Loda Lake, one of a kind
With three days off from work for the 4th of July holiday, and a good weather forecast, I decided to spend my first day off, July 4th, at Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary.
I’ll start with a few nuts and bolts, a link to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service web site which has some information, including good directions, on the sanctuary. Michigan Garden Clubs, Inc. is a management partner for Loda Lake, and here’s more about the sanctuary from their website.
“Loda Lake is an area that includes a small spring-fed lake, a bog-like wetland area, a creek and riparian marshy areas, oak forest, pine plantations, and an early successional old farm site. Botanist Clayton Bazuin noted, “Loda Lake is ideally suited as a wildflower sanctuary and although near one of Michigan’s busy highways, can still be a natural reservoir of wild plants. This is due to the large number of ecological associations it affords in which they may survive”. Loda Lake is the only Wildflower sanctuary in the National Forest System, a project supported both financially and botanically by the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan for over seventy years. Informational signs are located at several locations throughout the area, including several around the remains of the structures. A resurgence in restoring the area has led to several new native plant restoration efforts, along with the development of educational and information tools, including trail guides, maps and a teacher’s guide. With the assistance of the Garden Clubs, the Forest Service has been able to identify over 500 plant species within the Wildflower Sanctuary, as well as identifying several cultural sites and historic trails.”
And, here’s how the sanctuary came into being.
“Loda Lake was once a virgin pine forest. In the late 1890’s the Pere Marquette Railroad harvested the timber before selling the land to the Hansons, railroad stockholders. Full of stumps and
logging debris, Mr. Hanson felt the land was worthless. Thomas Hunt, a family friend, convinced him that it could be successfully farmed using scientific methods.
The Hunt family farmed the area for several years. Mr. Hanson later built a substantial summer home with several outbuildings on the other side of the lake. The remains of the farm buildings and the Hanson dwellings are highlighted on the Cultural trail.
The land was declared “sub-marginal” in 1937 and sold to the U.S. Forest Service. At that time, the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan, now Michigan Garden Clubs, were looking to establish a wildflower sanctuary in the state. A cooperative agreement was signed in 1949, a partnership that continues to this day.”
Before I get to my day there, and the photos, I have a few other things to touch on, the Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary is the perfect tie in for this.
The State of Michigan has more public land than any other state east of the Mississippi River, and in a way, Loda Lake is a great example of why that is.
When the first Europeans got to what is now Michigan, they found it covered in great forests, but considered the land too marshy or poor for farming. However, the population of the United States was growing at a rapid rate, and that required housing for the people coming here from Europe. The forests of Michigan supplied much of the timber for the new houses. Michigan led the nation in lumber production from the 1850s to the 1880s. Since Michigan is rather flat, it was relatively easy to cut down the trees, and float them down the nearest river to sawmills that lined the shores of the Great Lakes. The lumber from the sawmills could be loaded onto ships and transported to booming cities that ringed the Great Lakes, such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, to name a few.
In less than half a century, most of Michigan’s great forests had been cut, and most of what trees that were left burned in a series of massive wildfires fueled by the debris left from the logging. Some of the fires were so hot and intense that the soil was destroyed, and to this day, very little will grow in these places. The rivers had been all but destroyed by floating millions of logs down them. Michigan was left an environmental disaster.
After the logging and fires, most of Michigan became farmland, but the majority of the farms failed, due to the poor soil here, and that’s not just because of the fires. Michigan is a product of the glaciers during the last ice age, at least the Lower Peninsula is. For the most part, Lower Michigan is a pile of sand and gravel left here as the glaciers melted, so the soil isn’t suitable for growing farm crops. There isn’t much topsoil here.
So in many respects, the history of the Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary represents the history of lower Michigan. The land was logged, some one attempted to farm it, the farming failed, so the land was sold in this case, but simply abandoned in other cases, and became the property of the United States Government. Again, in other cases, the land became the property of the State of Michigan.
That’s part of the legacy of Michigan’s history, another part is this. So many people witnessed the destruction of an entire state’s environment as quickly as it happened here, that conservation efforts took hold here as they have in few other places. Many groups sprang up to preserve what little was left of nature here in Michigan, and/or to rehabilitate what had been destroyed. You know the old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, comes to mind. Most of what had been here had been destroyed in less than a person’s lifetime. That’s one of the many reasons that Michigan has the largest system of State Parks, Recreation Areas, and State Forests of any state in the US, and more land open to the public than any state east of the Mississippi River.
