Embracing Autumn at Nan Weston Nature Preserve
The fall colors seem to be dragging their heels this year, but it’s still a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the cool air and warm sun. Among Washtenaw County’s many parks and preserves to enjoy an autumn walk, the Nan Weston Nature Preserve offers a lot of intriguing diversity in just a short walk.
Spanning 248 acres in the Sharon Valley of southeastern Washtenaw County, this preserve is marked by its rich biodiversity, particularly its varied plant life encompassing several rare and endangered species. An array of habitats, including southern hardwood swamps, wet meadows, and mature upland woods, characterizes the land. The preserve is a mecca for spring wildflower enthusiasts, boasting more than 260 species of wildflowers and other native plants. This diverse ecosystem supports a broad spectrum of flora and fauna, making it a pivotal point for conservation.
For years, the Michigan Nature Conservancy had identified the intrinsic value of this property and sought to acquire it. A strategic purchase was made in 1983 when the Conservancy acquired 22 acres adjacent to the land, which paved the way for access to the larger parcel. By 1992, through private and corporate donations, the Conservancy expanded its footprint by purchasing the extensive parcel. Nevertheless, funds were still requisite for the ongoing care and conservation of the land. Acknowledging this need, the family of the late Nan Weston, an ardent nature enthusiast, extended a substantial donation for the preserve's continuous preservation. To honor her legacy and enduring commitment to Michigan's conservation endeavors, the site was christened the “Nan Weston Nature Preserve.”
The preserve features a trail system with several loops traveling through a native oak and hickory forest. The trails are often muddy, and in places, raised boardwalks have been constructed to allow passage. However, watch your step. The boards are aging with some broken. The main trail leads through the woods to the serene River Raisin. Even though the fall colors are not yet popping, clear reflections of autumn reds and yellows can be seen on the water’s tranquil surface. A short walk along the river takes you to a scenic floodplain, the dead trees standing solemnly in the tall grass.
The preserve is especially beautiful in both the spring and fall seasons. In the spring, there is a vast array of wildflowers, including huge areas of large-flowered trilliums. In the fall, the forest turns to gold, with the autumn leaves filling the trees and covering the forest floor.
The overarching conservation goal of the preserve is to shield its distinctive habitats and the rare species they host. Birds flutter through the wetland, which is a stop for many on their migration. Techniques like controlled burns and the elimination of invasive species are often employed to uphold the health of these ecosystems.
Historically, the Nature Conservancy Chapter in Michigan has been at the forefront of safeguarding the state's rivers, lakes, and lands, reflecting Michigan's natural heritage. Established in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a global environmental organization that aims to preserve the lands and waters vital for life. With a presence in over 70 countries and all 50 U.S. states, TNC, backed by more than a million members, is among the global leaders in conservation.
Complementing the beauty of the Nan Weston Nature Preserve is the neighboring historical Sharon Mills County Park. The mill was initially constructed in the mid-1850s. It was then purchased and nearly rebuilt by Henry Ford in the 1930s for use as a small factory. Washtenaw County Parks & Rec purchased the property in 1999. The park showcases a functioning grist mill turned museum, a picnic area, and a canoe entry point to the River Raisin. Hiking enthusiasts can navigate through a network of multi-use biking and hiking trails winding through open fields and wooded areas near the river. Two main trail segments run east-west, connecting the Nan Weston Preserve and Sharon Mills. While one offers a serene journey along the River Raisin's shore, the other delves deep into the lush floodplain woods.
So, if you’re looking for a simple autumn outing, you may want to consider a visit to one of many Washtenaw County Nature Preserves.
To plan your visit to Nan Weston Nature Preserve, go to https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/nan-weston-nature-preserve-at-sharon-hollow-1/
Images: Unless otherwise noted, photos by Doug Marrin