Our Tradition of Making Maple Syrup Continues! 

The forests that are part of the Environmental Study Area have been the site for making maple syrup for at least the past 100 years. Join us as we continue the fun and flavor of this tradition by tapping the trees and turning sap into syrup.
Public Tree Tapping
Saturday, February 16
1:00-3:00 PM

Before we can make syrup, we need to put tap holes into the maple trees. On our walk to the trees to be tapped, we’ll explore how to identify the proper trees for tapping. Then we’ll put tap holes in some trees using hand-powered augers, and hang out the sap collecting buckets. Everybody gets a turn. All ages welcome. Dress for potentially icy, muddy, or snowy conditions. 

Public Maple Syrup Tour
Saturday, March 9
1:00-2:30 PM

Enjoy a moderately-paced walk to the tapped maple trees. We’ll conclude our trek with a visit to the sap stove, where you’ll see a demonstration of how sap is turned into delicious maple syrup. Everyone on hand will be offered a taste sample of fresh UM-Dearborn maple syrup from this season. Our walk will also take in the sights and sounds of nature as winter slowly gives way to spring. Dress appropriately for weather and field conditions. All ages welcome. 

Volunteers Needed for Daily Maple Tree Sap Collection
We need to go out and collect maple sap each day weather conditions bring about a sap run. That means lots of helping hands are needed for this pleasant task. We meet at 4 PM on days we go out to collect the sap, and are usually out in the field until about 5:30 PM. 

To find out if sap collecting volunteers are needed on any given day, please call the Center’s sap collecting hotline at 2 PM the same day. Also, if you can arrange to come out specific days of the week in advance, please contact Center naturalist Rick Simek at (313) 583-6371. Rick will put you on a schedule of days and contact you each of those days to give you the status of the sap run. We plan to collect sap any day of the week between February 20 and March 20, as conditions allow. 
Individuals and small groups are welcome to help. Sap collecting volunteers are required to be at least 7 years of age. Maximum group size is 6 people. 
Boy Scout Eagle Service Projects Continue to Make a Difference! 

The past year featured two very helpful Eagle Service Projects completed by local Boy Scouts. Their efforts strongly supported the Center’s emphasis on community interaction and ecological sustainability. 

Andrew Bleau: Bird window collision protection at the Center

Window crashes are estimated to kill up to a billion birds a year in North America. To help reduce these at our Center windows, Andrew designed, assembled, and installed a system that uses an arrangement of vertically suspended paracord. This setup is known as the Agopian Bird Saver. Andrew added clever innovations which better secure the cords in order to enhance aesthetics and prevent the cords from twisting together in the wind. 

Andrew’s project piece will also serve to increase local public awareness of bird window collision mortality and its prevention. No bird collisions have since been noted at the windows where Andrew’s system was installed.  

For more information on the Agopian Bird Savers, go to https://www.birdsavers.com
Luke Ciarelli: Plot fence replacement at the Community Organic Garden

Luke’s project addressed the need for adequate fencing around vegetable garden plots to help deter hungry deer, rabbits, and voles. Luke removed the old, dilapidated fencing from three large plots, and installed new fence around each. The quality of Luke’s fences reflect a very high degree of planning, orchestration, and workmanship. These fences were made to last! 

We thank both Andrew and Luke for their wonderful and conscientious volunteer contributions. We congratulate them both on their well-earned attainment of Eagle! 
Habitat Stewardship Activities Still Going Strong!

Thanks to a steady flow of dedicated stewardship volunteers during 2018, the campus Environmental Study Area continued to receive the high level of attention and care it so amply deserves. The health and function of the habitat continues to improve for native plant and animal life. Each volunteer stewardship effort also helped affirm the value of this nearby natural oasis to our human community. We so very much appreciate the participation and dedication of all our stewardship volunteers. Let’s keep it going! 
Stewardship Saturday volunteer Chuck Irish cutting invasive Amur honeysuckles (still with leaves in December), and then dabbing the cutting with an herbicide mixed with a blue dye. 
H abitat snapshots in time to be added to the Natural Area scrapbook!  

Exploring how the plant community of a natural area changes in appearance and composition over the years can be fascinating. Thanks to volunteer Jim Eddy, we now have a photographic series of these changes from twelve different points along the nature trails in the Environmental Study Area (ESA). Jim spent the past two years coming out periodically to take photographs—from each specific location—of the vegetation layers as seen from each cardinal direction. These layers included the upper tree canopy, the lower tree canopy, shrub layer, and herb layer. 

Jim has done something completely new in terms of the cataloging the history of the ESA. His photographs represent points in time and space that will serve as a reference for future generations to base their own similar observations upon. We are grateful that Jim has lent his excellent photography skills and time in this legacy effort! 

Jim’s photographs are currently being arranged in a time-lapse format by Center volunteer Laura Walker. We hope to put the final product onto the Center’s website sometime in the near future. 

Jim’s photos will also be very helpful as a reference point for future habitat management activities conducted through the Center. 

As an example of Jim’s seasonal images, check out the winter-spring-summer-fall series of photos he took at the marsh in the Environmental Study Area.




