Recover, Restore, Rewild


Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is excited to announce that we are working with the Edward Lowe Foundation and other community and conservation partners to conserve an amazing 457-acre property in Cass County, which will become our largest nature preserve to date.

This summer, we need to raise $250,000 to complete the funding needed 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. 

We’re excited to share that the Carls Foundation has approved our request for a $125,000 challenge grant to help raise the funds we need this summer to protect the 457-acre LaGrange Valley property, and all the rare and native species who live there!

Our federal partners have come through with the Endangered Species Act funding, our partners at the Edward Lowe Foundation have come through with stewardship assistance, The Carls Foundation has come through with their generous challenge grant, several major donors have made commitments that will get us part of the way toward our $125,000 goal, AND NOW  WE NEED YOU!

Beginning July 15th, every dollar we raise from individual donors toward the conservation of this spectacular property up to $125,000 will be matched 1:1 by the Carls Foundation – doubling your impact!

Together, with your help, we can protect this special landscape and help save rare, native species from extinction. That’s a legacy we can all be proud of!

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.

LaGrange Valley Wetlands is an important stopover site for migrating sandhill cranes.
This drone photo shows the meandering course of LaGrange Valley Wetlands' waterways.
A designated "coldwater stream", Dowagiac Creek enters the wetland from the north.
A lovely native plant, swamp rose (Rosa palustris) is at home at LaGrange Valley Wetlands.

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. 

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus)  |  Amelia Hansen
Phragmites (Phragmites australis)

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.

Phragmites (Phragmites australis

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.

This drone photo shows the meandering course of LaGrange Valley Wetlands' waterways. Drone photo by Keto Gyekis.

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.