Michigan’s Natural Heritage: Cadillac Marsh

Michigan has 101 State Parks. So far, I had only seen one of them. Obviously, that had to be fixed!

Mitchell CollageIt was also time to get away from the Lake Michigan dune area, much as I love it, so I headed inland. The town of Cadillac is home to Lake Cadillac, Lake Mitchell, and in between, Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP_7198 a Within the park is the Mitchell Heritage Nature Trail. It’s a 2½ mile trail encircling a marsh, and just the thing to keep me out of trouble for a couple of hours. Or eaten alive, which was certainly my fear starting out. The trail began as a lovely walk through an old growth forest of maple, oak and pine. Turned out it was also home to gangs of marauding vampires in mosquito disguise. Knowing that I was headed for a marsh, I thought it could only get worse. Luckily, I was wrong; apparently these were strictly arboreal skeeters.

MI Mitchell SP_7201 aA brief meadow interlude, followed by a plunge into more woods just beyond.

MI Mitchell SP Flower_7242 a Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis.) A shrub that grows in marshes or on the edge of streams or lakes. It offers nectar to bees and butterflies, seeds for ducks and shorebirds and leaves for deer. Songbirds nest in the plant and small critters like insects, frogs and salamanders use it for cover. In other words, this is a friendly plant! (Thanks to Weed Warrior pal Mike for the identification.)

MI Mitchell SP_7239The observation deck offered a wide view of the marsh. From a distance it looks like a confusing tangle of green, doesn’t it? Look closely and you may see that there are dozens of different plants and shrubs here. Great habitat for wildlife. The Goldfinches sure loved it!

MI Mitchell SP_7264 aOutside the trail was a canal that reminded me of a castle moat. This was home to lots of turtles.

MI Mitchell SP_7246 aFerns reflected in the dark waters of the canal.

MI Mitchell SP_7212 a

Birch trees. But of course.

MI Mitchell SP_7230 aFUN FACT: This is a secondary growth forest. The original forest of white pine was decimated by logging in the late 1800s, and fire after that. White birch is often called the “fire tree”, because fire exposes minerals that spur the growth of birches, and it’s one of the first trees to reforest a burned area. This is an older birch woodland that is already transitioning to a beech and maple forest.

Young birch saplings often drew nourishment from the old pine stumps and grew up around them. Eventually the stumps would rot away underneath. These weird roots are the result!

MI Mitchell SP Lake Mitchell_7512 a2Back from the trail, at the more recreation oriented part of the park, here is Lake Mitchell (above), and the Clam Lake Canal (below.) The canal was built in 1873 to float logs between the lakes for the lumber industry, and is a third of a mile long.   MI Mitchell SP Lakes_7529 aMI Mitchell SP Lake Cadillac_7523 aAt the end of the canal, Lake Cadillac.

MI Mitchell SP_7378 aHappy trails!

Coming up: Back in Time: White Pine Village