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Maher Audubon Sanctuary Aug 29 08

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Woodschool Road and 108th Street lies one of Barry County, Michigan’s best-kept secrets. The eighty acres of forest, wetland, and upland field deeded as a gift to the Grand Rapids Audubon Club by Dr. James Maher in the late 1970s are miles away from anywhere—and that’s just fine. Seclusion is a good way to keep places like the Maher Audubon Sanctuary from being loved to death.

Out of the way doesn’t mean poorly maintained, though. The trail system here is well conceived, with solid boardwalks and two benches where one can pause, rest, and look. And this unique Michigan landscape invites plenty of looking. I’ve been coming here for at least ten years, and I never cease to marvel at the beauty of this many-faceted sanctuary. Season to season reveals different aspects of the place, emphasizing its rich biological and ecological diversity. According to the Grand Rapids Audubon web page for Maher Sanctuary, “Yellow-breasted Chats have been found near the marl pond. Screech Owls have been found roosting in several locations. Common Snipe may be found ‘winnowing’ over wetlands in spring. Some of the best sightings here are plants, not birds.”

Being a plant man myself, I’m certain that last statement is true. I’ve got a pretty good eye for high-quality habitat, and the Maher Audubon Sanctuary is prime, a fascinating tapestry of hardwood forest, upland, prairie fen, and shrub swamp, through the heart of which flows Caine Creek. I’m struck by Calvin College biology professor Fred Warner’s assessment of the sanctuary following a botanical inventory conducted in 2002: “I cannot overemphasize the beauty and conservation significance of this parcel…sections of this property have likely been unaltered from presettlement times. A notable element of this survey is that a total of 67…species have not officially been recorded for Barry County.”

All that to say, when you visit the Maher Sanctuary, you may wish to bring a wildflower guidebook, and you’ll definitely want to keep your camera ready and your eyes peeled.

For an easy route to the site, take Alden Nash south from I-96 to 100th Street. Head east half a mile, then turn south on Baker Road to 108th Street. Turn west on 108th and look for the little parking turn-off with a sign board on your left about a quarter-mile down the road.

You’ll find the trailhead right next to the parking area. Plan on an easy walk of roughly one mile. How much time? It’s up to you. You can easily walk the entire loop in half an hour. But what’s the rush? Slow down and open your senses. That’s why you’re here, right? Places like this reveal their treasures to the patient. So pause and savor the spiced wetland air…the striking, crimson blossoms of the cardinal flower and the spikes of its cousin, the great blue lobelia…the primal ratcheting of sandhill cranes…the red berries of Jacks-in-the-pulpit at summer’s end…the play of light on Caine Creek, filtered through a canopy of maple leaves. Cross the stream, ascend a hill, and you’ll find a bench with a view—an overlook of the broad fenland stretching below.

A little farther, and another boardwalk takes you across more wetland, then ushers you onto the last stretch of trail, past a small pond and through the woods back to your car.

Take one last, savory breath before you climb inside and head home. One for the road to tide you over till next time—because there will be a next time. Trust me, you’ll be back.





Written by Dave.