At HRWC’s annual data collection presentation in January, I shared the results from the 2016 field season of our Bioreserve Project, which assesses and protects the remaining natural areas in the watershed.
We use data from HRWC’s Bioreserve Map and field assessments to help our partners direct limited funds to strategically protect the most ecologically important lands. Our field assessments measure indicators of ecological quality in order to find the sites that are providing the most ecological services to the watershed. In 2016, 24 volunteers helped us do 36 assessments. HRWC has done assessments on 320 properties throughout the watershed.
This year, in Washtenaw County nearly 300 acres (six properties) were permanently protected with conservation easements. This includes an addition to Legacy Land Conservancy‘s Reichert Preserve, on Portage Creek. Nearby conservation easements closed in tandem to help protect nearly a mile of the creek.
In Oakland County, Six Rivers Land Conservancy is currently juggling nearly 200 acres of projects they hope will lead to permanent protection, and they just recently closed on a 34-acre property that straddles the Huron and Rouge river watersheds.
At both Legacy Land Conservancy and Six Rivers Land Conservancy, the hard work that HRWC staff and volunteers spend scoring and ground-truthing Bioreserve sites is invaluable.
HRWC’s 2016 field assessments helped our conservancy friends protect natural areas in three ways. In one case, Legacy did a site visit with an interested landowner. The landowner wanted to know more about her property, so she scheduled a field assessment. From the results, the landowner learned just how ecologically important her land was for the watershed, Legacy was able to present her with the conservation value of the property and she felt compelled to move ahead with arranging protection.
In another case, an HRWC field assessment led to a Legacy site visit. The landowners were excited about the various plants they saw in the field assessment that they hadn’t previously noticed. With the field assessment report in hand, both the landowner and Legacy staff did a joint site visit. Both were informed about what natural features, flora, and fauna to expect. The assessement helped inform the conversation while discussing the terms of a conservation easement.
In a third case, a field assessment helped reignite that landowners’ interest in preserving their land – that land will now become a County preserve!
Lively Discussions Lead to Learning
Over 60 people from the Huron River watershed and beyond gathered at the Freedom Township Hall to learn about Community Techniques for Protecting Water Quality. Elected and appointed officials from six townships attended the December forum on the vital role local governments play in protecting our region’s lakes, rivers, and streams and the natural areas that contribute to their quality. Attendees also included members of a variety of water protection groups and interested citizens, some driving as far as 200 miles from northern Michigan and Ohio.
Planning for community growth that protects natural areas is the key to ensuring clean water and vibrant communities for residents, businesses and farms. The goal of the forum was to share concepts, ideas and programs and to provide participants with an opportunity to learn from each other what works.
Harry Sheehan, the Deputy Water Resource Commissioner from Washtenaw County led the morning with an important overview on protecting water quality. Then Sally Rutzky and Erica Perry, Planning Commissioners from Lyndon and Webster Townships, communities HRWC has worked with to develop Green Infrastructure maps and plans, shared challenges and unique solutions to water and land protection issues. Monica Day, Michigan State University Extension educator, connected local water quality protection to statewide issues on the news like the Flint water crisis and algae problems in Toledo.
The forum was organized by HRWC, Mchigan State University Extension, Freedom Township, Pleasant Lake Property Owners Association, Michigan Lake and Stream Associations, the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, Citizens Respecting Our Waters, and Washtenaw County Emergency Management.
Forum presentations are available at HRWC’s Green Infrastructure page.
HRWC has received funding from the Knight Foundation to provide Green Infrastructure Planning Services to local governments. This includes a workshop where residents and officials map out their community’s natural areas and greenways, an audit of their zoning ordinance, master plan and other policies, and technical support in enhancing policies to protect water quality and natural areas. If your local government would like Green Infrastructure Planning Services, email Kris Olsson or call her at (734) 769-5123 x 607.
Every year I think is the best “color year” for our beautiful Southeast Michigan trees. This year was not only colorful, but the colors just kept coming — just when I thought, “well, there go the golden hickories, it won’t be long and all the leaves will fall and we’ll be into November and bare branches,” well here we are in November and now the oaks are finally turning — a deep dark crimson.
Then I came upon this New York Times article – yes, the late colors have climate change to blame. And, while this may be a pleasant outcome for now, it bodes ill for the future, as warmer temperatures will push our more colorful trees like red and sugar maples further north, leaving us with less colorful oaks and hickories (though they happen to be my favorites).
Faye Stoner, Washtenaw County Natural Areas Stewardship Coordinator, agrees. “Colors are definitely lasting longer this fall – I can remember doing school programs and losing all colored leaves (that came in handy on those walks with kids) sometimes before the school programs were finished up for October/before Halloween!
“To have several trees, including maples out “in the wild” still almost glowing with color on Nov. 3, to me, is ‘out of ordinary’.”
