The GTRLC strives to protect critical habitats region wide from the threat of non-native invasive plant species. The issues and threat posed by invasive species go beyond political boundaries and any single organization’s service area so The Conservancy partners with several organizations to manage these issues. Partner organization, Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network, is a great place to learn about high priority invasive plants and other invasive plant info.

In 2000, during early negotiations to protect Arcadia Dunes, sightings of several bird species with declining populations, including Grasshopper Sparrows, Meadowlarks, Northern Harrier, and Upland Sandpipers brought heightened awareness to the significance of a 350 acre area of fallow fields in the eastern portion of the proposed conservation area. The presence of these birds helped build the case to protect the property.

While it was clear these fields were host to rare bird species it wasn’t clear how well the fields were functioning as habitat and whether they could sustain these bird populations.

To better understand this habitat, local Audubon Club members began monitoring the fields by establishing permanent plots for bird point counts. It soon became apparent that habitat suitability for these birds would decline over time if invasive vegetation, such as spotted knapweed and invasive shrubs, continued to increase to levels that would not support a diverse and healthy ecosystem.

Today, at the Dryhill Grassland at Arcadia Dunes

The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve is a rare, beautiful, and important Michigan landscape. Prior to European settlement our state had approximately 2 million acres of grassland and now, according to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, less than 1% of the original prairies remain. Nationwide, this essential habitat has been lost due to various pressures, including urban development, agricultural practices, fire suppression, and invasive plant species. As a result, grassland and the migratory birds that depend on this open habitat have suffered steep population declines. The largest decline in Michigan’s bird community has been grassland birds.

Creating a diverse grassland habitat is a long term process that requires great effort to establish and maintain. Historically, prairies were maintained as open landscapes by intentionally set fires, burns after lightning strikes or periodic Bison grazing. Deep rooted native grassland plants thrived and adapted well to this kind of disturbance. Conditions today have allowed invasive species, which provide significantly less ecological value than their native counterparts, to dominate many grasslands.

To address these concerns, Vern Stephens of Designs by Nature was contracted to develop a management plan for the grassland while financial and technical assistance from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Landowner Incentive Program, were utilized to convert the first 48 acres of field to native warm season grassland in the spring of 2008. Additional technical input was received from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and, in 2009, the grassland was enrolled in a multi-year Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP) with the goal of restoring more than 265 acres. The USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife program has also assisted with wildflower installation and planting on an addition to the grassland that was once a cutover scotch pine plantation. In total, as of 2014, approximately 280 acres have been converted to native grassland and 40 additional acres treated for invasive trees and shrubs for a total project area of over 320 acres of ongoing active restoration activities.

The intention of the Dryhill Grassland Habitat Project is to create and maintain an ideal habitat for upland bird species, while subsequently providing air-drainage for local farm fields, as well as a prime location to monitor bird populations, provide grassland education, and simply enjoy a beautiful Michigan landscape. The grassland lies within a north/south migration corridor along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore and thus provides both nesting and stop-over habitat for many bird species GTRLC is using many techniques that create prime conditions for native grassland species including seeding, invasive treatment and removal, and prescribed burns.

Once native grasses are established and broadleaf weeds are under control, native wildflowers are sown throughout the grassland. This adds another level of ecological complexity and a gorgeous aesthetic. Volunteers have frost-seeded some portions of the grassland and continue to monitor their success.

The grassland fields are in different stages of restoration which provides many on-going opportunities for volunteer participation including:

  • Grassland seed collection in the fall
  • Vegetation monitoring
  • Invasive species removal
  • Bird point count monitoring
  • Developing and implementing an insect monitoring program
  • Wildflower frost seeding

All volunteer opportunities for the year are listed on the Events Page of our website, or if you have a special skill or interest, please contact Angie Lucas or Nate Richardson.

The Arcadia Marsh is a Great Lakes Coastal Marsh, a rare and declining natural community found only in Great Lakes coastal areas. Coastal marshes are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and Arcadia is one of only 15 or so remaining coastal marshes along Lake Michigan’s Lower Peninsula shoreline. The Arcadia Marsh hosts over 150 species of birds including 17 State Endangered, Threatened, or Species of Special Concern, making it a fantastic site for birding. It is also an important spawning, nursery and year-round habitat for numerous fish and other aquatic organisms.

The Arcadia Marsh and its natural processes have been heavily impacted by human alterations. In the late 1800’s, a railroad grade was constructed resulting in an east/west berm through the marsh. The water table was lowered to create conditions more suitable for agriculture and in the 1950s. Bowens creek, which feeds the marsh, was diverted for a stock pond which eventually “blew out”. This caused 40-50% of the water from Bowens Creek to be diverted from its natural course to a straight wide channel along the northern side of the railroad grade. A second diversion of Bowens Creek was constructed in the 1960s in an attempt to improve duck hunting opportunities which diverted nearly all the remaining water from the creek. Bowens Creek is now very shallow and heavily sedimented. Finally, the hydrology and ecological connection between the marsh and Arcadia Lake were permanently impacted when M-22 was constructed in its current location by means of a quarter mile filled causeway perforated only by a narrow bridge.

Along with the accumulated effects from years of hydrologic alteration there is an alarming level of invasive plant species present in the marsh.

Invasive species such as phragmites and reed canary grass are crowding out native plants which can seriously impact the natural benefits of the wetland and directly impact Lake Arcadia’s water quality and ultimately the water quality of Lake Michigan. These conditions threaten the overall health of the Arcadia Marsh and make habitat restoration necessary.

Restoration began once GTRLC acquired the initial 155 acres of marsh in 2009. The Preserve has since expanded to 273 acres. To fund habitat restoration and protection grants were received through various sources including funding from the Michigan Coastal Zone Management program, the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act, and the Sustain Our Great Lakes program through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

In order to handle the large and complex restoration GTRLC partnered with Ducks Unlimited, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Conservation Resource Alliance, and the Manistee County Road Commission. The partnership’s work restored flows to the natural channel of Bowens Creek by constructing plugs at previous diversions sites, treated invasive species infestation, including the use of a prescribed burn in 2012, and re-created roughly 6 acres of shallow, open water areas by removing built up sod. The shallow open water areas are important because many rare bird species utilize them during times of high water and they help re-create conditions that made Arcadia Marsh a historically important northern pike spawning marsh. The restoration is on-going and includes invasive species management and native collect seed collection and sowing amongst other things.

GTRLC continuously strives to balance appropriate access with wildlife protection. Access enhancements are made appropriately over time as we gain an understanding of how wildlife utilizes the property. Local Audubon volunteers are assisting with monitoring efforts along proposed trail routes.

To volunteer or learn more about this important restoration project, please see the Events Page to sign up for a volunteer event and click the Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve Restoration Publication for additional information.