Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve
Primarily because of their location along the shorelines, it’s estimated that more than 80 percent of the original Great Lakes marshes have been destroyed. Along Lake Michigan in the Lower Peninsula, about 15 remain today, which is the reason Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy put such a high priority on restoring and preserving Arcadia Marsh.
Located in Manistee County, the 400-acre marsh borders Arcadia Lake and is fed by Bowens Creek. In the late 1800s, a railroad grade was constructed through the marsh. Then, in the 1950s, the water level was lowered to improve agricultural potential and twice Bowens Creek has been diverted, resulting in a stream that is now very shallow and heavily sedimented. Finally, the marsh was permanently impacted when M-22 was constructed across Arcadia Lake as a quarter-mile causeway perforated only by a narrow bridge.
Restoration began in 2010 after GTRLC acquired 155 acres within the marsh. Teaming up with a handful of other conservation groups, work focused on restoring flows within the natural channel of Bowens Creek by plugging previous diversions. A prescribed burn was staged to counter the infestations of invasive species and 6 acres of shallow, open water was created within the marsh to benefit migrating birds and spawning northern pike.
Today, Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve extends over 273 acres on the doorstep of the village of Arcadia. Although the trail system is limited, the preserve has become a popular destination for birders due to the easy viewing of waterfowl and marsh-dependent migrants. As an old two-track, the foot trail offers easy hiking, while M-22 can be used to scope nearly a mile of marsh by pulling off along the side of its elevated causeway.
Arcadia Marsh is home to more than 180 species of birds, including 17 State endangered, threatened, or species of special concern. In spring and fall, birders concentrate on migrating waterfowl, cranes (including sand hill cranes), and great blue and green herons. In low-water years the marsh is great for shorebirds and in high-water years it’s one of the easiest places in Michigan to spot American and Least Bittern. Rarities that frequent the marsh include Bewick’s Wren, Black-billed Magpie, Purple Gallinule and Nelson’s Sparrow, while in the winter birders often spot rough-legged hawks and snowy owls.
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