THREE OAKS — The Harbor Country Hikers were given a different perspective on the wonders of nature found along the Hoadley Nature Trail in Three Oaks’ Watkins Park when Berrien County Drain Commissioner Chris Quattrin started off their Saturday, Sept. 7, outing with a little bit of history, some civil engineering and a love of nature.

The entrance to a wooded section of the trail offers an elevated view of the wetland prairie basin of the Schwark Drain. Quattrin explained the link between the drain’s engineered purpose to ease area flooding and the birds, butterflies, flowers and plant life found in the area.

Schwark Drain was built in 2010 under Quattrin’s predecessor, Drain Commissioner Roger Zilke, to ease the drainage problems found in the wetlands on the southwest side of the village and hopefully make the vacant land south of Locust Street more attractive for development. The drain was very unpopular with the owners of the which land the drain crossed due to the high assessments they were forced to pay to cover the price tag that had mushroomed to $2.17 million.

Hoadley Nature Trail pre-dates the drain, going back to 1980 when it was named in honor of Glen Hoadley whose family originally owned the land. The original trail included a series of exercise stations, a few of which remain today. Over time, the trail fell into disrepair and suffered some damage during the drain’s construction. In 2012, trail was adopted by the local Rotary Club (now called the Rotary Club of Harbor Country) which has contributed time and money to upgrade the pathways, including a recently installed marker system in conjunction with Harbor Country Hikers. There are also plans to seek funding to make a portion of the trail accessible and to connect with other trails in the Berrien County Hike and Bike Trail Plan.

Before the group of about 25 hikers ventured out on the trail, Quattrin gave a brief lesson in drains, which he says are not necessarily industrial as many people think. Drains, he said, consist of natural rivers and wetlands that provide natural filtration systems that act as giant sponges, soaking up the water and nutrients to become hosts and breeding grounds for many plant and animal species.

The land around Schwark Drain is an example of a forested wetland. Wetlands are regulated by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), formerly known as the Department of Environmental Quality. They are distinguished by three parameters: deep rooted plants, hydrology (how water flows through it) and soils.

“Farmers love wetlands and typically have a wetland on their property because of their nitrates and phosphates and nutrients that plants like,” Quattrin said.

A Berrien County native, Quattrin told about growing up the rural Royalton Township thinking that wetlands “are very cool” and remembers climbing through the wetlands looking for plant life and bugs and animals. 

Mixing in a bit of history, Quattrin noted that Michigan is one of only two states having a drain commission and noted that Michigan’s drain ordinance is older than the state’s constitution.  Perhaps it was written for good reason, according to Quattrin, since he noted that as far back as Thomas Jefferson’s days, surveyors described Berrien County as “godforsaken swampland that will never be inhabited.”

Quattrin said he rain for drain commissioner because of his love for nature and desire to see the benefits of the county’s natural resources nurtured and developed for enjoyment by residents.

The next Harbor Country Outing is an autumn visit to the Great Marsh Train in the Indiana Dunes National Park on Saturday, October 5, at 10 a.m. Eastern. For details, visit www.harborcountryhikers.com.

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