary as they last in my memory.”

Fall colors at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo by Jeff Ganley.

Fall colors at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo by Jeff Ganley.

Without Harold Warnes’ generous land donation, MNA may never have acquired a sanctuary in Macomb County.

And although the stately tulip poplars may first draw your attention, keep an eye out for American beech, red maple, white ash, various oaks, basswood, yellow birch, black cherry, shagbark hickory, sassafras, pin cherry, prickly ash, spicebush, serviceberry and flowering dogwood trees and saplings. Spring wildflowers including trillium, dwarf ginseng, foamflower, hepatica, may-apple, and showy orchis can also be found here, along with fringed and bottle gentians later in the year.

You can spend time here searching for frogs and salamanders that make their homes in the vernal pools throughout the sanctuary, or study creek ecology and rest near our excellent bridge. As our Trustees, stewards, staff and members urge, please come out to learn about this lovely forest sanctuary and the communities it supports.

For a schedule of upcoming events, visit the MNA website.


A Leisurely Hike Through Wilcox-Warnes

By Tina Patterson

4/ 18 Wednesday: What a perfect day for hiking: clear blue skies and rising temperatures at the only MNA sanctuary in Macomb County, the birthplace of MNA.  Welcoming us with a big smile to the 45-acre sanctuary was 10-year steward Martha Wolfe. With a brand new parking lot and new signage, Wilcox-Warnes has a fascinating history. Originally part of a land grant signed by Andrew Jackson in 1833 and remaining in the same family until it was transferred to MNA in 1975, this is a very special place to spend a morning or afternoon.  Today’s hike should have been called the “getting to know you” hike as everyone was in a chatty mood and quickly buddied up and made new friends.  Robert Golda, founder of “Hiking Michigan” (a group new to most of us), joined us for the hike and was a most welcome addition. Bob had helped promote the Wilcox-Warnes hike, he knew the sanctuary well, and a number of his members met up with us and learned about MNA. We hope to see them at more of our events. Paul Messing, who is 4 for 4 on our hikes, delighted the group with a Lego creation of the sanctuary – we think he should win a prize for that contribution alone.

Lego Wilcox-Warnes

Paul Messing's very creative LEGO model of Wilcox-Warns. Photo: Dave Wendling

No one seemed in a hurry as we strolled leisurely along the well-kept trails, sharing information and pointing out the many delights that we found.  Martha explained that the southern two-thirds of the sanctuary were never grazed and only saw selective logging, whereas the northern portion was last farmed in 1957 and now serves as an example of a young succession forest.  As we walked the trails, we noticed the transition from the young forest, with trees small in diameter and thick undergrowth, to a more open, mature forest to the south with many larger trees – some of which may be more than 100 years old – including many tulip trees, beautiful beech trees, and large cherry trees.  The largest tree that we saw was a massive red oak.  We also noted many large trees that had blown down and were in various stages of decay, creating many microhabitats essential to a healthy forest. In addition, this mature floodplain forest supports a large number of shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, birds, and amphibians.  We saw many ferns just starting to unroll from their fiddleheads, white trilliums, wild geranium, buttercups, violets, and dwarf ginseng, among others.

Dowagiac Woods

Dowagiac Woods is known for its fantastic display of wildflowers. Photo: MNA Archives

This sanctuary survives in spite of being just 26 miles from downtown Detroit and it would surely have become a subdivision or strip mall were it not for the generosity of Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes, who gave this priceless sanctuary to MNA for continued protection.

This completes the first segment of the Odyssey, and interest is growing by leaps and bounds. After a brief rest, we will start our second segment in southwest Michigan beginning with the fantastic wildflowers and ferns at Dowagiac Woods on April 29, followed by a BBQ after the hike on Sunday. We hope to see some of our old friends and many new friends, so please RSVP. On Monday we will visit the Hamilton Coastal Plain Marsh with steward Charlie Goodrich, and Tuesday we will be at the Wade Memorial.

For more photos from the Wilcox-Warnes Odyssey visit, check out the MNA Flickr and be sure to read the fantastic write-up in the Shelby-Utica News.

Volunteers Make Wilcox-Warnes Work Day a Success

By Megan Clute

On Saturday, March 10th, MNA members and volunteers had the opportunity to help clean up the Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary by participating in a Volunteer Day devoted to ridding the sanctuary of invasive species. Approximately 6-8 community members and first-time volunteers spent this warm March day removing buckthorn from the sanctuary to protect the native plant life.

