July 11, Celebrating Shoreline Native Plants

Getting started! Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Getting started! Credit: Jerry Grady

We had a very warm and sunny morning for our nature walk!  Close to 50 eager attendees showed up to learn about shoreline native plants from one of our premier area plant experts, Connie Crancer.  Connie had prepared a plant list for us of species she had identified along the shoreline causeway between Whitehall and Montague; Michigan native species, as well as non-native “adventive” species and invasive species. (“Adventive,” provided to me by Connie, is defined by dictionary.com as “not native and not usually well established.”)

Her goal was to help us identify plants, and also learn about them if we want to use them in our gardens or landscaping.

Connie identifying plants, while Jerry Grady is taking her picture. Credit: Judy Siegel

Connie identifying plants, while Jerry Grady is taking her picture.
Credit: Judy Siegel

One of my goals was to explain about the natural shoreline restoration project that the sites were included in, and how it related to the delisting of White Lake as a Great Lakes Area of Concern. The $2.17 million dollar project, which encompassed 10 public and private sites on White Lake, helped to boost the lake toward restoration and delisting by removing the impairments related to loss of fish and wildlife habitat and degraded fish and wildlife populations. See Restoring White Lake for more information about restoration of White Lake.

Connie’s list provided us with the scientific plant names as well as their common names. She also included information on the types of areas they were suited to – wet or dry.  And finally, she included a code with a C or W.  According to Connie, “The C codes give the relative coefficient of conservation, which indicates the affinity of a species to the degree of man-made disturbance. The W code represents the species affinity to wetlands and indicates the likelihood of finding these species in a wetland.” Further she told me, “You can say the W represents the soil moisture content each species is likely to be found in, ranging from saturated to dry.”

canada goldenrod

Canada goldenrod

Connie talked about natives and invasives and explained how it was a complex topic.  She also pointed out the presence of poison hemlock, which is a concern, but told us that some invasives are really not as bad as others.  For example, goldenrod is a native, but even so, it can also be somewhat invasive. On the positive side, it provides benefits to local wildlife.

Japanese knotweed Credit:  Jerry Grady

Japanese knotweed
Credit: Jerry Grady



There was quite a bit of Japanese knotweed, an invasive that requires regular control.There was also spotted knapweed, an invasive that is also very difficult to eradicate. 

We had good timing with this walk as the causeway sites and coastal wetland were in nice bloom. Attendee Margot Haynes reminded us that not all the plants in the wetland restoration project were natives – some had been added for color.  The mix of plants in the sites will change over time, due to many factors, none the least being seeds carried by birds!

Spotted knapweed Credit:  Jerry Grady

Spotted knapweed
Credit: Jerry Grady



The restored coastal wetland had been a “grown over” landfill, once used by the city of Montague, filling up the original wetland area.  Due to extra funds available from the shoreline restoration project, the site’s trees were removed, it was excavated and debris removed, then it was landscaped and planted.  It is now part of the city of Montague’s park system and there is a local group of student volunteers that regularly visit to clean up remaining bits of glass.



Wild bergamot Credit: Jerry Grady

Wild bergamot
Credit: Jerry Grady

We saw many plants on our walk, including milkweed, elderberry, Indian hemp, red osier dogwood, wild oregano, white Echinacea, spiderwort, bee balm or bergamot  – two colors, one native and one not, butterfly weed, and blazing star.


july 2015 walk at the end



As usual, attendees did not want to leave – there was too much good information and knowledge to learn!  Some attendees visited the popular Celebrate White Lake festival at Goodrich Park in Whitehall, and then the walk for July was done.

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June 6, Using Photography in Plant Identification

Getting started!

Getting started!

We had great weather for our first nature walk of 2015!  Nice and warm, not too hot, with a cool, pleasant breeze.  Our goal for this walk was to learn how to take photos to help identify plants. Patricia does plant assessments as part of her consulting work, and she told us how it became hard for her to see the tiny details of plants, She came to learn how to take photos of the identifying parts of a plant or flower, to take home and make a more precise identification at home, while relaxing with a cup of tea, according to Patricia. Using photographs is especially helpful, because they can be enlarged.

Photographing a plant

Photographing a plant

Prickly pear

Prickly pear

Just like the last time we were at the Owasippe Scout Reservation, we were not long on the trail (the red trail) before we stopped to check out a few interesting specimens.  Many were interested in the prickly pear, and were not aware that it is common in our parts.

