Sarett Nature Center permanently protects Brown Sanctuary in Benton Harbor
“The donors who purchased these parcels for Sarett would be tickled to see Sarett formally memorialize their contributions in this way,” expressed former director Chuck Nelson. “It’s now a sanctuary forever. It will stand the test of time, and be available for our kids, their kids and theirs too.”
Sarett Nature Center recently took admirable action in benefit of wildlife and future generations, permanently conserving its Brown Sanctuary through a conservation easement with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC). In keeping with its core values, Sarett Nature Center has added yet another milestone achievement to its lengthy track record of serving youth and nature through its mission to provide quality environmental education for the community.
Brown Sanctuary, a 280-acre oasis of mature oak ravine forest, upland prairie and Great Lakes marsh habitat was acquired piece by piece through the generous foresight of multiple Sarett donors including Ed and Edalene Brown, Dick Merson, Peter Boerma and Mary Letty Upton. Located just shy of a mile north of the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport, Brown Sanctuary contains more than three miles of frontage along the Paw Paw River and Blue Creek, and harbors droves of local and migratory birds and other wildlife. “It is one of the best birding spots in Southwest Michigan,” stated Nate Fuller, former Sarett program administrator and current Conservation and Stewardship Director with SWMLC.
In donating the conservation easement, Sarett permanently ensures that Brown Sanctuary will never be developed, subdivided, or become a residential plat or extension of the neighboring gravel mine. Since Sarett’s mission is environmental education and not land conservation, the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy was the perfect partner for Sarett to make sure that the Brown Sanctuary will be there for all future generations. “The donors who purchased these parcels for Sarett would be tickled to see Sarett formally
memorialize their contributions in this way,” expressed former director Chuck Nelson. “It’s now a sanctuary forever. It will stand the test of time, and be available for our kids, their kids and theirs too.” During his tenure and beyond, Chuck Nelson was instrumental in acquiring 30 parcels over 40 years to dedicate toward the extensive land portfolio that Sarett maintains today, 9 parcels on which he collaborated with conservation funder Peter Boerma.
Boerma stated, “The Brown Sanctuary is one of the two highest quality marshes in western Michigan. A Whooping crane once chose to land there. It was an honor to donate two adjacent properties several years ago, and adding a conservation easement on this property is appropriate.”
Perhaps equally as important and impressive is that the donation of this conservation easement provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in restricted land value as required matching funds to leverage additional land conservation in the lower Paw Paw River basin, as well as restoration efforts to improve Benton Harbor’s Ox Creek. This work was the brainchild of Sarett executive director Dianne Braybrook and the current Sarett Nature Center board who started meeting with SWMLC in 2014 to create a vision and strategy for accomplishing this larger goal.
In June of 2015, this vision became a reality when a partnership of regional conservation organizations including SWMLC and Sarett received a three-year $600,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the Paw Paw Priority Wetland/Riparian Conservation Project, a project worth over $1 million including matching value. This grant award will enable SWMLC and its partners to permanently conserve 700 acres of highest priority conservation areas in the Paw Paw River Watershed (PPRW), develop urban best management practices for targeted non-point pollution sources in the PPRW’s Ox Creek sub-watershed, and implement agricultural best management practices with farm owners in the Ox Creek sub-watershed. “In a nutshell, Sarett’s decision to permanently restrict development of the Brown Sanctuary provides funds to protect additional natural areas along the Paw Paw River,” explained Geoffrey Cripe, SWMLC Director of Land Protection.
“Sarett’s permanent protection of Brown Sanctuary is a huge achievement, and we look forward to working with Sarett to formally protect even more of its land holdings in the future,” added Cripe. “The conservation of Sarett’s properties is integral to the protection of the Paw Paw River Watershed, which is recognized by multiple State of Michigan departments as one of the most ecologically diverse areas in all of southern Michigan.”
The watershed has been a high priority for SWMLC since its inception in 1991, and features at least 50 known state-listed threatened or endangered plant and animal species as well as three Federally-endangered species. Brown Sanctuary ranks among the top 10 priority wetland areas to protect in the watershed, while Sarett’s core property ranks even a little higher. “This means that these natural areas perform a slew of ecological functions that benefit the quality of water in the river and Lake Michigan, and provide essential habitat for regional wildlife,” explained Cripe. “The PPRW has been heavily studied and through this achievement, Sarett is leading the charge to implement the conservation recommendations that came out of that process. A special thank you to Peter Boerma, who not only helped assemble these lands for Sarett, but has remained deeply involved in this partnership to provide the investment needed to secure purchase agreements with other landowners, and to ensure these gifts to Sarett will stand the test of time.”
The project partnership includes SWMLC, Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, Sarett Nature Center, Two Rivers Coalition, Berrien Conservation District, Wightman Associates, Peter Boerma and several other private landowners.