Restoration and Preservation: Wau-Ke-Na Preserve

| 8/4/2008 9:07:36 AM

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Imagine 365 acres of land along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, and 1,300 feet of pristine beach frontage.  It’s a developer’s dream!!!  Lakeshore property such as this is being devoured all too quickly; houses and condos are rapidly replacing forest and dune.  Not this property though.  William Erby Smith saw to it that hungry bulldozers would never sink their teeth into this land.  Referred to as an environmental jewel along the lakeshore, this is Wau-Ke-Na Preserve, a name Smith created which means “forest by the water.”

Wau Ke Nau Preserve

Mr. Smith spent a large amount of his time and resources, and worked with Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) for ten years in an effort to improve wildlife habitats by restoring hardwood forests from pine plantations, and creating wetlands and grasslands.  When he died, at the ripe old age of ninety, he bequeathed the land to the conservancy.  

We arrived a few minutes late.  It was just one of those days.  An argument between my daughters in the morning, resulted in a lecture from me, after which I received “The Look” from my oldest.  Anyone who’s lived with a teenager is familiar with “The Look”:  the eyes roll; the mouth is slightly open in an exaggerated sign of disbelief, and arms are defiantly crossed in front of the chest.  “The Look” this particular morning meant, “I can’t believe you’re taking her side over mine.”  It set the tone between us for the remainder of the morning, and carried over until I got home from work with only minutes to spare to grab a bite to eat before leaving for Wau-Ke-Na.     

When we entered the community building, Nate Fuller, SWMLC’s Conservation and Stewardship Director, and our guide for the evening, was already explaining to this evening’s guests the diversity of eco-systems on the preserve.  Tonight, twenty or so of us would be exploring a small bit of the twenty miles of trails that wind through the maple-beech forest, wetlands, remnants of the lake plains prairie, clay bluffs, duneland, and another forest made up of yellow birch, hemlock, tulip tree, and red oak. 

“Mom?  When are we going to see the birds, Mom?”  I had told my seven year old we’d see birds; over 100 species of birds have been sighted and documented on the preserve.  I knew she was looking forward to seeing something big and impressive such as the blue herons in the wetlands, or something more elusive like the shy barred owls that live deep in the forest on the preserve.  Nate pointed out the little sedge wrens calling from the thick grassy area on the side of the path.  Tiny – smaller than a house wren – they were once quite rare here, but their numbers are increasing since more areas are left unmowed.  Impressive and elusive maybe, but my daughter had in mind something bigger, and with more flash.   

Cindy Murphy
8/26/2008 7:18:52 PM

Hi, Joan. I'm sorry for your stressful couple of weeks, but glad you got your Calgon "Ahhhhh..." moment; glad I could be part of it in a small way. And though my daughters and I did find a peaceful harmony in both nature, and in ourselves in those sometimes less than harmonous mother/daughter/sibling relationships, during the evening's beginning, I'm sure somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking, "Calgon, take me away".

Joan Wendland
8/26/2008 10:41:30 AM

Cindy, the past two weeks have been particularly stressful and your piece reminded me of the peace I receive from nature. I didn't even have to take the walk, though I did later. Your piece took me there, smoothed out the bumpy places in side and I felt it was like that old Calgon bath commercial where I just said "AAHH" and I got taken away. You write with a natural poetry and obvious love of your subjects. Many thanks for the word "bath." Joan Wendland

Cindy Murphy
8/7/2008 5:27:04 AM

Four children, Lacy! It sounds like they'll be busy having fun berry picking, playing in the creek, camping, and doing all the simple things every kid ought to have the opportunity to experience; things that seem so simple and natural, but those that many children never do. I recently watched my youngest "play" with a tiger swallowtail butterfly, holding her out-stretched finger to the milkweed flower it was drinking from so that it crawled onto her hand, and sat there a moment before fluttering off to another flower on the same plant. Over and over she did this, for nearly twenty minutes. I sat watching this exchange from the porch; all her attention was on the butterfly, and she didn't even realize I was there. Such a simple and neat experience for her; such a totally cool thing for me, as a parent, to watch. I'll never forget the joy on her face each time the butterfly landed on her finger. Don't forget to catch and release fireflies with your children. Remember doing that as a kid? It's become one of our favorite family activities this summer - there seems to be so many of them this year in the yard. Simple things such as this build lasting memories; my husband and I both recall childhood adventures as we run through the yard catching fireflies with our children. Best wishes to you.

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