Rock rose, also frost weed

Rock rose, also called frost weed

After noticing rock rose (or frost weed, as it is sometimes called), hawk weed, Artemisia, and a lonely coreopsis plant, we were on our way again.  (With prodding.)

June 2015 walk little wood satyr butterfly

Little Wood Satyr butterfly

We saw tent caterpillars on an almost totally defoliated small tree.  Patricia recited many complicated Latin names flawlessly. Frequent walk participant Marie got out her trusty Newcomb plant guide and helped with identification.


Squaw root

Squaw root

We saw a grouping of one unusual looking plant that many had not seen before, squaw root, technically a parasite, as it lives on the roots of other plants. They look like little ears of corn growing out of the ground.

june 2015 walk group shot on the trail

Stopping to look at plants!



At about 11:30 a.m., the group reluctantly turned around and headed back, with a long line of slow stragglers. Plant people sure do like their plants!

Photo credits:  Jerry Grady, WatershedWildlife.Com, Patricia Pennell, Michigan.gov

Plant identification Internet resources provided by Patricia:

United States Department of Agriculture  This site has maps showing regions where plants occur, plus images.

Illinois Wildlflowers Great pictures and descriptions!

Wildflowers and Weeds  A nice introduction to the plant families online.

Michigan Wildflowers Really nice, well-organized images of Michigan wildflowers. These are the kinds of pictures to try to achieve.

Michigan Flora Lists of plants with links to illustrations and maps where plants occur.

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October 4, White Lake Shoreline Habitat Restoration

Our small group getting ready for the walk.

Our small group getting ready for the walk.

Well! Our last nature walk of 2014 was the coldest I can recall in a long time!  It was one of the first really chilly days of early fall, and it was windy. We also had some rain and sleet!  But that did not stop a hardy, brave band of nature walk followers!  I was the guide for this walk, as I am pretty familiar with White Lake restoration efforts, including a lakewide shoreline habitat restoration project.  (I am a founding member of the White Lake Public Advisory Council, the PAC, which has worked for 22 years with state and federal environmental agencies to clean up White Lake, designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1985.  I have also been the education and outreach coordinator for the PAC since 2009.)

We started at the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, walked south down the bike path a ways and crossed over to Goodrich Park.

The Whitehall causeway habitat site

The Whitehall causeway habitat site

The goal was to view and learn about several shoreline habitat restoration sites, part of a $2.17 million dollar project carried out by the Muskegon Conservation District, as part of the effort to clean up and improve White Lake and help to advance it to delisting as a Great Lakes Area of Concern.  There were 11 sites in the entire project, some public and some private.  Even though each site had its own design and plan, four major activities were carried out at each site:

  • Hardened shorelines (riprap, seawalls) were removed to improve the interface between land and water for better fishery habitat.
  • Soft, sloping shorelines were installed.
  • Invasive plant species (phragmites, invasive honeysuckle, purple loosestrife, canary reed grass, and broad leaf cattails) were removed. Invasive plants, from other areas, provide few benefits for native birds, bugs, and insects, and can also expand their reach greatly as they do not have the natural controls that are in place in their native area.
  • Native plants were established, which provide many benefits to our native species.

From there we walked along the sidewalk and viewed the first shoreline habitat restoration site, done on the Whitehall side of the U.S.31 causeway, then on to the Montague causeway site – completed just recently. The project took place between 2010 and 2013.

We then crossed the business highway to the bike path and viewed the site where the former Montague municipal dump (grown over into an area covered with trees) had been cleaned up and restored to a coastal wetland.  The newly restored coastal wetland was made part of the City of Montague’s parks program, and will eventually have several appealing recreational features.

Restored coastal wetland

Restored coastal wetland

As we crossed the bike trail bridge, I noted the coastal wetlands to the north and how eventually it will be necessary to restore the straightened channels (created during the logging era), to natural flowing wetlands to alleviate the sedimentation problem in White Lake.

I told the small group that I knew that not everyone was a fan of the new shorelines and that it was going to take up to five years for the new landscapes to be completely established.  The sites will be monitored and maintained – opportunistic invasives like the white clover have already been removed at many sites.  Hopefully, many will come to realize the benefits of the new shorelines for the lake’s fish and wildlife, and ultimately, area residents and visitors.

All photos are from WatershedWildlife. Thank you Jerry Grady!!

nw oct 2014 milkweed pods

Milkweed! Good for monarch butterflies! Essential, in fact!

