LaGrange Valley Wetlands
RECOVER • RESTORE • REWILD
We are thrilled to announce that, through a combination of pledges and gifts received from over 200 individual donors, we have met the $125,000 Carls Foundation Challenge to protect and steward the 457-acre LaGrange Valley Wetlands property in perpetuity!
It has been amazing to see people rally around this project, and we want to say THANK YOU to everyone who helped make this happen! Your enthusiastic support makes us even more hopeful for the future of conservation in southwest Michigan. 💚
Thanks to the generosity of many conservation-minded people and the Carls Foundation, SWMLC now has the additional $250,000 we need to purchase (Recover) this property that is the former Lake LaGrange, and to begin creating a stewardship fund that will enable us to Restore the property over the near-term, and Rewild it over the long-term.
The funds raised this summer will enable SWMLC to match the federal Endangered Species Act funding to acquire the property and begin to build a much-needed stewardship fund to take care of the property over the long-term.
Once acquisition is complete and with valuable assistance from our conservation partners at the Edward Lowe Foundation, SWMLC will begin restoring the property, focusing on removal of the most aggressive invasive plant species (the non-native wetland grass called ‘phragmites’) that poses a serious threat to LaGrange Valley Wetlands’ rare and threatened native plants and animals, as well as to neighboring properties.
The final goal for SWMLC will be rewilding the property over the long-term which means helping the landscape return to its natural, wild state – including the plants and animals that have historically lived there.
“SWMLC is overwhelmed by the support of the community and our dedicated partners including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Edward Lowe Foundation, Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Cass County Conservation District, Cass County Parks and Recreation, and several individual community members,” emphasized Mike Larson. “It is only with the foresight and passion of so many people that we are able to protect this place for countless future generations. We hope that hundreds of years from now, bald eagles will still soar overhead, rattlesnakes will sun themselves on an open bank, and brown trout will continue to swim through the cold clear water of Dowagiac Creek.”
Formerly known as Lake LaGrange, the spectacular LaGrange Valley property includes a huge, high-quality, intact wetland that is adjacent and across the street from Edward Lowe Foundation’s wild, 2,000-acre Big Rock Valley. Dowagiac and Talkie Creeks meander through prime fen habitat and a number of upland islands graced by very large and beautiful hardwood trees, where a pair of bald eagles has nested in recent years. The property is home to not one – but two – species that are on the federal endangered species list, as well as numerous others listed by the State of Michigan as rare or threatened.
Despite centuries of settlement, farming, and development in southwest Michigan, parts of Cass and St. Joseph Counties are still home to a wealth of expansive and wild acreage, protecting biodiversity and rural character important to the sense of place and ecology of the region. Within Nature’s Network, SWMLC’s Climate Resilience Strategic Conservation Plan, the La Grange Valley property was identified as a high-quality biodiversity hotspot in close proximity to the Jones Conservation Area Hub, as well as the Edward Lowe Foundation’s 2000-acre Big Rock Valley.
While we haven’t yet conducted full botanical or wildlife surveys at LaGrange Valley, it is likely that it shares many of the same species as the adjacent Big Rock Valley, including several state-threatened fen plants, turtles, and snakes. We are told that the collective population of federally-endangered eastern massasaugas at LaGrange Valley and the adjacent Edward Lowe Foundation property may be the most genetically diverse in Michigan. Creating and maintaining a connection between these two populations could be key toward the long-term survival of Michigan’s only rattlesnake. The presence of these rare, native species indicates habitat that is extremely high-quality and capable of sustaining many sensitive species that can be easily impacted by habitat degradation or fragmentation.
LaGrange Valley will become even healthier over time with good stewardship, including addressing the tall invasive grass called phragmites (or common reed) that has rapidly spread throughout the wetland as water levels have decreased. Removing this invasive plant will reduce the likelihood that it will spread to nearby properties, thus helping to preserve property values and promoting a healthier local landscape overall.
The property was once the site of Lake LaGrange, an artificial body of water that was created when Dowagiac Creek was dammed back in the early 1800’s. The dam was removed in 2005 and the LaGrange Valley property was allowed to revert to its natural state: a 110-acre wetland complex surrounding the intersection of Talkie and Dowagiac Creeks, and adjacent to the protected 2,000-acre Big Rock Valley, owned by the Edward Lowe Foundation. When the wetland returned, several species that need wetland habitat to survive (including two that are on the federal endangered species list) began to come back – including Blanding’s, spotted, and eastern box turtles; and Kirtland’s, eastern massasauga, and gray rat snakes; plus a number of rare native plants.
We are very excited about protecting the spectacular LaGrange Valley property and further supporting the recovery of these species. Despite the invasion of non-native phragmites, the presence of these species – plus sandhill cranes, nesting bald eagles, beaver, and more – indicates that the habitat is robust, and are a good omen that other native, rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals will recover strongly and call this place home.
Conserving the ecologically important LaGrange Valley not only preserves native landscape and the special plants and animals that live there, it is also a significant step toward ensuring the continued water quality of Dowagiac Creek and its ability to support cold water fisheries upstream and down. In addition, conserving this land will help to create vital connectivity along Dowagiac Creek that is essential to the strength and resiliency of the local landscape and the larger region, as a whole.
Drone photo, courtesy of Edward Lowe Foundation.
Header and eagle’s nest photos, Jarod Reibol, Edward Lowe Foundation.
Other photos and illustrations, Amelia Hansen, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.