HARBERT — Chikaming Open Lands has acquired a new nature preserve in Chikaming Township adjacent to Warren Woods State Park, the organization announced this week. The 40-acre Sugarwood Forest site includes one of the last remaining old-growth forests in Southwest Michigan.
More than 100 individuals and organizations participated in a campaign last summer and fall to raise the funds needed to complete the purchase and protect the valuable woodland in perpetuity.
Chikaming Open Lands (COL) was awarded a $80,000 challenge grant from The Carls Foundation to aid in the fundraising effort. Other lead grants to fund the project came from Will and Bess Fitzgerald, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, and the John C. Bock Foundation.
Sugarwood Forest is located along Elm Valley Road Road and borders Warren Woods State Park. The site will be open to the public for outdoor recreation. The parcel is unique in the area due to its high-quality, virgin beech-maple forest.
“This was a project we couldn’t pass up,” said Ryan Postema, COL executive director, in a news release. “Untouched mature forest like this is really rare in this area, so we felt very strongly about preserving it in its natural state.”
Postema also pointed out that the property’s acquisition creates an open space corridor with Warren Woods State Park next door, along with nearby protected properties like Chikaming Township Park & Preserve, and COL’s Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve, Merritt Family Preserve, and Younger Family Preserve.
“These natural corridors, particularly ones like this that run adjacent to a river system, provide critical habitat for native plants and animals, promoting biodiversity and a healthy, balanced ecosystem,” Postema said.
In the interest of ensuring the woodland was preserved, the landowners, George and Andrea Platz, sold the property to COL at a significant reduction from its market value, the release noted.
“This piece of land, with its ravines and huge old growth trees, is in much the same condition as it has been for thousands of years,” George Platz said. “My wife and I feel that it is important to preserve the land in perpetuity not only because it is awe-inspiring to see, but also because doing so allows (us) to experience what this area of Michigan was like ... long before it was turned into farms and towns.”
Chikaming Open Lands is the local land conservancy dedicated to preserving the open spaces and natural rural character of southern Berrien County