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Simple Nature Drawing, September 6

Clear Springs Nature Preserve, Montague Township

Clear Springs Nature Preserve, Montague Township

We had a beautiful, clear, late summer day at Clear Springs Nature Preserve in Montague Township for our walk. The preserve, a commercial fishery in the 1950s, was saved from development by the township with a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and local match funds. It was a beautiful place to learn how to create simple nature drawings with artist Sharon Smithem.

Artist Sharon Smithem, our walk "artist" guide

Artist Sharon Smithem, our walk “artist” guide

Sharon teamed up with Montague horticulturist Connie Crancer and the two chose a location in the preserve they felt was perfect for teaching nature drawing.  It had a pleasing mix of subjects, from evergreens and interesting bushes, to a few flowering plants, and of course a superb view of the preserve’s pond.

Connie Crancer, helping us identify plants by their parts

Connie Crancer, helping us identify plants by their parts

Sharon and Connie mingled with walk participants, answering their questions and providing advice.

people at clear springs walk 2014

Sketching by the water

Quietly drawing

Quietly drawing

People wandered off on their own to choose a subject.  Groups gathered together to chat and sketch.  The result?  A variety of surprisingly elegant and individualist  drawings and a certain amount of satisfaction among participants about their artistic talents!

Roger Scharmer drawing

Roger Scharmer, drawing

A group discussion

A group discussion

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Taking Better Pictures of Nature, August 2

Guide/workshop teacher Patricia Pennell

Guide/workshop teacher Patricia Pennell

We had another surprisingly large crowd for this walk, many of whom seemed pretty enthusiastic to hear tips from professional photographer, Patricia Pennell.  Patricia has guided several of our White Lake area nature walks in her role as an expert botanist and she provided a similar “workshop” on phototaking a few years ago, for those with “point and shoot” digital cameras.

This year I asked if she could provide tips for taking nature photos with digital cameras AND smartphones, iPads and tablets.  She delivered, and more, as usual!

Umbrellas used as "light filters."

Umbrellas used as “light filters.”

Patricia went over the basics, like using the rule of thirds and a grid to compose interesting pictures. Patricia said to think of the view as divided by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, creating nine boxes.  Placing key images along these lines or at their intersections makes the photographs more interesting.

She showed us how to find the grid on our cameras and phones and also pointed out that most also had an HDR setting which creates better photos by taking the best elements of three photos in sequence.  Patricia also told us that YouTube is our friend — and it has many good tutorials on digital photography available for free viewing.

We learned how to use “light modifiers” to filter out bright sunlight, which also incidentally can create more flattering photographs of people’s faces!

After our “mini-workshop,” we branched out to the trails to try out our new knowledge and skills!  An educational and fun time, once again!

Getting some practice!

Getting close ups!

Getting close ups!









Patricia was kind enough to share her “tip sheet” in this blog. See more details below.

Patricia and her equipment

Patricia with her photography equipment

Hot Tips for Better Pictures RIGHT NOW
Patricia Pennell, Riverhouse Photography

Hot tip: You are (probably) smarter than your camera. Learn to use more than “program.”

Hot tip: Your camera manual is probably online in PDF. Download it and become an expert on your camera.

Hot tip: YouTube tutorials! on how to do EVERYTHING with your camera. If you want to do something particular, just Google it. If you would rather read, there will be an article somewhere online.

Hot tip: The size of your sensor matters. The size of your sensor has everything to do with the size of your actual image. Optical zoom is better than digital zoom. Digital zoom is just cropping the picture. If you have digital zoom only, it is better to simply get closer.

Hot tip: Light really matters. The angle, source and the amount. Even time of day makes a difference. Grainy pictures? Not enough light.

Hot tip: Carry “light modifiers.”  Light source and direction make a difference. Front vs. side vs. back light; diffused light. Bright sunlight is not a good thing for pictures! Block it off, filter it, or bounce some fill light.

Hot tip: Turn your flash on to fill in shadows in bright light.

Hot tip:  Blurry pictures; shutter is too slow. Prefocus your camera to speed up shutter lag. Hold shutter button down halfway to lock settings, then it will be fast. Shutter lag happens while your camera is thinking.

Hot tip: Use the rule of thirds (and your camera may have a grid in it). Learn composition, leading lines. Learn to see. I see what I want to shoot before I pick up the camera, in thirds, with backgrounds, etc. Use the lines to position subjects on one of the lines, or to straighten horizons.

Hot tip: Carry extra charged batteries and use huge, fast cards. Rechargeable batteries last longer in your camera than disposables. Format your card in camera for longer life. Do not format your card unless you have downloaded your images to somewhere else first!!!!! And check to make sure they are really there.

