Enjoy the Preserved Beauty of Michigan’s National Parks

Throughout 2016, the National Park Service is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, and are encouraging people to venture out and find their park! In honor of Earth Day on Friday, April 22, here are a few ways in which Michigan’s 7 National Park units are working to preserve native plants and wildlife.

Protecting Nature

While Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes may be best known for its sloping, perched dunes rising majestically above Lake Michigan, there are many life forms of flora and fauna nestled comfortably within the park’s boundaries.

Sleeping Bear actively monitors the Great Lakes Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus), which is an endangered species of shoebird that appears at the park from early April to mid-August. They are sand-colored on the back and white below. During the breeding season adults have a black forehead band between the eyes and a single black band around the neck. (Its larger relative the killdeer is commonly seen at parks, playgrounds, and golf courses, and has two dark bands around the neck.) Piping plovers nest only on beaches and prefer beaches with gravel.

Attaching a ankle tag to a young Piping Plover, Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

Piping plovers remain at Sleeping Bear through the summer months to nest and raise their young. In mid-July the females begin forming flocks and migrating south, leaving their mates to watch over the chicks until they learn to fly.

As for its native plantlife, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a part of The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The GLRI goals of Sleeping Bear Dunes include:

  • Restoring habitat to protect native species
  • Preventing and controlling invasive species
  • Education and outreach
  • Studying avian botulism outbreaks

Sleeping Bear also works hand-in-hand with its NPS neighbor to north, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to identify beech bark disease resistant trees for future restoration efforts. They also are working on an aquatic invasive species citizen science program for early detection and evaluating Eurasian watermilfoil (an invasive aquatic plant species) management using native beetles.

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

These efforts among others help to preserve the sprawling natural beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes which has become a destination spot for generations of Michigan families. Visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes can enjoy touring the inland lakes via canoe, hiking one of the park’s many trails, or visiting the Manitou Islands for bird watching, wildlife viewing and enjoying nature at its very best.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NPS and highlight the value of national parks as our nation’s “living laboratories,” the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is hosting a series of public talks called “Research Rendezvous” by park researchers in 2016. Visit NPS.gov for the current schedule of upcoming talks.

Being a responsible park visitor

National Park Service rangers and other stewardship employees work hard to preserve beauty in its most pure and natural form at all NPS sites. But they also need your help to be aware and responsible when visiting one of these pristine areas.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which was recently featured in the national IMAX release of “National Parks Adventure,” has some tips for park visitors that will protect the park’s natural resources, enhance your park experience and keep you and your family safe. Here is what visitors should know when preparing to visit a National Park:

  • Please don’t litter – pack it in and pack it out
  • Stay on developed trails, especially during early spring wet season blooming times
  • If you use the woods for relief, please follow BURY IT ethics: 2-4 inches deep hole into the duff and cover, including the waste paper

In celebration of the NPS Centennial, Pictured Rocks will be participating in a series of programs built around natural conservation and inspiring a new generation of park stewards by partnering with the Every Kid in a Park Program – sponsored by the National Park Foundation, the White House and Federal Land Management Agencies. Every Kid in a Park, or EKIP, encourages 4th-graders to visit any federally reserved land or water such as a National Park, forest refuge or wildlife reserve.

Melissa O’Donnell, Education Specialist for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore/Hiawatha National Forest, will kick off the  Every Kid in a Park program by visiting 6 of the 12 schools awarded a free field trip to the park, from a National Park Foundation grant. Over 160 students will learn about federal lands and waters, why they are important, and what to know during a series of field trips in May.

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

Urban Preservation

Just as important as protection of our trails, streams and plant life, cultural and historical preservation in urban settings stands as an important pillar in the NPS Centennial as those in the “Millenial” generation are moving away from the suburbs and into the city.

The city of Detroit has a rich history and through recent preservation and interpretation efforts, many of the sites that weave the storied tapestry of the region are being safeguarded for future generations.

As part of the Every Kid in a Park program, the MotorCities National Heritage Area – an affiliate of the National Park Service, that preserves and promotes automotive heritage in southeast Michigan – is working with the National Park Service’s Urban Agenda to educate Detroit students about an important piece of the city’s history in historic Fort Wayne.

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

MotorCities National Heritage Area in conjunction with the Detroit Historical Society, Michigan Historic Preservation Network, Preservation Detroit and the State Historic Preservation Office will be leading an interactive experience in which 4th-graders will learn about local history through a “grab bag” of historical items. Students will have to guess the origin of the item and what it does while talking with knowledgeable proctors.

This and much more will be happening during a special event from May 31 to June 3 at historic Fort Wayne.

This educational outreach program is just one way in which the MotorCities preserves and promotes the automotive and labor history and how our story in southeast Michigan impacted the state, the nation and he world.

Learn more about these and other Centennial happenings at: nps.gov and findyourpark.com.

Austen Smith is the Communications Coordinator for the MotorCities National Heritage Area. He can be reached at asmith@motorcities.org.