Volunteers help to remove invasive species at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo: Katherine Hollins

According to MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer, Katherine Hollins, participants were able to remove a large amount of young buckthorn by hand-pulling, as well as using saws and herbicides for the bigger plants. As an invasive species to the sanctuary, buckthorn provides a threat to other plants by producing shade that prevents other vegetation from growing. Buckthorn can also crowd out other plant life, which can kill native species. According to Hollins, buckthorn is always growing in this sanctuary, as “seeds can stay viable for 8 years.” Because of this, MNA is always looking for new volunteers and participants for workdays at Wilcox-Warnes as well as the many other sanctuaries across the state. For a list of upcoming Volunteer Days and other MNA events, please visit the MNA Events Calendar.

Macomb County’s Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary has been an MNA property since 1975, but was originally part of a land-grant awarded by Andrew Jackson in 1833. As one of the MNA’s Showcase Sanctuaries, Wilcox-Warnes is a sanctuary that features a diverse habitat, with areas containing both mature and mesic-southern forests. Other interesting characteristics of this sanctuary include its distinct plant and animal life. With tulip trees, monkeyflowers, warblers, and even great horned owls, this sanctuary is sure to create a unique experience for each visitor.

LEGO Map of Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary in Macomb

Check it out! MNA Emissary Paul Messing created a scale model of Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary out of LEGOS!

Wilcox Warnes in Lego Form

What a cool and creative way to show off one of our Showcase Sanctuaries! Great job, Paul!

If you’d like to visit Wilcox Warnes, we have a Volunteer Day planned this Saturday (March 10) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the sanctuary, located in Shelby Township. Visit our website or call 517-655-5655 to learn more!

MNA To Host Youth Nature Education Day

Join MNA on Saturday, March 26, for an educational youth event in Shelby Township.

The event will take place at the Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary on Schoenherr Road, south of 26 Mile Road, and will give youth a hands-on experience in making nature more accessible.

From 10 a.m.-2 p.m., kids will have the opportunity to work with MNA volunteers to replace boardwalk in trail systems at the sanctuary. Aside from building boardwalks, participants will take part in environmental education activities with topics including forest conservation, river ecology and insect identification. Lunch will be provided.

The event is made possible by a $10,000 grant from Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), to improve trails and install a parking area at the sanctuary, which will allow residents to visit the area and learn about nature without having to leave the Detroit Metropolitan Area.

The Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary is home to 45 acres of undisturbed woodland adjacent to a heavily-traveled roadway in Macomb County. It has been protected by MNA since 1975.

Some parking is available. Please contact the MNA office at 517-655-5655 for more information.

Winter Field Trip Reveals Greater-Than-Expected Animal Life in Shelby Township

By Yang Zhang

More than two dozen nature lovers took to the snowy trails Jan. 29, exploring the Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary in Shelby Township.

The field trip, organized by the Michigan Nature Association and Hiking Michigan, introduced participants to the beauty of nature at one of the only natural areas in an otherwise developed area.

The 45-acre land was purchased by MNA in 1977. Martha Wolfe, co-steward at the sanctuary, said the land provides habitat for wildlife including many endangered species.

“It’s like a little jewel in the middle of the suburbs here,” she said.

Wolfe has worked as a steward at the sanctuary for approximately six years. She frequently visits the woods and has spotted deer, wild turkeys and other animals.

Rob Golda, director of Hiking Michigan, a club that leads free hikes and outdoor activities, led the field trip along snow-covered winding trails and taught people how to identify animal tracks.

“We want to show people places to return to in the summer,” he said.

Golda noted that many participants came from the area but never knew there was such a natural place nearby.

Along the trails, Golda helped hikers identify different animal tracks, including deer and squirrels. Participants were thrilled when they found the tracks from a flock of turkeys numbering more than 20.

“It’s the fun of hiking in winter,” Golda said, referring to the tracks.

MNA has marked trails and built fences in the sanctuary to make it more accessible to the public. Volunteers help pick up trash and remove invasive species, such as glossy buckthorn.

“This place is beautiful and so close to home for me,” said field trip participant Kathy Larson. She lives two miles away from the sanctuary but had never visited it. She will definitely visit the natural area again in the summer, she said.

Katherine Hollins, MNA’s regional stewardship organizer, planned the event and was happy that so many people attended. It was a great opportunity to let people learn about MNA and the special natural areas the organization protects.

Many of the participants showed an interest in MNA, and said they intend to become members and volunteers.

If you would like to become a member, or get more information about the MNA Mission, please visit our website at

Also, MNA is currently seeking volunteers for two events at the Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary; one Feb. 8 to manage invasive species and the other March 26 to promote natural awareness at a youth event. If you are interested in volunteering at the Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary, contact Regional Stewardship Coordinator Katherine Hollins at 517-525-2627 or

If you are interested in other events around the state of Michigan, please visit our event calendar.