IPad tips:
Tap to focus on what you want.
Pinch or spread to zoom.
You can do HDR photos (3 combined photos).
Grid turn on: settings/photos and camera/grid.
Continuous shooting: hold down the shutter button.

Smartphone tips: There are likely tools and settings you have never explored. Take a look!
You have a flash. You can use it to fill in details. It only will work well within a few feet—don’t expect it to light up, for instance, a whole car. You can use it to fill in shadows in sunlight, but light modifiers will work much better for you. Flash pictures at night are going to suck. Pretty much.

LIGHT MODIFIERS>>> are good for you.

Touch screen to prefocus before you take your picture, just as on the IPad.

Editing images:
You can put all kinds of filters on your image, which can be great fun. However, you can do that off your device, too. If you shoot a picture in sepia, you can never make it go back to normal. So I recommend getting the shot normally and editing it later, on a computer or other device.

Adobe Lightroom is fantastic and great for editing and keeping track of digital images—nondestructive. I highly recommend it if you want to get serious.

Hot tip: Back up your files in at least two places. You should have three copies of everything. Don’t delete your pictures from your device until you copy it to your computer AND back it up!

Hot tip: Make some paper prints. Remember 8 track tapes? Can you play one now? If you have created a wonderful image, print it. Frame it. Put it into a book. Your children’s children’s children will be able to see paper prints, but probably not your digital files.

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More Than an Arboretum: A Dunal Forest Ecology, July 5

Guide Doug Paprocki

Guide Doug Paprocki

Doug Paprocki, our guide (and wise teacher) for this walk, was well prepared indeed! He had “lessons” for us situated along a path he had in mind for us to take through the dunal forest that he knows so well. And “path” is not really the word for the walk we took. We went up steep hills and down them and under limbs and over fallen trees. Considering that we had about 60 attendees on this nature walk, I am glad we all made it out of the forest without a fall!

The walk begins.

The walk begins.

Doug wanted to show us his dune property which he and his late wife, Gretchen, knew well and valued immensely. We could tell he knew the dunal forest well right from the beginning. He had mapped out “learning stations” – at some he had cut timber pieces from downed trees so we could count the rings and know how old the trees were. He placed each one by a tree standing – one much bigger – so we could make the comparison! One example was a white pine slab, which was 23 inches across and about 85 years old. The live tree was even older – about 100 years old, which Doug believes is one of the oldest white pines in the area. We also saw a northern red oak that Doug estimated to be over 200 years old and a beech at least 200 years old or more. We also saw what Doug believes is the largest black cherry tree in the area. Keep in mind that these are not just guesses on Doug’s part. As part of the final research for his late wife’s book, “Beside the Inland Sea,” Doug visited other forested dunal areas up and down the West Michigan coastline. The trees he showed us are our “elder trees” – young saplings well before our area’s two cities were founded and tiny seedlings just beginning to grow in the early 1800s and even a few going back to the 1700s. These trees are the reason Doug believes the property is well on the way to becoming an old growth forest as this century advances.

A learning station

A learning station

Doug noted that the first dunes in the area began forming about 6,000 years ago and grew episodically, with the last period of significant growth about a thousand years ago. They are Aeolian dunes – born of the wind, with newer dunes along the shoreline and older forested dunes farther back.

We learned many interesting facts about fungi – Doug had several learning stations set up to show us this fascinating natural phenomenon. He told us how fungi cannot produce their own food, so they ingest absorb wood via filaments – an external digestion with enzymes and acids. Doug pointed out that yellow birch has been disappearing in the forest. He showed us a “hoof” fungus on a standing dead birch. He also showed us the filaments inside the fallen tree. He said hoof fungi cling very firmly to what they are attached to, in this instance a log, and he told us how he had to work hard to chisel one off a tree even after both the tree and the fungus were dead. Fungi come in all different colors and there are many different species!

Blue green fungus

Blue green fungus

We saw a log with bluish green fungal activity and a birch with a white fungus. We also saw one fallen tree log with at least five different species of fungi– an interesting find! (What we see of a fungus is only the reproductive, or spore producing, body.)

Next on the trail were lichen – outside a fungus and inside an alga (singular for algae). It was on a beech with a disease called “beech scale.” The disease itself does not kill the tree, but opens a wound to fungus.

Doug led us to a “nurse log,” which, even though dead, still supported many new plants, including several baby eastern hemlocks, growing off of it. There are many uses for fallen trees in a forest.