So, with that part done, it’s time for me to get going on my day there at Loda Lake. I’ve seen it featured in many blogs, and in articles in the newspapers, but had never been there until this day. Unfortunately, my timing was off, and there weren’t many of the flowers that it’s known for in bloom at the time. That’s okay, for it’s a popular place in the early spring, and I’d rather scope out a place when there are fewer people around. That gives me the chance to get a true feel of a place, and the feeling that I got at Loda Lake is that it is truly a magical place. I could understand why so many people worked to preserve it for future generations. What makes it so special is that there are a number of different types of habitat coming together in one extended area. Or as the botanist said in the quote from earlier in this post, “This is due to the large number of ecological associations it affords in which they may survive”.
Well, guess what besides flowers love that type of area? Birds, and I saw a good number of both species and overall number of birds there. In fact, I think that I’ll have to make this one of my regular birding stops since it isn’t much farther from home than Muskegon is. I even got another lifer there, with the possibility of several more.
But, since this is about a wildflower sanctuary, I should begin the photos with a few of the flowers that I found, even though I shot most of these during my second walk through. I had arrived at sunrise, and many of the flowers hadn’t opened for the day during my first lap, I shot mostly birds then. Since the trail is only 1 and 1/2 miles long, it was easy enough to do two full laps, with lunch in between. So, here are the flowers, in no particular order.
Seeing the bee on the indian pipes surprised me, I didn’t think that they were true flowers since the plants lack chlorophyll. The bee didn’t hang around long, so here’s a better shot of the indian pipes.
Later, I found one of the indian pipes pointed up, and saw that they are indeed true flowers.
While my timing as far as time of the year for the most flowers was off, my timing for the weather couldn’t have been better! Good light and almost no wind made it easy to get the photos that I did, and it was a great way to test out the new Canon 100 mm L series macro lens.
In addition to the flowers there were plenty of fungi and a few lichens to be seen there.
I’m not sure if this next one was a fern or a sensitive fern, which isn’t a true fern. I was a bit busy shooting birds at the time, which you’ll see shortly.
I think that this next photo will get Allen’s interest, I believe that it’s a slime mold, but I have no idea which species.
To give you an idea of the size, the two horizontal lines of the stuff in the center and rear of the frame are on pine needles, and the wet bit of plant towards the foreground is a blade of dead grass, with another pine needle cutting the lower left of the frame.
Okay then, now for the birds, and these are only the ones that I tracked down for good photos, except for this first one. It’s a female least flycatcher running across the forest floor collecting feathers to line her nest.
How she could see where she was going as fast as she was moving, I have no idea, but she sure was in a hurry and never stopped moving.
These are much better, and I’ll start with the lifer, a veery.
It was mighty nice of him to perch out in the open like that to sing, as usually they stay well hidden in the leaves, like this one tried to do.
In fact, most of the birds that I did get photos of typically stay hidden in the leaves, but getting there early had its advantages.
These are the ones that make me smile the most though, as I walked out onto the boardwalk over the bog, I found a family of blue-grey gnatcatchers looking for breakfast.
Any one who has tried to photograph small birds can relate to this next series. The smaller birds never really stop moving, these are from a series shot in slow burst mode with the 7D and took less than three seconds to shoot, and I deleted the blurry ones in the series.
It took you longer to scroll through those than it did for me to shoot them, and you can see that this was a hungry little thing, very intent on finding insects hidden in the leaves.
Anyway, I have a few more photos to share, a mother mallard and her brood crossing the lake, as it reminds me of the serenity of the place.
The one “landscape” type photo that I shot there. There’s really nothing special about it, but I like it, it shows the way that the forests in northern Michigan look in most places.
And finally, one that I forgot to insert earlier in this post, a prickly pear cactus.
So, that’s all the photos, and all that I’m going to ramble on about this trip to Loda Lake, as I’m certain that I’ll being going back many times in the future. It really is a one of a kind place.
That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!