McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve protects a 3,500-feet stretch of the Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River and over 3,200 feet of frontage on both sides of McDuffee Creek. Both the Little South Branch and McDuffee Creek are designated Natural Rivers within the state of Michigan. Both the Little South Branch and McDuffee Creek are known trout streams.
The property connects U.S. Forest Service land on its south and east borders, creating a natural greenway in this patchwork of protected forest. Wetland areas flank the waterways, with alder shrubs and sedge wetlands along the Little South Branch and a large area of wooded lowland near McDuffee Creek. The lowland forest has many vernal pools during the spring, which are filled with several species of breeding amphibians. The southwest portion of the property, formerly a pine plantation, is being actively restored to oak savanna habitat. Once common on the landscape, oak savannas are now exceedingly rare and can support a number of imperiled plant, insect, and wildlife species.
This landscape’s dominant feature is a glacial outwash plain. This formed when meltwater from retreating glaciers deposited layers of sand and fine gravel across the area, creating McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve’s flat topography. Subsequently, the Pere Marquette River (and to a lesser extent, McDuffee Creek) carved their way through the plain, leading to some steeper banks by the river.
Prior to European colonization, Native Americans lived in the Pere Marquette Watershed for over 10,000 years. Through activities like village clearings, fuelwood cutting, agricultural clearing, hunting, food harvesting, and fire, Native Americans shaped the ecology of the landscapes they inhabited.
According to General Land Office surveys completed around 1800, McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve once consisted of a mix of cedar swamp, shrub swamp/emergent marsh, beech-sugar maple-hemlock forest, pine barrens, and jack pine-red pine forest habitat types. A similar-but-altered mix of lowland and upland habitat types exists today. The property has been timber-harvested to varying degrees in the last 150 years.
In 1957, Charles W. Smith donated the 300-acre property to the Muskegon Kiwanis Club. A cabin and various other improvements were constructed on the property and used by a variety of West Michigan youth organizations. In 1995, the property was transferred to the Community Foundation for Muskegon County (CFMC). The Kiwanis Club continued to manage the property and facilitate its charitable purposes. Kiwanis Club members hunted the land and planted food plots. In 2016, the CFMC worked with the Land Conservancy to protect 275 acres of the property with a conservation easement. In 2023, the CFMC sold the entire 300 acres to the Land Conservancy. Under the Land Conservancy’s ownership, the landscape is permanently protected and open for public exploration and gentle recreation.