We were pleased to see a large carpet of moss, called “pincushion moss,” a name whose origins were evident to all of us who saw the round domed shapes! Doug noted that moss, though a plant, has no roots and no vascular system.

Pincushion moss

Pincushion moss

One area we saw was where there had been an obvious animal disturbance. He asked what animal had deposited the scat we saw there. Our guesses were otter, raccoon or some other animal.

The forest supported clubmosses that are not mosses, but are related to ferns. In Victorian times, the oil-filled spores were collected for use in photography and theaters– to generate special lighting effects!

We learned quite a bit on our walk or hike, as it is more properly termed – more than I can write up in this blog! Mostly we learned how two curious, intelligent and motivated people (Doug and Gretchen) could “read” their landscape, learn about it, and come to know and love it well.

To know the whole story, read “Beside the Inland Sea,” by Gretchen, completed by Doug in 2013. It is available at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague and Klinefelter’s Gallery in Whitehall. It is truly a story worth knowing.

dunal forest

Doug and Gretchen’s dunal forest

For anyone who couldn’t attend, or who would like to repeat (with greater depth of information), the hike, Doug would be glad to arrange a small-group exploration of the forest environment some time during the next two months. If interested in a hike, contact him promptly at d_gpaprocki@frontier.com so he can include you on the invitation list. Doug asked that I pass along his thank you to all those who purchased Gretchen’s book.

Thank YOU, Doug for your excellent and educational hike, and your thoughtful care of the property we traveled through!

Photo credits:  Joe Dermody

To see more photos of the walk, see Watershed Wildlife.Com.

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June 7, 2014: Owasippe Scout Reservation – Oak Barrens and their Unique Species

group at start of owasippe jerry grady

Starting off!

It was an early summer or rather late spring day that was worth waiting for! Sunny, not too cool and not too hot. A slight breeze, and surprisingly – no mosquitoes! Our first nature walk of 2014 was at the Owasippe Scout Reservation – thousands of acres of mostly undeveloped land with many important natural features and assets. We were glad to have a walk on the property, as after early June it is very busy with Boy Scouts! The camp is the oldest and longest continuously operating Boy Scout camp in the country. At its peak, it covered 11,000 acres and served about 10,000 scouts. At present, it is 4,800 acres and about 3,800 scouts use it on an annual basis. We appreciated the opportunity to have a walk in this special place.

Connie Crancer

Guide Connie Crancer

Connie Crancer, a former Whitehall resident who had recently moved back to Montague from the Ann Arbor area, served as our capable guide. A horticulturist and native plant specialist, she created a plant list for us to use during the walk – so we could identify plants and add new ones found along the way. We were fortunate to have a number of attendees with plant knowledge – so the list did get longer!

oak barrens jerry grady

Oak barrens

Connie explained the coefficient of conservatism and the coefficient of wetness. A species that is very likely to be found in a certain area will have a high score on the coefficient of conservatism scale (1 – 10). The coefficient of wetness ranges from -5 to 5 – a negative number indicating a plant that requires a very dry setting and 5 indicating a plant that requires a wet environment. She defined oak barrens for us – they are fire dependent, somewhat open savannas usually populated by black and white oak. They are generally found in drier soils and support sedges, and a few flowering plants and little oaks. Eventually through succession, an oak barrens will become an oak forest. Connie told us that studies show that oaks can host up to 500 species of butterflies.

Prickly pear jerry grady

Prickly pear

Right at the beginning of the walk, we stopped to look at a number of prickly pear plants on the side of the trail. Connie noted that while the plant is common in our area, it does not appear on the east side of the state, due to the soils. We saw quite a few columbine plants and put them on the plant list. We also saw Solomon’s seal, deer tongue grass, St. John’s Wort, and bedstraw. Everyone on the walk was pleasantly surprised by the scent of the sweet fern (actually not a fern). We saw creeping raspberry in the rose family, with its little white flowers. As we have on other walks, we found hawkweed, which looks like the dandelion.

columbine jerry grady


We saw milkweed in bloom which smells heavenly! Connie talked about how the monarchs rely on the milkweed to lay their eggs – they can only lay eggs on milkweed leaves. The decline of monarchs over the past few decades is tied to the loss of milkweed plants. Some scientists link the loss of milkweed plants to the use of Roundup, specifically its active ingredient, glyphosate. Lupine was spotted. Connie told us it does not need



pristine landscapes and will survive just about anywhere. She noted that the Karner Blue butterfly feeds on lupines. We saw birds foot violet and inspected its leaves to see how it got its name. Finally, we found the Canada lily, with flowers like the lily of the valley, May apples, pussy toes, and native chickweed! All in all, a great first walk and a perfect start to the nature walks this year! 