From Young Naturalist to EIC Student Naturalist
by Griffin Bray

I was first introduced to the Environmental Interpretive Center about 12 years ago through the Center’s Young Naturalists program. Once a month, I’d explore the countless wonders of the natural area with a group of the Center’s interpretive naturalists. From birds traveling here from the Amazon to trees with sap so sweet that we put it on our breakfasts, everything was amazing and new to 9-year-old me and every session brought a new adventure, a new discovery, a new idea, increasing my already great passion for the natural world. 

After a year, my time in Young Naturalists was up. However, the memories of the program and this island of natural habitat stuck with me, so when I “grew up,” I decided to attend the University of Michigan-Dearborn. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. Since coming to the University in fall 2017, I have learned from skilled professors who are extremely passionate about the subjects they teach and met many excellent students who make attending classes a joy. In addition to attending labs and lectures, I’ve had the chance to get experience in the field, including trips to study the geology of Niagara Falls and Iceland. I’ve even had the chance to help measure and identify trees with Dr. Orin Gelderloos; the project, a follow up to one that Dr. Gelderloos performed almost 20 years ago, encompasses over 5,000 trees in a section of the natural area, and will eventually help us understand the changes in our forest over the years.

Most importantly to me, coming to the University has allowed me to work at the Environmental Interpretive Center. I have been on the Center’s team of interpreters since last March, and I’ve enjoyed just about every minute of it. Being able to lead groups along the trails that I walked and being able to introduce them to the same things that I discovered here is an amazing and rewarding experience. Through hands-on experience, and an incredibly informative (and fun!) course on interpretation co-taught by the Center’s very own Dorothy McLeer, I have gained a lot of insight into the field of interpretation and have become better at provoking thoughts in our visitors, and I’m eager to continue learning and improving. 

Recently, I was named the Parkhurst fellow for the center. As the fellow, I am now more involved in maintaining the Center and natural area as well as doing outreach and educational programming. I am incredibly honored to receive this distinction, and I will continue to do my best to care for and share the wonders of this space with the community and all who visit this amazing resource.
Beaver Update

After being absent from our local area for around 150 years, beaver have returned and have set up housekeeping in the Environmental Study Area. Over the last several years, their numbers have increased, as has evidence of their presence. We are finding quite a few chewed trees in the floodplain forest along the Rouge River. The photo below, taken by Stewardship Saturday volunteer Marion Harris, clearly shows the tooth marks made by a beaver on a good-sized tree. The beaver feed on the inner bark of trees. 
Incisor Artwork!
For an interesting account of the comeback of beaver along the Rouge River and Detroit River, and how that relates to improving water quality, listen to this segment of Michigan Radio’s Stateside program.
WANTED: Immediate Employment for a Spring Wildflower 

I’ve got the right candidate for the job! It doesn’t even look like a flower, but it’s probably the earliest wildflower of spring. In many areas within southeast Michigan, it sprouts in February or March as an “undercover operation,” beneath the snow in wet, marshy areas. The flower generates its own heat, melting the snow around it and allowing sunlight to reach the plant. This is what you’d call an entrepreneurial “self-starter,” and it’s named for its unique “perfume.” 
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is named for the “fragrance” emitted from its bruised or ripped leaves, similar to skunk spray or rotting meat. Foetidus means “evil smelling” while symplocarpus is a combination of two Greek words, symploke and karpos, meaning “connected fruit,” which refers to the fruiting stalk, the result of the ovaries growing together. Skunk cabbage has deep roots in the ecological community, too. Like the bundle of fat earthworms they resemble, the ridged roots nestle down into the moist soil a fraction of an inch deeper each year. Some mature skunk cabbages are estimated to be hundreds of years old! This candidate is in the job for the long term.    
As a motivated self-starter, skunk cabbage creates its own “opportunities for growth.” The plant pokes its protective pod, or spathe, up from the snow-covered ground to get a head start on the other spring wildflowers. The teardrop shaped spathe is a mottled crimson red and green and looks as if it may be sheltering a little alien. As the spathe grows, it opens to reveal the spadix within, which is covered with tiny yellow flowers. The fetid aroma attracts flies, bees, butterflies, and beetles to pollinate the flowers. They may linger, along with other small creatures, to take advantage of the heat produced by the plant which can warm the air temperature close to the plant to as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Skunk cabbage is quite savvy in “marketing and sales,” based on its ability to create such a beneficial situation for itself by fulfilling the needs of others. Once pollination occurs, the withered old leaves are pushed aside by new leaf shoots which unfurl and grow up to two feet or more. As the plant keeps growing, it also keeps producing its own heat, protecting the flower bud from freezing while intensifying the rotting stench, attracting even more pollinators in search of warmth and food. It pays to advertise! 

If you’re looking for a flower that shows up early to work, is self-motivated and can overcome adverse working conditions, is committed for the long run, has deep roots in the community, encourages partnerships and shares the fruits of its labors, then the job must go to the unsung, unappreciated flower of the marsh: skunk cabbage!

Happy Spring, Dorothy McLeer

Images to Remember  

The Environmental Study Area can be a wonderful place for visitors to enjoy photographing nature through the seasons. One of the people who regularly does that is Judy Armstrong. Her wonderful images of Trout Lily in bloom and a Black-crowned Night-Heron about to eat a catfish highlight how serendipitous moments can be captured to remember year-round. Enjoy!