Steward – Nov ’13 Real Dirt


The Case for Michigan Native Plants
Exploring the “New” Boardman River

The Case for Michigan Native Plants

Cheryl Gross

In the 1980’s nurseries promoted ‘pest-free’ plants.  WOW, that sure sounded great.  By calling insects ‘pests’ they got a negative spin.  Who the heck would want a ‘pest’ in their yard?  Then in 2007, Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist from the University of Delaware, published Bringing Nature Home, an important book explaining the importance of insects in your yards.  Or rather, How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our  Gardens.

Many of us love birds in our yards.  Bird watching is a very popular activity.  Many of us have bird feeders in our yards to attract birds and sustain them through the winter.  Did you know that only adult birds eat seeds?  Baby birds can not eat seeds;  they require a diet of insects.  Think about it, baby mammals eat only mother’s milk (or formula) in infancy.  What if you only had pork chops and pizza to feed your infant?  Could they thrive?

Insects are an interesting study themselves.  The majority of insects have a one-to-one relationship with a plant.  Many are familiar with the case of the Monarch butterfly.  The adult butterfly can take nectar from a wide variety of flowers.  The caterpillar, however, feeds on only ONE plant, a Milkweed.  While we have four types of Milkweed in Michigan: Common, Butterflyweed, Swamp, and Whorled, Monarchs must have one of these in order to survive and reproduce.

Therefore, to benefit and sustain birds, we need to ensure the presence of insects for bird baby food.  To ensure a healthy supply of insects, we need a wide variety of Michigan native plants.  Michigan native plants host insects.  Bugs in our yards are very rarely ‘pests’ and are far more often ‘beneficial’.  Therefore, when planning your garden in 2014, avoid any ‘pest-free’ plants.  Pest-free plants are often Asian and European imports.  Look for Michigan native perennials, clump-forming grasses, shrubs, and trees to host a wild life buffet in your yard.

Exploring the “New” Boardman River

Whitney Miller

The Grand Traverse Conservation District (GTCD) conducted an educational guided kayak tour of the “new” Boardman River on October 5th.  I joined the tour headed by the District’s Boardman River Program Coordinator Steve Largent, with demo kayaks provided by Backcountry North’s owner Sandy Graham.

We began the tour at Scheck’s State Campground in the Brown Bridge area. The first portion of the river tour was the “original” river and remains unchanged after the Brown Bridge Dam removal and river restoration project.  We eventually made our way through these turns and came into what seemed to be a natural opening.  We were not in a natural clearing: we were in the portion that was the Brown Bridge Pond not more than one year ago!

In preparations to remove the dam as the final piece, numerous things had to happen.  First, surveyors worked with the GTCD to probe the ground and find where the original riverbed lay.  During probing, they discovered old tree stumps under water, which assisted them to map the river in a grid-like scientific fashion.  After probing was complete, among other scientific studies, excavation began.  The riverbed was dug out using large equipment, and was dug to the original depth (again this was found using the probes).  All excavated soil was distributed to make a new riverbank, so that the river had the traditional “U” shaped depth.  Finally, the dam was removed just last year.

When our group first came into the open area of the old pond, we all realized something: an unknowing person would never know that this had been under water so recently! There were snapping turtles perched precariously all along the bank, and a few Great Blue Herons lounging near.  In order to achieve the healthiest area possible, the GTCD planted all native plants, especially grasses, in the entire old pond area.  They realized that grasses would grow quickly and begin the process of providing a natural habitat for a few species, as well as to create a fast network of roots to “sure up” the soil.  The grasses & plants look like they have been there all along.

Alongside the plantings, they knew that a big part of the health of the river was due to the trees directly on the bank.  Obviously they could not plant hundreds, if not thousands, of full sized trees along the newly exposed river, so they sought other sources.  They reached out to our community and were able to secure not only funding, but also trees to use.  A logging company donated over 700 oak tree tips for the project, which were brought in and laid along the riverbank.  This accomplished two goals: provide protection & habitat for natural species, and to keep the new sandy river banks strong.  The snapping turtles were obviously happy with their new trees.

Our trip ended at the Brown Bridge canoe launch, right where the old hydro dam used to be.  Again, without prior knowledge of the area, one would never suspect that there had ever been a dam there for hydroelectric power.  It was amazing to explore this “new” river from the perspective of the water.  I cannot emphasize enough how meticulous the GTCD has been about completing this project in the most sustainable and conscientious manner for the environment.  I highly recommend exploring this area, whether on the walking trails or the river.