In an area increasingly pressured by residential development, Minnie Skwarek Nature Preserve contains an important wetland complex that protects water quality in the Grand River. The mature hardwood swamp—which follows a small stream through the property—is particularly diverse and contains unique plants like Michigan lily, swamp saxifrage, and lizard’s tail. During spring and fall migrations, songbirds flock to the preserve, using the great diversity of vegetation for food and shelter.
Minnie Skwarek Nature Preserve is situated on a flat, sandy lake plain formed by Glacial Lake Chicago. Prior to European settlement, the natural communities in the area were influenced by activities of Native Americans, who hunted, farmed, and burned the landscape and established villages and trails. Upland vegetation in the vicinity of the preserve was dominated by white pine-mixed hardwood forest. Frequently flooded areas along the Grand River were characterized by shrub swamp and emergent marsh vegetation. When the European settlers arrived, they ushered in an era of intensive land use. Settlers logged the area’s forests for timber.
Ruth Skwarek lived on the property for most of her life after moving there as a child with her mother, Wilhelmina (Minnie), who wanted her family to escape city life in Chicago. Minnie named the property Die Kleine Farm, German for “The Little Farm,” even though the only farming they did was raising and selling mink so that Ruth could go to college. The money was well invested, and Ruth became a respected and much-loved teacher at Muskegon Community College. When her mother died, Ruth inherited the land and the farmhouse, living there until shortly before her death.
Ruth loved the woods and wetlands of her property, and it was important to her that Die Kleine Farm would never be developed. The Land Conservancy worked with Ruth in her later years to ensure that the property was preserved through her will. As Ruth wished, the new preserve established by the Land Conservancy was named in honor of her mother, and it remains a place that inspires the connection with nature that both Minnie and Ruth Skwarek so deeply cherished.