Other naturalists have noticed the fall tick season has lengthened.
Read more about climate changes impacts on our watershed and HRWC’s efforts in climate adaptations.
Check out HRWC’s fact sheet about climate change impacts on the watershed’s natural resources.
One of our family’s favorite trips on the Huron takes us through the Huron’s Natural River District, a designation recognizing the natural and scenic beauty of the river as it flows between Kent Lake and the western boundary of Ann Arbor.
We like to load kayaks as well as bicycles for a “paddle-down-cycle-up trip,” but you can of course also use two cars for a shuttle trip. We start just above Mile 69 on the Water Trail (page 10 on HRWC’s Paddler’s Companion) at the DNR launch site off McGregor Road in Dexter Township after dropping the bikes (or other car) off at Dexter-Huron Metropark (you will need a Metropark pass).
We launch the kayaks into Portage Lake, but quickly need to get out again to portage the Flook Dam. After the portage, we float into a seeming wilderness, with crystal waters clear down to the sand and gravel bottom, where we can watch fish torpedo by. My husband commences counting turtles sunning themselves on logs. I zig-zag from shore to shore, doing some float-by botany of the cardinal flowers, bluebells, and other flora.
The 8 mile trip takes us through Hudson Mills Metropark as well as the City of Dexter, where you can take a short side trip up Mill Creek (if flow conditions permit), take out at Mill Creek Park, and enjoy the beautiful trails the city has constructed along the restored creek. You can taste baked goods from the Dexter Bakery or have lunch at one of the many restaurants, or an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen.
We take out at Dexter-Huron Metropark, where we jump on our bikes and head back up to the car along the Border-to-Border Trail, a non-motorized pathway that, when completed, will run all the way from Washtenaw County’s border with Wayne County (down by Ford Lake) to its border with Livingston County (back at Portage Lake). The B2B Trail takes us back upstream along asphalt and boardwalks along the river and through wooded swamps and wetlands. We get another chance for a snack as we bike through Dexter and up to Mill Creek Park. Then the B2B takes us through Hudson Mills Metropark, where it ends, and we need to complete the trip along North Territorial and up Dexter-Pinckney Road to get back to our car at the DNR boat launch. The road is passable, but it will sure be nice when the county completes this section of the B2B, and we can make our entire trip free of auto traffic.
Have fun, stay safe with these TIPS from the Trail!
Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River Water Trail in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron from Flat Rock or paddle to Milford from Proud Lake, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket, hear a river history talk or learn to fly fish!
Huron River Appreciation Day is sponsored by TOYOTA.
Get Outdoors and Support the Huron River!
We need volunteers to join our natural area field assessment teams!
Get outside, meet new people, learn about our local natural areas and help out HRWC’s Bioreserve Natural Areas Assessment program! HRWC is seeking field volunteers to help inventory ecologically important natural areas in the watershed.
Volunteer teams will be conducting rapid ecological assessments of grasslands, forests, wetlands, and aquatic habitats throughout this spring, summer and fall. Each visit is like a nature hike through a new woods or wetland.
The 2016 season marks our nineth field season; volunteers have so far assessed over 300 properties throughout S.E. Michigan. These efforts have helped protect over 6,000 acres of land in the watershed. Land conservancies and community preservation programs use the data gathered to promote permanent protection of those lands identified as the highest quality and most important for protection of the Huron River. Come to our program introduction and training on
May 14, 2016
10 am to 4 pm
at Independence Lake County Park, in Whitmore Lake
In honor of World Wetlands Day today, we at HRWC thought we’d share a little bit of info about our wetlands here in the Huron watershed.
Wetlands – Nature’s Kidneys
Wetlands, along with floodplains and shorelines, are critical environmental areas. Wetlands are saturated lowland areas (e.g. marshes and swamps) that have distinctive soils and ecology. Wetland areas filter flowing water, hold flood water, and release water slowly into surrounding drier land. These functions are critical to keeping the Huron River clean and safe for wildlife, drinking, paddling, fishing, and swimming. See our Wetland Page for more details.
The Huron Watershed’s Wetlands
The Huron watershed is home to many kinds of wetlands (the Michigan Natural Features Inventory lists 26 different kinds of wetlands that exist in our watershed!); including wet prairies, hardwood swamps, and bogs. Unfortunately, due to agricultural drainage and development, only about half of our wetlands remain.
With all the ecological services that wetlands provide to the River, it is important to keep our wetlands healthy and restore wetlands when we can. HRWC highly recommends local communities enact wetland ordinances, along with building setback requirements from wetlands, to protect our remaining wetlands.
HRWC’s Bioreserve Project is mapping and assessing wetlands and other natural areas to help target conservation efforts (come to our Field Assessment Training to learn how you can assess wetlands and other natural areas), and our Green Infrastructure programs are working with communities to protect existing and create new wetland areas, to restore the landscape’s ability to filter and control stormwater runoff.
