Wau-Ke-Na, William Erby Smith Preserve
Access: open to the public
Acquisition: Bequested, 2005
Parking: gravel lot
Trails: Three miles of mowed walking trails through forest and grassland to Lake Michigan.
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Directions: Wau-Ke-Na is located one mile north of Glenn.
From US-196/Hwy. 31, take the Glenn exit (exit 30) onto Blue Star Memorial Hwy (aka County Road A2). Go southwest about half a mile to where 70th St. (aka Adams Rd.) merges with Blue Star Hwy. Make a hard right turn (north) onto 70th St. and go about half a mile. The gravel entrance to the preserve will be on the west side of the road.
From Kalamazoo, take M-43 west to South Haven. Turn north (right) onto Blue Star Highway and travel about 12 miles, continuing north through the village of Glenn. The road will fork just beyond Glenn; go straight onto 70th St. (aka Adams Rd./Lakeshore Dr.). Look for Wau-Ke-Na signs on the left (multiple signs and drives). The gravel entrance to the preserve will be on the west side of the road.
The preserve is divided into North and South Tracts. The North Tract features a variety of habitats, including Lake Michigan beach shoreline, clay bluff seeps, oak-hickory forest, beech-maple-hemlock forest, pine plantation, old field, pond,, and buttonbush swamp. The forests are used by migratory songbirds, raptors, and have some state-listed plants. The clay bluff seeps are the only Grade A example documented in Michigan.
Despite a history of farming, the South Tract includes several interesting natural communities: oak-hickory forest, early successional forest, old field, prairie grassland, wet meadow, pond, cattail marsh, and lake-plain prairie. The grasslands provide habitat for significant numbers of grassland birds in decline. The forests are changing dramatically due to the emerald ash borer – the silver lining is that increased sunlight is resulting in greater numbers of wildflowers in the woodlands. Lake-plain prairies are an endangered habitat and extremely rare in west Michigan.
William Erby Smith’s bequest of Wau-Ke-Na (“forest-by-the-water”) is the largest of Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s preserves and includes forests, fields, streams, ponds, bluffs, and beaches. Wau-Ke-Na gets its name from the rich forest along the shores of Lake Michigan that makes up the northern tract of the preserve. These woods are home to magnificent specimens of red oak, tulip tree, yellow birch, American beech, sugar maple, hemlock, sassafras, and more. On the southern tract, Mr. Smith spent a great deal of time and resources improving wildlife habitat, creating wetlands, and sowing grasslands. Fields of prairie grasses and wildflowers provide foraging and nesting areas for rare birds like sedge wrens, bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks.
Wau-Ke-Na is a special place for wildlife. Building on Mr. Smith’s efforts, SWMLC continues to create wildlife habitat in the southern tract. On the northern tract, efforts are underway to enhance and expand the beech-maple forest by transitioning the pine plantations to hardwoods, providing better food and shelter for wildlife.