On the shores of the Little South Branch: Upriver Nature Preserve
This spring, the Land Conservancy announced its acquisition of a new nature preserve on the shores of the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River. On October 8, we held a public dedication to celebrate opening the preserve.
The 155-acre property was generously donated to LCWM by an anonymous family who had used the land as a vacation destination. The donation included an 8-acre parcel with a house and a garage, intended for the Land Conservancy to sell. The proceeds from the sale will fund the costs of opening the nature preserve to the public and its long-term maintenance and care, and any leftover funds will endow the stewardship of other LCWM-owned preserves. The remaining 147 acres of the donated property will be transformed into Upriver Nature Preserve and outfitted with a small parking lot, signage, and 2.2 miles of trail through the property’s sun-dappled forest and scenic river frontage.
The family who owned this land cared deeply about its natural features and conservation. They worked with the Land Conservancy to establish a conservation easement in 2007, which kept the land in their private ownership, but ensured that the protection of the landscape’s unique natural features would always be prioritized, no matter who owned it. When it came time for the family to let go of the property, they decided to donate it to the Land Conservancy. Their choice means the long-time private landscape will now be open to the public. It also places the land in the expert care of the Land Conservancy’s stewardship team. But these benefits are not without cost. The family’s choice to donate the home so that its sale could fund the care of the property is what makes Upriver Nature Preserve possible.
Upriver Nature Preserve will be the first Land Conservancy-owned property to allow public access to a tributary of the Pere Marquette River. The land features 5,321 feet of frontage on the Little South Branch. The cool, clear waters of this river provide high-quality habitat for creatures from brook trout to beavers. Black bears, bobcats, and foxes roam the forest floor. Bald eagles and osprey fish in the river, while migratory songbirds sing in the forest overstory. There is also a rare sand prairie on the property that, with some restoration, may provide sorely needed habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly and several native species of plants, insects, and birds that depend on these disappearing ecosystems.
The permanent protection of the river frontage and dedicated stewardship efforts to maintain and restore the habitat along its shores support several of the Land Conservancy’s strategic conservation goals. The property is located in one of the three focal regions identified by LCWM’s Strategic Conservation Plan—the Big Forests & Wild Rivers region—isolated for its high conservation potential. Protecting the land in this region promises to have high returns for preserving the biodiversity and health of our native ecosystems, even as climate change and urban expansion increasingly threaten our natural areas.