Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

Location: Saginaw, Michigan

Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge

General Description: Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge is a 9,870 acre sanctuary located in the central portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan at the confluence of the Cass, Bad, and Flint Rivers to form the Saginaw River that flows into Lake Huron.  The habitat includes riparian, floodplain/bottomland hardwood forests, emergent marshes, shallow managed wetlands and croplands.  It was established in 1953 to provide a protected habitat for migrant waterfowls.  Over 250 species of birds have been documented, most of them stopping over on their migratory routes in the spring and fall.  During peak periods in October up to 25,000 Canadian geese and 40,000 ducks use the refuge.  Historically the area was a large flat sandy bottomland consisting of hardwood forests.  After these hardwood forests were removed in the later half of the 19th century, farmers tried to convert the land into agriculture using extensive networks of ditches to lower the water table.  After 50 years it was apparent this effort was not largely successful, thus the creation of the refuge in this swampy farmland environment.  Some of these ditches are still in use today to provide control of water levels in the refuge, while other ditches have been filled in to restore the natural hydrology.

Impressions:

1) Whereas we have spent most of our time in Michigan exploring upland forests and sand dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, it was pleasant to explore a true massive wetland environment.  While August is not the best time of the year to view waterfowl, we did see herons, ducks, and even spotted a mature bald eagle.

2) The Ferguson Bayou Trail is a 4 mile loop trail through the center of the refuge, most of which is along old straight ditches from the days of agriculture.  There are short cut-through trails from which we could shorten this to 2 miles with a walk through a recovering bottomland forest.

3) There is also a 7.5 mile one-way loop road through the refuge with multiple stops at viewing platforms and pull outs where you can view the different habitats.