What You Can Do
Volunteer with HRWC, learning to evaluate wetlands (their special features and plants) on May 14 at our Field Assessment Training and then join us this summer for some field assessments!
In order to keep the river system healthy, we need to encourage compact development in areas with existing infrastructure (like cities and villages and other urban areas), and preserve natural and rural areas so they can continue to provide the ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life. (See our “Smart Growth Publications” webpage for more details)
Here are three recent articles that underscore this message.
A recent blog posted on the Smart Growth Network Newsletter (originally posted by the Nature Conservancy) bemoans the prevalence of zoning codes that do not allow higher density (i.e. that have minimum lot sizes), since that results in sprawling development patterns that consume more land and create more impervious cover per household. Given that all the communities in the watershed currently have these kinds of zoning codes, we have a lot of work to do to promote sustainable land use patterns.
Another SGN Newsletter post (from the Washington Post) gives a little perspective on what density looks like by comparing densities in dozens of urban areas throughout the world, and showing that most U.S. cities have plenty more room for more population and density. Even New York City has about a third of the density as London, England.
And finally, a report from the Transportation Research Board (part of the U.S. Academies of Sciences) finds that transit oriented development (which designs compact development around nodes of mass transit) greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, due to reduction of automobile usage.
HRWC has many programs that are encouraging communities to take a look at their land use policies, including Green Infrastructure and Climate Resilient Communities. The Green Infrastructure project maps out communities’ networks of natural areas so that they can guide development to areas appropriate to growth. As climate change impacts our watershed with increasing rainfall, the importance of managing stormwater in urban areas, maintaining natural areas and keeping development out of floodplains and low lying areas becomes increasingly important.
From Guest Blogger Kate Chapel
I’ve had the opportunity to coordinate the Bioreserve Project this summer as an intern for HRWC. During that time, I’ve travelled three counties including nine different townships in the watershed in over a dozen different Bioreserve sites. The sites are tracks of natural area that still remain in our watershed, helping to filter rain water, offer protection and food to wildlife, and serve humans as green infrastructure. You can check out the Bioreserve Map and learn more about how it was created here.
I’ve been to just under 30 different properties this summer, which has allowed me to see some of the most diverse and beautiful land in our watershed. Many of these properties are neighboring, which has resulted in being able to see almost the entirety of three Bioreserve sites, 91, 195, 216. While much of the time I have only been able to see glimpses of a larger forest/wetland complex, I’ve been able to see the whole of these sites, right to their edges. The sites are 778, 213 and 96 acres, respectively, totaling 1,087 acres. Site 91 is Lyon Oaks County Park in Wixom.
In addition to feeling like I’m just playing in the woods, I’ve been fortunate enough to see these places with over 20 different and amazing volunteers. I’m very grateful to these dedicated people for taking time to come out with me and for teaching me so much. Interested in volunteering next year? Check out our web page for volunteers.
The data collected this summer acts as a record for HRWC about the quality of the natural areas in the watershed. It is used by local governments and land conservancies to prioritize and purchase high quality land. The data also is combined into a report for the property owners and local land conservancies as a tool for land use planning and management. If you’re interested in an ecological assessment of your land, please check out our our web page for property owners, or contact Kris Olsson at kolsson@HRWC.org.
HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.
Growing up in Farmington, Michigan, the Big Beach trip in our family was to take a cooler and some lawn chairs up to Kensington MetroPark, where I had a great time digging in the sand, picnicking, and swimming at Maple Beach. But the highlight of the trip was always the visit to the Kensington Nature Center. Here is where I could actually touch Things From Nature! Like furs, and skulls, and the mystery boxes you put your hand in to guess what was inside. Here is where I could watch the bees for hours (well, I’m sure now it was really minutes) toiling away in the glass-walled hive. It was here, I believe, (along with weekly episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” on Channel 7), where I also discovered the importance of wildlife, natural areas, and water to our quality of life, and thus was planted the seed of my future career as an advocate for the environment. Little did I know at the time that I was recreating on the Huron River and enjoying its surrounding natural beauty, and that it would be my future workplace.
So, thank you Kensington, MetroPark, for helping to make me who I am!
- Kensington MetroPark. Photo: ellenm1
HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!
Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.
Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.
Wednesday, July 8, 7pm in Waterford
Join the Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area group to learn about invasive plants, how they can harm property values, safety, and water quality.
The FREE presentation will also explain how invasive plants can be controlled, who can do it, and how property owners can all work together to reap the benefits of having a proactive plan to control invasives.
Wednesday, July 8, at 7pm at theExecutive Office Building Conference Center 2100 Pontiac Lake Rd. Building 41West Waterford, MI 48328
For more information about what you can do to control invasive plants, see HRWC’s Invasive Plants Web Page