Wednesday (and Winter) Warriors

Calling all Wednesday Warriors, Privateers, and Pluggers/Seed Collectors!

The Wednesday Warriors are a friendly group of volunteers who have met on a near-weekly basis since 2003 to lop and chop their way through veritable jungles of invasive vegetation. They have also sown native seeds, blazed new trails, posted boundaries, tucked in tender baby plants, created mountains of pulled garlic mustard, built boardwalks and bridges . . . and done it all with grins and grit.

Want to join in? We would love to have you!

Stewardship volunteering is a wonderful way to experience the preserves with the folks who know them best, plus get acquainted with other active people who share the conservation spirit. There are no long-term commitments, fees, strengths, or special skills required — just a willing attitude and a pair of work gloves (and we might even be able to scrounge up a pair of those for you if you don’t have them!).

Please feel free to “just show up” at the next workday – or you can email ahead to let us know you’re thinking about coming.

Social Distancing and COVID restrictions

While SWMLC policies now allow us to gather again, volunteers are still required to adhere to current MDHHS guidelines, including:
♥  staying home if you feel ill or are exhibiting any symptoms
♥  providing name and phone number for contact tracing
♥  minimizing the sharing of tools and equipment.
We are excited that our Wednesday Warriors can work together again, but we want to make sure we’re all doing what we can to keep each other safe!
FI-SSS | Beech trees like this one are plentiful in the forest at Spirit Springs Sanctuary. Photo, Mitch Lettow.

Upcoming Wednesday Warrior Workdays

Wednesday, March 29, 2023  •   1 – 4 pm
Spirit Springs Sanctuary

We will continue our loop around the Buttonbush pond and think about how to approach Mitch’s new assignment at Spirit Springs.
Please bring your own cutting tools, work gloves, drinking water, and sunscreen. Might be time to start bringing your favorite tick repellant, too. We will have loppers if you need to borrow a pair.
For GPS purposes, the address is approximately:
41.987045303432424, -85.76761777843676
From the Kalamazoo area:
Travel south on US-131 to Marcellus Road (M-216). Turn right (west) onto Marcellus Road, drive 4.3 miles to the intersection of Bent Road (large green sign). Turn left (south) onto Bent Road and drive 3.1 miles to the intersection with Dutch Settlement Road. Turn right (west) onto Dutch Settlement Road; the preserve parking lot is approximately 2.3 miles ahead on the north (right) side, just after the road surface changes color at the county line.

As a reminder: Due to increasing COVID risk in our area, we encourage all SWMLC volunteers, vaccinated or not, to do frequent self-checks and refrain from attending workdays if you have any symptoms or known exposures to anyone who has tested positive for COVID.

Social Distancing and COVID restrictions – While SWMLC policies allow us to gather again, volunteers are still required to adhere to current MDHHS guidelines, including staying home if you feel ill or are exhibiting any symptoms, providing name and phone number for contact tracing and minimizing the sharing of tools and equipment. We are excited that our Wednesday Warriors can work together again, but we want to make sure we’re all doing what we can to keep each other safe!

Our weather policy is that you are always empowered to make your own decision about coming out in iffy weather. If there is a definite ‘no go’ we will do our best to notify in advance. Check this page on Tuesday evenings in case there is a last minute change.

Volunteers planning to participate in our field workdays are asked to please, in advance, fully clean the boots they will be wearing in the field to avoid spreading invasive species at our preserves. With our work, we spend most of our time off-trail in our Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy preserves, and do not want to be spreading the seeds of unwanted plant species in these areas with our footwear. We also recommend the use of nylon hiking-type pants, if you have them, to reduce the inadvertent and undesired collection of “stick-tight” weed seeds that can be time-consuming to remove from clothing.

Thank you!

Last week’s wrap

Brought to you by David, Jeff, John, and Kristi – Wednesday Warrior volunteers.
Photos by Kristi, David, and Joe.

Last Wednesday, March 15 . . .

Last Wednesday, eight Warriors returned to Chipman Preserve and actually finished clearing the Savanna-with-a-view No.2. With four saws, three loppers, and one roller specialist, we cleared all the way to the north and west borders that Jesse and Mitch set for us. Joe came early to do in a few big trees at the south edge that Jesse pointed out during our Tuesday walk-through, and then stayed late to take some great panorama photos. Even this photo doesn’t capture the three-acre scale of this project. It’s mind-boggling what we did in only four work days (plus the first great push by Mitch and Jesse and the Saturday Workday volunteers on the Saturday launch). We declared this phase complete, and boggled back to the parking lot, looking and listening for signs of spring. Congratulations all.

Ahoy there! Join the “Privateers”  for Monday or Friday workdays!

