New Preserve Includes One Mile of the Black River

120-Acre Preserve Will Protect Water Quality, Wildlife Habitat 

 Over a mile of the winding banks of the Black River is now permanently protected, along with 120 acres of forest, meadow, swamp, marsh, and deep ravines.  The crow flies only three miles from the beaches of South Haven to SWMLC’s new preserve, but it takes the salmon over seven miles to make the trip.  The river curls back and forth through the preserve under the canopy of deep floodplain forests.  Three tributaries lead up into cool, dark, hemlock-lined ravines with towering beech and tulip trees.  The sandy uplands of the preserve blend from meadow to oak woodland and then down into the lowland forests and marshes of the river’s floodplain.

 “The acquisition of this 120-acre property is an enormous conservation achievement for SWMLC, the Black River, and its watershed,” stated Geoffrey Cripe, SWMLC land protection specialist.  “This preserve protects a fantastic diversity of plants and animals and will become an attractive destination for people to come and appreciate them.”

 SWMLC’s newest preserve, currently referred to as “the Garvey Property,” for previous owner Dan Garvey, is located along the west side of the South Branch of the Black River in Geneva Township.  The preserve’s collection of forests and meadows provides a valuable resource for both nesting and migratory birds.  “We are finding all sorts of interesting birds,” said Nate Fuller, SWMLC conservation and stewardship director. “Yellow-billed cuckoos, hooded warblers, Acadian flycatchers, are all nesting out there.  This past October, I had over 100 yellow-rumped warblers and dozens of ruby-crowned kinglets flitting around me down by the river, fattening up on bugs and berries for their big trip south.”
  The property isn’t just for birders, though.  After only a couple visits, project partner Conservation Research Institute’s (CRI) Dr. Gerould Wilhelm identified over 400 species of native plants.  “The variety and quality of the habitats out here are really impressive,” remarked Fuller.  “We have southern forest communities of tulip trees and sycamores mixing with northern hemlocks and oaks.  Along the main river, you might think you were on a tributary of the Mississippi 200 miles south, but scrambling into one of the deep tributary ravines is like jumping 200 miles north.”  The winding trails that lead through the preserve will provide visitors with all sorts of opportunities to appreciate the birds, plants, trees, vistas, and nature in general.The trails are not limited to walking paths either; a Heritage Water Trail makes up the eastern boundary of the preserve.  The Bangor to South Haven Heritage Water Trail Association (B/SH HWTA) was excited to join as a project partner to help incorporate the water trail into the public use design of the preserve.

Commitment to Conservation

 The acquisition of the Garvey property marks an important step in a commitment to conservation that began years ago and will continue into the future.  In 2008, the property was identified as a conservation priority in a comprehensive study of the Black River Watershed that was funded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Working with the Van Buren Conservation District (VBCD), SWMLC identified parcels of land in the watershed that produce the greatest benefits to sustaining the Black River’s water quality and wildlife habitat.

 Protection of the Garvey property was first initiated when SWMLC sent outreach materials to landowners within identified “priority” areas and connected with Mr. Garvey.  Mr. Garvey was eager to see his land permanently conserved and was excited about the idea of sharing its natural beauty with the people who live in and love this region.  And because of Mr. Garvey’s commitment to conserving his land and the generous support of his investment partners, he was willing to sell the property at a greatly discounted value.

 Mr. Garvey also brought along a friendship with Jim Patchett, founder and president of Conservation Design Forum (CDF) and Gerould Wilhelm, CRI’s director of research.  SWMLC had worked with CDF and CRI in the past and was excited to include their ecological planning and research expertise into the project.

 Three years and numerous conversations later, SWMLC proposed “The Southeast Lake Michigan Riparian, Riverine, and Upland Habitats Protection and Restoration Project” to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Joint Venture grant program, seeking $250,000 to protect this significant natural area.  The proposal to both protect and restore the property was a good fit for the GLRI, but the proposed partnership with CRI, CDF, VBCD, Two Rivers Coalition (TRC), and B/SH HWTA ensured its success.  In early July, SWMLC was notified that our proposal would be funded.

 “We are thrilled to finally see our collective vision for the property come to fruition,” stated Cripe.  “We are extremely grateful for the generosity of Dan Garvey and his partners in protecting this property with us.”  

 As wonderful as the natural communities are on the preserve, there is room for improvement.  Invasive species, historic land use, and overshading in areas are causing erosion problems.  The USFWS grant has enabled SWMLC to purchase the property and begin the first phase of restoration.  SWMLC, CRI, and CDF will work together to develop a long-term restoration and management vision, and VBCD, TRC, and B/SH HWTA will provide educational outreach and participate in the maintenance of the new preserve.  Early restoration efforts will include invasive species removal, reintroducing prescribed fire to encourage native plants, and assisting the growth of deep-rooted native plants in forested areas for soil stabilization and water sequestration.
 Additional funding is being sought to expand restoration efforts beyond the life of the grant and provide long-term funding for management.  Long-term objectives to significantly reduce non-point source pollution that filters through the site and improve the property’s natural ability to perform essential functions will require added investment and resources. 

 SWMLC and CDF have high expectations that this project will become one of the premiere ecological restoration sites in the Great Lakes region.  Plans to integrate public use with the ecological restoration will begin this
year and next with a goal to complete work by the end of next summer. 

 SWMLC invites all of you and your friends to wander our newest preserve.  Parking, trails, and signage are still limited as we work on a master plan for the preserve — be sure to take a compass if you go!  To volunteer to assist in management endeavors or track the progress of restoration activities, please visit the project web page at