Photos credit:  www.watershedwildlife.com

Birds foot violet

Birds foot violet


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October 5 – Shoreline Habitat Restoration and Local History at OxyChem

A large turnout! Photo credit: Jerry Grady www.watershedwildife.com

A large turnout!
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Our final nature walk of 2013 was an impressive one!  We had the largest turnout ever of the seven years of nature walks. I don’t have an exact count, but think it was between 80 and 100!  My guess is the attraction was the OxyChem site itself – a private shoreline that you can see from the lake, but rarely get to experience on land.  Many have seen the changes to the shoreline from the lake or from across the lake and knew this would be a rare opportunity to walk the property and see it up close with Joe Branch and Clint Babcock of OxyChem.  And of course, there was the lure of the exotic history of the site prior to its ownership by Hooker Chemical/OxyChem – the story of the colorful Scottish evangelical, Reverend John Alexander Dowie, as told by historian for the White Lake Area Historical Society, Roger Scharmer.

Photo credit: Joe Dermody

Photo credit: Joe Dermody

We were fortunate once again to evade rain.  That makes two close calls this season!  Regardless, the rain stopped, the skies cleared and we were set for our walk.

Once at the shoreline, walk participants learned how the property was part of a lakewide shoreline habitat restoration project, managed by the Muskegon Conservation District.  The project is part of an effort to restore White Lake, which was designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1985 due to industrial and municipal pollution.  The White Lake Public Advisory Council, working with the Muskegon Conservation District and state and federal environmental agencies, has been working to address eight problems identified for White Lake, several of them related to loss of fish and wildlife habitat and its effect on fish and wildlife populations.  Numerous studies were done to pinpoint the priority areas around the lake, which if restored, would bring achieve habitat restoration goals for the lake.  The project restored fish and wildlife habitat at 10 public and private sites around the lake.  While each site had a unique and original design plan, generally four major activities took place: removal of any hardened shoreline structures, removal of invasive species (such as phragmites, canary grass, honeysuckle, and purple loosestrife), establishment of a soft sloping shoreline, and planting of native plants.

Joe Branch, OxyChem Photo credit: Joe Dermody

Joe Branch, OxyChem
Photo credit: Joe Dermody

“At the OxyChem site, Joe talked about what was done on the shoreline.  He showed how a channel was opened up along the shore and how it continues to require attention to keep it open.  He told us how it is a good place for amphibians like frogs and turtles.

Joe pointed out the limbs inserted in the bank for perches for birds and turtles.  When asked if the limbs could break loose and end up in the lake, Joe told us they are very heavy and lodged into the bank very firmly and will continue to become locked in place with the shifting sand. Even if they could be dislodged, they would likely be waterlogged and heavy, and would sink to the bottom.

Joe spoke about the removal of black locust trees and Tree of Heaven trees.  He relayed a story he heard that when Reverend Dowie owned the property, there were twelve black locusts planted on the hillside, to represent the Twelve Apostles.  The locust trees, however, spread very quickly and eventually covered the entire hillside and more.  Joe also noted the removal of Tree of Heaven, another invasive tree species.  Some wondered if they were also planted by Dowie, but this is not known for sure.

Black locust Photo credit: Jerry Grady www.watershedwildlife.com

Black locust
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Joe and Clint talked about their reasons for being involved in the project, noting it was an extension of habitat related projects on OxyChem’s upland property.  They spoke of their personal commitment to the habitat project and others like it.

Mullein Photo credit: Tanya Cabala

Photo credit: Tanya Cabala

Joe also noted that more work will be needed at the site, to remove things like mullein that has sprouted all over and to make sure the native plants take hold.

