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Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s Mission

 

by Steve Mueller

 

Like most nature lovers, I am bound to the land by heart, spirit, and labor of love. Bob Stegmier requested I write about Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary for the Izaak Walton League (IKEs). The mission here is to protect and enhance life in the native ecosystem where we live as members of the natural community. 

Here Little Cedar Creek’s permanent flowing headwaters begin. In spring, the creek carries water from about one mile upstream. By mid to late summer the creek bed is mostly dry upstream. Springs feed the creek with cold water to keep a constant flow. Groundwater springs are critical to make the creek suitable for brook trout. 

As I was leaving Ody Brook on opening day of trout season, an angler fishing at the highway bridge told me he had a brookie in his creel. The next Saturday an angler told me had his limit by 10 a.m. It pleases me environmental conditions supply healthy living space for these beauties and other stream life.

I was concerned the important headwaters that make life possible for thousands of plant and animal species, clear water, and solitude would be replaced with box houses to create a sterile landscape. Most of my life, I owned seven acres. Mrs. Williams owned land I purchased to expand the sanctuary on the stream’s floodplain. She desired to retain her 80-acre farm that included the creek and floodplain until her death. After her death, she said the children could do as they needed with the land. 

For 30 years I helped safeguard her land. Her husband died the year I bought seven acres adjoining her property. She leased tillable upland to a farmer. There were trespass and other issues I helped resolve. She told me to use the property like I owned it but I did little except maintain some walking trails. Consumer’s Energy owns a swath that bisects the property for its high-power utility line that crackles on rainy days. 

When it became necessary for her to move to a nursing home, she sold me the floodplain property with some adjacent upland forest to pay for her needs. We were both pleased. She knew I would care for the land like I cared for my kids. I thought it would never be possible to afford ownership of the land to protect the creek, floodplain, and upland. I chose a career as a naturalist where one does not gain wealth studying natural history of ecosystems and teaching others about the world’s natural wonders that sustain our health. 

The purchased portion was landlocked. I wanted to purchase additional acreage north of the powerline where the creek flowed so I could protect that portion of the creek and have access from a road. She was pleased to sell me that wetland. The farmhouse and tillable land was sold to another. 

This happy story allows me to protect the creek with adjacent treasures like three federally threatened American Chestnut trees. That species played an important role in our country’s development as part of the oak-hickory-chestnut ecosystem that encompassed much of the eastern US. Today textbooks refer to oak-hickory forest ecosystem because an exotic imported fungal blight eliminated most chestnuts from existence. 

As ecosystem ecologist for Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s 61 acres, my efforts focus on ecosystem enhancement for species that share the landscape. It is not primarily a nature center for education and human activity. The Howard Christensen Nature Center, Luton County Park, and the IKES property serve that purpose in our area. Here we serve plants and animals to help them thrive. In turn, they help society flourish.

Visitors are welcome to enjoy the sanctuary provided they call or email to request permission. I detest “No Trespassing” signs and am pleased to share with those willing to follow use guidelines. Some groups organize guided field trips to learn management strategies implemented for woodcock, turtlehead plants that support Baltimore butterflies, swamp saxifrage, forest, field, and wetland. College interns earn credit learning habitat management. I present a program titled “Restoring Biodiversity to Home Landscapes” and others. Program fees help fund management at Ody Brook and help others learn ecology for landscape sustainability. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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