The Privateers are doing the same work as the Wednesday Warriors, (and in many cases, are the very same people), but they meet on Monday (or sometimes Friday), and are organized a bit differently.
They mainly disseminate their workday notices on their own online forum, but SWMLC will share information about Privateer workdays whenever info is available.
Please visit the forum to read their general guidelines and see where they plan to meet next. Things can develop on short notice due to weather forecasts and conditions, so the forum is the best place to go for up-to-date information!
Please be sure to send a message to “Admin” on the forum if you would like to receive direct email notices about upcoming workdays.
Winterberry in Portman Nature Preserve wetlands, photo by Allyson Wentela

Next Privateers Workday

Monday, March 27, 2023  •   1 – 4 pm

Sand Creek Preserve

Alamo Twp., Kalamazoo Co.

We will switch to the Sand Creek grassland (keeping up our biodiversity quotient). Really need chainsaws for this one, since we will be returning to that far SE corner to take on a patch of substantial trees so the birds will have room to nest in a few months.

Monday, March 27, 2023
1 – 4 pm

Sand Creek Preserve

Alamo Twp., Kalamazoo Co.

We will switch to the Sand Creek grassland (keeping up our biodiversity quotient). Really need chainsaws for this one, since we will be returning to that far SE corner to take on a patch of substantial trees so the birds will have room to nest in a few months.
Meet at 1 pm in the Sand Creek Preserve parking lot.
Really need chainsaws for this one –  and start thinking about sunscreen and bug repellent: spring is coming!
For GPS purposes, the address is:
42.3482, -85.7449
(near 6070 North 2nd St.)
PLEASE NOTE: Sand Creek is not public preserve, so access is limited to work sessions like ours, or by other SWMLC invitation.
Sand Creek Preserve is easy to get to on the west edge of Kalamazoo county. There is a barely noticeable parking lot on the east side of North 2nd Street, about a mile south of West G Ave (which is where F Ave would be if it existed in this area). 
In other words, go west out of Kalamazoo on West Main, then turn right (north) on 2nd St.

Sailin’ with the Privateers ( or what happened last week?)

Text and photos by David

Monday, March 20, 2023
Wolf Tree Nature Trails

It was a memorable day for nine Privateers at Wolf Tree this week. It started out with a visit from Dick (the preserve’s patron, and our photographer) and a brief celebration of BF Skinner’s birthday. Then we felled and injected a few big trees in the Columbo Kettle to finalize that section. Followed by thinning out a whole load of smaller red maples from the south part of the central woodland.
Time to turn it all over to the land itself to soak up all the light we let in and start to get some flowers and grasses going.
We pronounced our work there completed for the season, and repaired to the parking lot where we celebrated our job with Brad’s hot chocolate and donuts. And for the final hurrah, who should show up for a walk but Jesse (our ecological patron). Thanks to a bribe of donuts to his son Wyatt, we had an inspection tour with Jesse. He approves. In loppers. A few detailed suggestions and comments, and generally “Right on.”
Plugging in baby plants, rescuing plants in peril, harvesting seed and later sowing it . . . learn from the best about native plants while helping to boost diversity in our preserves by volunteering with the Pluggers/Seed Collectors!

Upcoming Pluggers/Seed Collectors Workdays

No Pluggers/Seed Collectors’ Workdays are currently scheduled. Please check back for possible winter seed-cleaning volunteer opportunities.

Pluggers contact:
Miko Dargitz

Behind-the-scenes organizer:
Jeff Fleming

“As always, thank you for your help with improving the biodiversity of our preserves!”
— Jeff and Miko

For the most up-to-date information, please visit our seed collectors’ forum to find out what is happening each day. There are no regularly scheduled events, and things develop on short notice due to weather forecasts and conditions and the availability of plants, so the forum is the best place to go for up-to-date information about where we’ll be next. We would love to see you!

Thank you, Wednesday Warriors, Winter Warriors, Privateers, Pluggers/Seed Collectors! 

We can’t tell you enough how much we appreciate your loyalty, energy, enthusiasm, expertise, sweat, grit, and good cheer! Thank you for all the hard work you’ve put into restoring and conserving habitat on our preserves.

We could not do it without you!

SWMLC’s monthly Saturday Volunteer Workdays are back! Click to learn more . . .

I used to pull garlic mustard on my own, and it was a terrible chore I did because it was the right thing to do. But now I actually look forward to it as a time to enjoy friends and see beautiful places. Working as a group means we actually see meaningful results. And it doesn’t hurt that we get to enjoy some of the best ice cream around.

--- anonymous Warrior

Thank you, Wednesday Warriors!

Mitch Lettow


In 2003 the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) was a fledgling organization, just barely 10 years old, with only about 20 nature preserves and 20 easements. But one thing that has always set our now-25-year-old organization apart from other conservancies is our commitment to stewardship – taking care of the land that we protect, and the habitats, flora, and wildlife that first inspired our founding members to action.

Repairing the boardwalk at Jeptha Lake Fen.

