A steep, fragile moraine created by receding glaciers more than 10,000 years ago, Whaleback Natural Area near Leland rewards hikers at its crest with a panoramic view of Good Harbor Bay. Reaching the peak of this 40-acre geologic wonder — preserved by the Leelanau Conservancy in 1996 — entails a gradual, challenging ascent beneath a canopy of hemlocks and hardwoods that shelter bald eagles. Unusual communities of plants and wildlife can also be viewed along the varied terrain’s quarter-mile loop trail (leelanauconservancy.org). Photography by Ken Scott
“I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want.”
— Andy Warhol Embraced by the Great Lakes and majestic coastal dunes, coursing with rivers and expanses of vast forest, fields and wetlands, Michigan harbors a nearly boundless spectrum of native habitats and rejuvenating outdoor places.
“The diversity and abundance of Michigan’s natural resources are the envy of the world and base of much of our prosperity,” expressed Helen Taylor, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan, when legislation mandating live organism screening to catch and combat potential invasive species before it enters the state became law in January. “A variety of species and habitats help control the risk posed by invasive species, natural disasters and a changing climate.”
While the globally-known organization collaborates on local, state and federal levels to restore and protect lands in Michigan beyond those it owns — such as partnering with the Michigan Agri-Business Association to reduce algae-spurring phosphorous runoff in Saginaw Bay — the Great Lakes State also houses an array of regional land conservancies focused on securing vital sites closer to home.
Growing wild in Michigan, early-blooming prairie crocus are true harbingers of spring. Photography by Ken Scott
Large parcels of farmland, tracts with unique geologic features, habitats of endangered species, high-development riparian lands and properties by places already preserved are among the most sought additions to the state’s collected trove of protected nature areas, sanctuaries, parks and preserves.
“Michigan is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty,” notes the Michigan Nature Association. “Surrounded by such beauty, it’s easy to overlook what is being lost.”
This spring, see what is being saved.
MICHIGAN LAND CONSERVANCIES
Cadillac Area Land Conservancy,
Chikaming Open Lands,
Chippewa Watershed Conservancy,
Conservation Resource Alliance,
Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy,
Gratiot Lake Conservancy,
Grosse Ile Nature and Land Conservancy,
Headwaters Land Conservancy,
Keweenaw Land Trust,
keweenawlandtrust.org Featuring dunes of all types, century-old birch trees and ample trout as well as pink lady’s slippers, Houdek Dunes Natural Area — at risk of becoming a golf course before being acquired by the Leelanau Conservancy in 1998 — recently grew by nearly 30 acres through a donation of adjacent wetlands by the Mead family (leelanauconservancy.org). Photography by Ken Scott
Land Conservancy of West Michigan,
Lapeer Land Conservancy,
Little Forks Conservancy,
Little Traverse Conservancy,
Livingston Land Conservancy,
Michigan Karst Conservancy,
Michigan Nature Association,
Mid-Michigan Land Conservancy,
North Woods Conservancy,
Preserve the Dunes,
Raisin Valley Land Trust,
Six Rivers Regional Land Conservancy,
Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy,
Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy,
The Nature Conservancy of Michigan,
U.P. Land Conservancy,
Washtenaw Land Trust,
legacylandconservancy.org Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, Allegan County. Pilings that once marked the original mouth of the Kalamazoo River are a historic part of this 173-acre tract of duneland along Lake Michigan, north of Oval Beach. Acquired by the City of Saugatuck in 2011 with aid from the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, this significant expanse of diverse Gold Coast terrain augments 2 ½ miles of undeveloped beach and 100 acres of protected sand dunes open for public enjoyment in Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Saugatuck Dunes Natural Area (naturenearby.org; saugatuckdunescoastalliance.org). Photography by Todd and Brad Reed Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, Allegan County. Pilings that once marked the original mouth of the Kalamazoo River are a historic part of this 173-acre tract of duneland along Lake Michigan, north of Oval Beach. Acquired by the City of Saugatuck in 2011 with aid from the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, this significant expanse of diverse Gold Coast terrain augments 2 ½ miles of undeveloped beach and 100 acres of protected sand dunes open for public enjoyment in Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Saugatuck Dunes Natural Area (naturenearby.org; saugatuckdunescoastalliance.org). Photography by Todd and Brad Reed Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary, Cass County. Never plowed, planted or grazed, this 384-acre woodland expanse near Dowagiac in Southwest Michigan is renowned for its lush original natural diversity and spectacular six-week profusion of wildflowers in spring, when more than 50 species bloom. A living museum of what forests were like when the first settlers arrived, the Michigan Nature Association’s largest Lower Peninsula haven also features nearly 50 kinds of trees (including the giant Ohio buckeye), 49 types of nesting birds, nine plants and animals at risk of extinction in Michigan and easy, well-marked trails the public can enjoy year-round (michigannature.org). Photography by Dick Glosenger Kensington Metropark in Livingston County provides habitat for the American Lotus, an emergent wetland plant threatened in Michigan by agricultural runoff (metroparks.com/kensington-metropark). Photography by Mark Graf An Eastern Meadowlark finds haven at Oakwoods Metropark, a 1,700-acre site (metroparks.com/oakwoods-metropark). Photography by Mark Graf A boggy boardwalk and Massasauga rattlers limit the appeal but add to the adventure of Lakeville Swamp Nature Preserve in Oakland County, a 76-acre MNA escape laden with more than 400 species of native plants (michigannature.org). Photography by Mark Graf Hungarian Falls Nature Area, Houghton County. A top hiking spot for locals and tourists alike in the heart of Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, this scenic 10-acre oasis features a series of waterfalls splashing down a billion-year-old sandstone gorge forested with towering white pine, dense hemlock and other native species. At risk of losing public access to these majestic views from long-enjoyed trails when the local Torch Lake Area Fire Protection Authority put the parcel up for sale in 2012, Copper Country’s broader community joined fundraising forces with the Keweenaw Land Trust to secure public enjoyment for generations to come (keweenawlandtrust.org). Photography by Steve Brimm Indian Springs Metropark, Oakland County. Encompassing more than 2,215 acres of wooded wetlands and rolling meadows just northwest of Pontiac, this unspoiled haven’s diverse habitats provide a natural sanctuary for a wide range of wildlife, including coyote (metroparks.com/indian-springs-metropark). Photography by Jim Ridley Palomita Nature Reserve, Ottawa County. Donated to the Land Conservancy of West Michigan by the Sebastian family in 1995, this 40-acre public nature area encompassing a Great Lakes marsh fed by Little Pigeon Creek historically served as a popular staging site for passenger pigeons (“palomita” is “little pigeon” or “dove” in Spanish). Though over-hunting and the timber industry propelled the bird’s extinction by 19th Century’s end, the protected parcel’s mixed conifer-hardwood wetlands along the Grand Haven Township boardwalk provide habitat for ample native plants and wildlife that thrive today (naturenearby.org). Photography by Robert Eovaldi Lisa M. Jensen is editor of Michigan BLUE Magazine.