For years most people, preferring the dunes, have dismissed the steep clay bluffs along Lake Michigan’s east shore. The area was dangerous to build on. The bluffs could collapse into the lake and the edge of the bluff would move back — perhaps 10, 15, or 25 feet. With little or no warning a dwelling too close to the edge would be lost.
The phenomenon is similar to what happens to dunes that are undercut by waves at the base of the dune, but when it happens it is catastrophic, not gradual. The geology department at University of Wisconsin has a website that explains bluff erosion.
Now we have recently learned that these geological events and harsh environment create a very rare ecosystem/natural plant community — one that is sure to soon be added to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI).
The plant community was discovered by environmentalists from the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy as they were inventorying plants and wildlife on a recently donated property now named the Wau-Ke-Na Preserve. Trees like mountain ash and white cedar that normally occur much further north were found on the steep bluff; plants that normally occur in inland fens are evident; Fringed Gentian and Blue Lobelia are abundant!
The preserve lies between South Haven and Saugatuck. Click here for directions to the preserve.
These discoveries are described in more detail in an excellent article by Rosemary Parker in the Kalamazoo Gazette.