Roger spoke of how the a portion of the property was once owned by Al Pack, an industrialist who also owned the adjacent estate upon which the OxyChem lodge is now located.   He was very interested in motor boating and initiated the Gold Cup Races of 1925, a White Lake regatta, with a huge grandstand at the narrows.  The regatta was unfortunately, a financial disaster and thereafter termed the “regretta.”  Afterward, the orange planks used to build the grandstand ended up in many new boat houses around the lake.

old dowie staircase

Old Dowie estate staircase
Photo credit: Joe Dermody

The old staircase to the summer John Alexander Dowie estate is preserved on the OxyChem site.  We gathered around the staircase to hear Roger talk about Dowie. A Scotsman, Dowie was a very early Bible reader and was said to have read the entire Bible by the age of six.  When he was still a child, his family moved from Edinburgh, Scotland to Australia.  Dowie traveled back to Scotland to attend Edinburgh University and then returned to Australia as an adult.  Once back in Australia, he became a Congregational minister and railed against “sin, immorality and alcohol.”  He married his cousin, Jane, known as “Jeanie,” and had three children.  They moved to the U.S. and lived in San Francisco for a time and then traveled to Chicago during the 1893 Columbian Exposition World’s Fair. While at the fair, Dowie had a tabernacle on the midway where he conducted healings and attracted a following.  He eventually purchased 6,000 acres south of the Wisconsin border in Illinois and founded the city of Zion as a theocracy.

Roger Scharmer Photo credit: Jerry Grady www.watershedwildlife.com

Roger Scharmer
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Roger said that often those like Dowie were brought down by “sex or money” and he noted that money and poor health became Dowie’s downfall.  The charismatic minister sought a more luxurious lifestyle and he began dressing in grand clothing and taking international trips.

He bought 100 acres in the White Lake area and established his summer estate, Ben Mac Dhui, and referred to White Lake as “My Little Galilee.”  It was the old Dalton place, which he expanded.  The old foundation is still visible.  It was a horticulturist dream – with many different types of plants and trees.  Dowie had a number of strokes and died sad and lonely at 59, leaving $10 and a gold watch to give to his son, Gladstone.

Walk participants went away much informed about the new habitat restoration project and the old history of the property.

Postacard of Ben Mac Dhui Courtesy of Roger Scharmer Photo credit: Joe Dermody

Postcard of Ben Mac Dhui
Courtesy of Roger Scharmer
Photo credit: Joe Dermody

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September 7 – Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve

Photo credit:  Jerry Grady

Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Any walk in the dunes is a good walk for me!

Our September nature walk in the new Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve was no exception, despite the initial threat of rain!  Pete DeBoer, land protection coordinator for the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, which recently acquired the preserve, was our expert guide.

Pete told us that the Conservancy acquired the property late in 2012, after working with the owner of the dunes property for about a decade prior to its formal acquisition.  He told us funds have been also put aside for management of the preserve, such as invasive removal activities and construction of trails. Pete also said the Conservancy is interested in expanding the preserve in the future if properties become available and there is interest from their owners.

A 14-acre parcel along Lake Michigan, just north of Meinert County Park, the new preserve has almost 1,000 feet of shoreline along the Big Lake and contains critical dunes- a subset of Michigan dunes that scientists have determined to be the most fragile and environmentally sensitive.  Pete spoke of how the Conservancy protects West Michigan dunes – by working with landowners to place conservation easements on dune areas, as well as working with them to donate properties for protection. The Conservancy also works in partnership with local and state government to establish public parks and preserves, and acquires and manages preserves containing dunes (like Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve).

Pete DeBoer Photo credit:  Jerry Grady

Pete DeBoer
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Pete talked of the role of education in protecting dunes and how the Conservancy helps to inform and engage the public in dune protection through volunteer activities, hikes, creating and making educational materials available, and hosting public events.

On the shoreline Photo credit:  Jerry Grady

On the shoreline
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

The sun began to shine and it warmed up as we hiked down to the shoreline to trek north to the preserve entrance.  The high hills made for a vigorous walk into the wooded dune portion of the preserve.  Here we stopped to hear about the variety of settings in dune systems, including the beach, foredune (where the dunes are “built”) the interdunal areas or troughs, and then finally, the last stage of dune succession, the mature wooded forests.  Pete noted that over 100 Pitcher’s thistles have been identified in the preserve by college students supervised by one of several scientists in the state studying the dunes — Dr. Deanna van Dijk of Calvin College. The endangered species only grows in Great Lakes dunes, on the sandy active areas in the foredunes.  It does not bloom until seven years after it is established!

Pitcher's thistle Photo credit:  Jerry Grady

Pitcher’s thistle

I offered an overview of the Michigan’s regulation of dunes and gave a brief overview of the original 1976 Sand Dune Protection and Management Act, which related solely to mining, and the 1989 amendments that regulated development in critical dunes. I also provided an update on the most recent changes to the act in late 2012 that relaxed standards for driveway construction and required state environmental officials to provide proof of harm to dunes from development activities.

