A visit to the Coastal Plains Marshes
By Charles Chandler
Summertime and it’s sweet long blue Michigan Summer days are perfect for exploring all the natural wonders of Newaygo County. Recently this N3 correspondent had an opportunity to introduce Mr. Erick Elgin our Water Resource Educator with the Michigan State University Extension to Newaygo County’s unique Coastal Plains Marshes. Michigan and Newaygo County have an absolute abundance of these natural communities that include, Marshes, Prairies, Fens, Bogs, Savannas, Forests and others.
Curious minds may ask, just what are Coastal Plains Marshes and what are they doing way over here in Newaygo County, a very good and controversial question. According to the MSU facts sheet:
“A Coastal Plain Marsh is a grass-, spike-rush-, and rush-dominated wetland community that contains numerous plant disjuncts from the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains. The community occurs in depressions on sand deposits associated with postglacial lakes and outwash channels in western Lower Michigan, northern Indiana, northern and central Wisconsin, and the southeastern Georgian Bay region of Ontario.”
(This appears to mean that these marshes and the associated stuff living in them are not physically connected to their relatives over in South Carolina).
The conservation with Erick around these local Coastal Plains Marshes began on a cold February afternoon in a Conservation Collaborative planning meeting chaired by Marty Holtgren, Director of the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly, and hosted by Drain Commissioner Dale Twing. In that meeting, Erick mentioned an interest in Michigan’s natural communities and helping the various organizations identify the same in their areas of common interest. Once these natural communities were identified then he would help the organizations collaborate and marshal resources to help conserve or protect these communities.
Being somewhat new to Newaygo County Erick was asked if he was familiar with the nearby Coastal Plains Marshes. Well, it was blood in the water, since being from Wisconsin he was very familiar with these types of unique Marshes. This was smack dab in his wheelhouse as these Marshes are located alongside the North Country National Scenic Trail, in the Huron Manistee National Forest, along 28th street, and the Diamond #3 snowmobiles trail, all providing easy viewing for Newaygo residents, tourists and stakeholders.
During the meeting, an agreement was made to check back after the snow had melted and 28th street was passable to choose a date for a field trip. Given Erick’s busy schedule a July date and time was set for the field trip and some good old fashioned show and tell from a local guide. After the meetup and a short drive up 28th street, it was hello to a new Newaygo County Natural Community. After reading the interpretive sign located at the intersection of the North Country Trail and 28th it was off for the tour.
With an excited and professional survey of the first roadside Marsh, Erick the young, very intense Aquatic Ecologist and Water Resource Educator, kindly suggested to his prattling senior guide that he wished to go ahead and do some survey work and collect a few plant samples for further study back in the lab. The senior guide took the hint and said he would totter on back down the road and wait by the pickup truck, but, suggested that there were a number of other Marshes further up the North Country Trail that still contained water and could be of interest as well.
After sitting on the tailgate for endless hours swatting mosquitoes and thumbing through countless lame emails and fake news reports on the Iphone, Erick appeared and was ready to head up the trail. It was high excitement when the next group of Marshes came into view and soon the smiling young Erick was head down and ankle deep examining and collecting stuff in what is probably heaven for an Aquatic Ecologist and Water Resource Educator.
The fun field trip was soon over and Erick was off to New York for a project and we agreed to continue the discussion about how all the various stakeholders could work together to preserve this unique and beautiful natural community of Coastal Plains Marshes. In a later correspondence, Erick wrote that these Coastal Plain Marshes have a State rank of 2. This means “they are imperiled in the state because of rarity due to the very restricted range, very few occurrences (often 20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors making it very vulnerable to extirpation from the state.”
Simply put if we don’t love, respect, and protect these rare and fragile natural communities that have survived here in Newaygo County since the last ice age we will lose them forever. According to the MSU Facts sheet the Marshes can contain as many as 40 rare plants. And, they are extremely vulnerable to development or damage by motorized vehicles. Most of the Marshes can be seen with a short easy walk from 28th street or up the North Country Trail.
These Coastal Plains Marshes are our valuable yet vulnerable local resources and as mentioned there are many such communities in Michigan. As a member of the MSU Extension team, Erick works with local, state, regional and federal agencies and stakeholder organizations to protect and promote the sustainable use of the state’s distinctive aquatic resources.
If you are aware of other such ecological features or natural aquatic communities please contact Erick Elgin our Water Resource Educator with the Michigan State University Extension. firstname.lastname@example.org
5479 W. 72nd St., Suite 206
Fremont, MI 49412
Greening Michigan Institute
For additional information or links to articles written by Erick click on http://msue.anr.msu.edu/experts/Erick_elgin.
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