Environment Picture

Landmark at the lakeshore: State dedicates first natural area since 1988

Rare lakeplain prairie preserved at Algonac State Park
Michigan has a new natural area on state land for the first time in 20 years—and members of the MEC member group Michigan Natural Areas Council (MNAC), among others, are delighted with the good news.

The official dedication September 19 of 1,244 acres of Algonac State Park under a 1972 law was the culmination of efforts by MNAC, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff and others to breathe new life into a program designed to protect and conserve elements of the state’s natural landscape. And Chris Graham, a veteran MNAC member as well as long-time MEC board chair, couldn’t be happier.

“The dedication of the natural area at Algonac under the auspices of the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act is special, and it is so to me not primarily because it has been so long since the last dedication in Michigan. It is special because of the way it came up through the staff at the DNR,” Graham said.

Graham credited Kim Herman, a DNR employee, and Phyllis Higman, on the staff of the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, with building the case for the Algonac natural area. He said their work and efforts by others in the agency show a new understanding of the importance of such dedications.

Under the 1972 law, signed by former Gov. William G. Milliken, the DNR may set up to 10% of the land under its administration aside as natural areas, wild areas or wilderness. The DNR dedicated 20 natural areas between the signing of the law and 1988, but the process faltered afterward due to budget cuts and opposition to new natural areas by the administration of Gov. John Engler and DNR executives.

The Algonac natural area helps preserve lakeplain prairie, now a rare landscape and natural community in the state. Prior to European settlement, Michigan had more than 128,000 acres of lakeplain prairie. Today, less than 1% of the original lakeplain prairie remains, and many of the remnants occur in or near Algonac State Park.

Algonac State Park’s rare ecosystems contain unique combinations of groundwater, soils, plants and animals not found anywhere else on Earth. At least 22 endangered, threatened or special concern plant species live within Algonac State Park, among the highest known number of rare species found in any Michigan state park.

“State natural areas are the best examples of Michigan’s native landscapes, ecosystems and natural communities,” said DNR Director Rebecca Humphries. “The Algonac State Park Natural Area will add to the DNR’s long history of enhancing biodiversity, providing unique recreational experiences and protecting Michigan’s natural heritage.”

Graham added that the change in DNR’s approach to natural areas dedication is driven in large part by the current generation of employees’ “[they] trained during an era in which conservancies have flourished, the vernacular has blossomed, [and] the very great worth of the state’s natural features (many of the best of which are on state-owned lands) has become widely known and accepted.”
-Dave Dempsey
RELATED TOPICS: conservation, MEC Member Groups
© Copyright Michigan Environmental Council, All rights reserved