Pigeon Hill postcard“Dunatic” that I am, I could not resist telling a few stories about our lakeshore dunes, such as the long gone Pigeon Hill once located on the south side of the Muskegon Lake Channel and the Hoosier Slide, which once towered over Michigan City, Indiana, and a little history of how the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore parks were established.

There are some great stories of our lakeshore dunes! More on that another time!

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August 3 – The Role of Disturbance in Michigan’s Forests

Starting off  Photo credit:  Jerry Grady

Starting off
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

 Dave Wilson, our forestry consultant guide, met us on a sunny and warm day at Duck Lake State Park for our walk. We walked to the east along the Duck Lake shoreline, beginning at the Scenic Drive entrance.  As I expected, Dave gave us a fact-filled and interesting talk.  The main topic of the walk was how natural disturbances, such as windstorms, affect forests.  Dave said that the main change from a storm is the increased amount of sunlight that hits the floor of the forest.  As an example, he pointed out an area in full sun that supported grasses, dewberries, small oak trees and spruce trees (not a native tree, but planted widely for wildlife).

Dave gave a brief history of the logging era and how the forests in Michigan were cut over, followed by very hot wildfires. He explained how logging brought forest succession in Michigan back to a starting point.  It changed the state’s mature very shady forests (climax forest) to a different type of forest, made up mostly of oak and aspen, due to the full sunlight. Dave pointed out an area in the park where white pine was growing underneath black oak and remarked on how over time, the white pine will become dominant if left alone, due to forest succession.  He noted that the former paper mill in Muskegon (Sappi/S.D. Warren)  used white pine at one time, but many mills have closed and there is currently no pulpwood market for pine in Michigan.  He mentioned Hartwick Pines near Grayling as one area in the state where the white pine was not logged. 

Hartwick Pines Photo credit:  www.michigan.gov

Hartwick Pines
Photo credit: http://www.michigan.gov

As far as what landowners could or should to do in a forest after a storm, Dave said that you can’t apply “not doing anything” to all properties.  He said there are both economic and environmental benefits to managing forest properties and there are strong opinions on both sides.  As for the ‘98 storm, he said most property owners wanted to clean up the fallen trees and limbs and get value from the wood.  On state public lands, some valuable wood was left.  There are many reasons for leaving fallen trees and limbs in the woods, according to Dave — animals live in the cavities, it is diverse habitat for birds, the decay of organic material is good, and it is a place for scientific study.  Jerry Grady, our walk’s photographer, noted that leaving broken snags creates good habitat for woodpeckers and other birds. 

One walk attendee asked if wildlife in the forest changed after logging.  Dave’s answer?  Dramatically!  He explained how closed canopy mature forests provided little habitat for large mammals such as deer, which require a mix of habitats, such as farmland, open, brush, and bigger timber.  Robb Zoellmer, a former teacher and current Michigan Department of Natural Resources employee in the park, provided some thoughts on how the state park staff addressed forest management in the park. He said that a top priority is safety.  In addition, there is an ongoing effort to remove invasive plants, including spotted knapweed, bittersweet, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle.  Robb noted that recently, the Scotch pine near the pavilion had been removed and the area was planted with white pine. 

Leaf identification Photo credit:  Jerry Grady

Leaf identification
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Dave told the group that the easiest way to identify trees is by looking at leaves.  It is harder to describe different tree barks, so it makes it harder to identify trees by their bark.  One easy way to identify trees in the red oak group is that they have pointed lobes (remember red because you can prick yourself on a point and bleed).  Trees in the white oak group have no spines or points.  Dave explained leaf arrangement – how some leaves are compound and others are simple leaves. He also noted that most branches are alternate, rather than opposite. 

Scotch pine Photo credit:  Jerry Grady

Scotch pine
Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Pointing out Scotch pine on the walk, Dave noted that it was brought in from Europe and planted after the logging era  He said it has little commercial value, it is not attractive looking and is susceptible to bugs and diseases, which can be passed on to native trees.  It is easy to identify – it has two needles, which are twisted, and its bark is orange. Interestingly, it grows straight and is an attractive tree in Europe, its native location. 

Those on the walk asked about the many straight trees in the area, with few branches.  Dave explained how in a forest, shade kills the side branches, making for straight trees.  Given space and light, he said, branches really grow and so does the tree. 

We certainly learned quite a bit about forests during our walk in Duck Lake State Park, thanks to Dave’s expertise and background!

Special thanks to one of our regular walk attendees, Joe Dermody, for providing copies of a recent Michigan Riparian article on the history of Duck Lake State Park to distribute.   







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