Not long ago, the stunning and ecologically significant Mitchell Creek Meadows: The Don and Jerry Oleson Nature Preserve was under immediate threat of development. Thanks to incredible support from our community, the Conservancy was able to protect this 225-acre preserve forever – yet the land still needs our help.
We are now seeking funding to implement a multifaceted plan that will fully restore this former golf course to its healthy, natural state and provide valuable recreational opportunities near Traverse City’s urban core.
RESTORING THE LAND
Because much of the Mitchell Creek watershed lies within our region’s most urbanized landscapes, significant runoff from human activities like fertilization, erosion, and other contaminants have degraded this precious source of fresh water.
As such, The Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay has identified the protection of the Mitchell Creek watershed as a critically important tool for safeguarding water quality in East Grand Traverse Bay. Because of Mitchell Creek Meadows’ central location in the watershed and the many creeks and tributaries that flow through the property, the Conservancy and our friends at The Watershed Center, Conservation Resource Alliance, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and others continuously monitor and work to improve the water quality of Mitchell Creek on the nature preserve.
The Mitchell Creek Meadows Preserve also presents a significant opportunity to protect vanishing wildlife habitat through restoring its biodiversity and resilience.
Already, certain habitats on the property have started coming back to life– fairways are transitioning to wet meadows, and waterfowl have been using old water traps.
Yet, there is much more work to be done. Invasive autumn olive and cool-season grasses have hindered the growth of native plants and altered the preserve’s natural ecosystems. Volunteers, staff and partner organizations have all worked tirelessly to remove autumn olive scattered throughout the property however, the work is ongoing. GTRLC plans to deploy a small goat herd to aid in the effort, as we have done in other parts of our service area, and will also seek professional assistance to help control invasive species and significantly expedite the overall habitat restoration process.
Native landscaping near the Conservation Center (GTRLC’s soon-to-be headquarters) and in targeted areas throughout the preserve will be reintroduced in order to increase biodiversity, improve wildlife habitat, and provide food and refugia for our imperiled pollinator species. Additional restoration plans include native tree and shrub plantings throughout the preserve’s wetlands, meadows, and hardwood conifer zones.
Located just a few miles southeast of Traverse City’s central business district, the preserve offers prime and convenient opportunities for hiking, birding, and accessing nature. The universally accessible trail, called the Looyenga Family Trail, will include significant sections of boardwalk to protect fragile habitats and several opportunities for viewing wildlife. Visitors of all ages and abilities will have a chance to learn about and experience diverse, critical habitats of their local environment at the preserve.
From the trailhead and parking area, visitors will pass through a mix of wetlands, meadows, and hardwood restoration areas with the opportunity to explore Glen’s Grove, a scenic cedar forest named in honor of GTRLC Executive Director Glen Chown, before reaching the Conservation Center. The eastern portion of the trail will be a mix of boardwalk and aggregate path that will meander through cedar swamp habitat to a short loop that crosses the west branch of Four-Mile Creek. This section of the trail will include a spur leading to an elevated platform that offers panoramic views of the entire property.
The preserve is also crucial in supporting the community’s long-held desire to connect and extend a regional trail system. The existing TART Trail runs roughly a mile along Three Mile Road from US-31 and dead-ends at South Airport Road. A collaboration with GTRLC, East Bay Township, Norte, TART, and surrounding schools and neighborhoods offers an unparalleled opportunity to expand the TART Trail through the preserve. The expansion is planned to connect the east and west sections of the Looyenga Family Trail while establishing safe (and scenic) routes to school for students, residents, and visitors to commute and recreate along the busy Three Mile Road corridor.