You’re environmentally conscious right? You recycle appropriately, maybe even compost. Eschewing plastic, cloth shopping bags accompany your store visits and a permanent water bottle never leaves your side.
Want to do more? Local folks from the Michigan Nature Association (MNA) hold work days (yes, even in the winter) where you can join with others to help with maintaining some of Newaygo County’s unique ecological systems. You can pitch in for part of a day, meet some folks who share a desire to help our ecosystems, and help make a difference locally.
The next two work days will be Thursday January 17th from 10am-2pm and Thursday January 24th from 10am- 2pm.
We asked local MNA member Sarah Pregitzer to share a bit about the organization and the work being done locally.
Appearances can be deceiving. Traveling Newaygo County’s back roads, one often sees long stretches of of scrubby grasslands, punctuated by a few scruffy oaks and occasional White Pine. Silvery dead branches of pin cherry reach to the open sky. Walking across this land can be a challenge. Everything stabs! Dewberry crisscrosses dry sandy soil like barbwire, rasping ankles and tangling feet. You’ll crunch across dust dry lichens and be surprised by big flat wheels of honest to goodness, prickly pear cactus - right here in Newaygo County!
And it is hot! A lovely 80 degree day in the surrounding oak forest can creep to 95 or 100 degrees in places. What’s going on? What is this place?
These are the Dry Sand Prairie or Oak Pine Barrens, two of the most rare and imperiled natural communities in the world. These places, once common in our area, are very fragile. Home to highly specialized plants and animals, some of which are federally endangered, are highly dependent on fire. They are susceptible to any disturbance and once disrupted, do not recover without human assistance.
Disturbed by attempted agriculture, suppression of fire, and invasive plants, these special places quickly disappear without human help. When they disappear, so do the unique plants and animals they support.
There are a few sanctuaries managed by the Michigan Nature Association in Newaygo County. Established in 1952, the MNA is a private non-profit organization, dedicated to protecting and maintaining Michigan’s unique natural habitats and endangered species. They acquired their first property in Newaygo County in 1969.
The MNA Newaygo Prairie sanctuary is a remnant dry sand prairie, meaning it has never been disturbed significantly. It is home to many very unusual organisms that are highly specialized to survive in this unique ecosystem. Most of the WORLD’S Dry Sand Prairie is located in pockets in and around Newaygo County. Much of it is basically unprotected, and unrecognized by the public.
The Karner Blue sanctuary, a Dry Sand Prairie/Oak Barrens, joined MNA’s properties in 1999 specifically to protect and encourage the Federally Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. About the size of a nickel, these tiny butterflies are rare and becoming rarer. They thrive on the lupine beds of the KB Sanctuary. Karner larva can only eat native lupine which are easily displaced by invasive spotted knapweed on sandy soils. Without native lupine they cannot reproduce. They are thriving on the carefully managed Karner Blue Sanctuary.
The Coolbough Sanctuary, owned by Brooks Township, is partially managed by MNA and local volunteers. The township has done a wonderful job protecting a remnant Dry Sand Prairie, as well as continually working to restore former DSP to their former function. Many enjoyable, well marked trails crisscross this local special place.
Michigan Nature Association strives to facilitate a healthy vibrant ecosystem in these spaces and protect rare and endangered life. At the same time, they wish to encourage local residents and others to learn more about these special spaces in their communities.
It takes a lot of work. If you are interested in joining a volunteer workday or arranging a tour with a Sanctuary steward, please feel free to contact us. Work days are ongoing and generally held from 10-2. Come for all day, or for just a taste."
Sarah Pregitzer 616-916-9436
Randy Butters 616-295-8008