In this spirit of stewardship, SWMLC held Saturday volunteer workdays on the preserves. Slaying invasive buckthorn and garlic mustard in favor of native orchids and trilliums, volunteers found satisfaction and joy in bringing these unique Southwest Michigan landscapes back to their native glory. Then-SWMLC Director Renee Kivikko made stewardship a priority for the organization. At Renee’s encouragement, Stan Rajnak, became an active volunteer and an incidental “stewardship guy,” coming to every workday he could. Early on, Stan remarked that Saturday workdays weren’t enough to finish all the work there was to do, and suggested that a group meet more often, maybe on Wednesdays? – which happened to work for this group that included retired mathematics and biology professors, a woodworker, engineers, a dentist, and retired Upjohn employees among others. And so the Wednesday Warriors were born.

Planting seedlings at Pilgrim Haven Natural Area

The very first workday entailed assembling and organizing the assortment of weapons the Warriors would use in battle – gas cans, water backpacks, shovels, and loppers – collected from garage sales and donations over the years. Once this unlikely armory had some rhyme and reason, the real work began.

The Warriors’ second workday was POSSIBLY over-ambitious, with a plan to build a 200-foot floating boardwalk at Jeptha Lake Fen to share the spectacular views of the prairie fen, the lake, and the wildflowers! With the woodworking savvy of Ralph Babcock, the youthful spirit of SWMLC staffer Nate Fuller and his father-in-law’s trailer (thanks Bill Jones!), and the handiness and can-do-attitude of the rest of the Warriors, the boardwalk was constructed in sections in the SWMLC office parking lot, transported to the preserve, and assembled over 3 different workdays. It still stands today, sturdy and meticulously straight, as a testament to the Warriors and their passion to share nature with everyone.


Sorting seeds prior to dispersal.

Most other workdays were more ecologically-focused. Warriors learned to identify and control invasive plants through chopping, spraying or pulling; and learned which plants were native and how to encourage their spread through seed collecting, planting, and reducing competition. For 2 years, Stan organized and led the workday at a different preserve each week, with a concise mission to help resuscitate a patch of habitat in need.

Careful, she’s got an axe!

Eventually Stan realized he preferred diving into the bushes and chopping down honeysuckle to workday logistics. Dr. Paul Olexia, a former SWMLC board member and retired Kalamazoo College biology professor, stepped in to lead workdays alongside then-newbie Kristi Chapman. Kristi had just retired and stumbled upon an advertisement for a workday in the Kalamazoo Gazette, and seized the opportunity to spend more time in the outdoors while giving back to the community. Remembering her first workday, Kristi remarked, “It was just more fun than I could imagine, and you got to see a place you had never experienced before.” Hook, line, and sinker, Kristi was smitten, and quickly became the Warriors’ organizer, motivator, and master team-builder. Now, with Paul Olexia’s ecological know-how, botanical savvy, and infectious knowledge of natural history, combined with Kristi’s charisma, humor, energy, and coordination, the Warriors charged full steam ahead across SWWMLC preserves, leaving heaps of garlic mustard, dulled loppers, autumn olive stumps, sturdy boardwalks, spring beauties, and invaluable memories in their wake.

Today, hundreds of workdays and nearly 14 years later the Wednesday Warriors have transformed hundreds of acres of SWMLC preserves into resilient and diverse habitat for the enjoyment of wildlife and people alike. At the end of the day however, Stan and Kristi and the Warriors agree, there is no one project that stands out as the most important accomplishment. What stands out, they say, is the incremental, persistent, week-to-week, year-to-year changes on the preserves. “A lot of places are a lot better off because of our work,” remembers Stan. Looking over a patch of a SWMLC preserve after a 3-hour workday, and knowing that piece of the earth is better off – healthier – thanks to the work of a group of willing hands, is a tangible and satisfying feeling that has proven addicting for this intrepid group of volunteers.

Marching into an age of new and improved habitat restoration techniques, amazing and accessible technology, precise and breakneck communications, and a newfound appreciation for the natural world, the Warriors are looking toward the future. Building on years of accomplishments and memories, the Warriors are LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE – looking forward to new volunteers – not only to share the work, but to share in the stewardship experience and the knowledge this group of largely self-taught naturalists has collected over the years. For anyone with curiosity and a few hours, reflects Kristi, these workdays are a great opportunity to learn about botany, butterflies, geology, mechanics, and even one-liners! AND I can tell you personally that the Warriors are some of the most interesting and welcoming folks out there, and are a blast to work with!

So in tipping our hats to our Wednesday Warriors past and present, we invite new volunteers to come forward to get some fresh air and exercise, to learn, to give back, and most importantly, to make some new friends. Although we can’t thank the Warriors enough, Kristi doesn’t hesitate to correct us – “Don’t thank me, it’s my organization too! This is what we all like to do, and what we care about. It’s the volunteer-driven heart that makes the organization so strong.”

Well, we’re gonna do it anyway – “Thanks for everything. Wednesday Warriors! And we’re looking forward to the next 25 years!”

(A shorter version of this story first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Landscapes.)

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