Monday, October 25, 1999

Wildlife Haven Emerges in Superior Township

Wildlife Haven Emerges in Superior Township
Rebirth of wetlands is goal in LeFurge Woods
The Ann Arbor News (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
By Pamela Appea
News Staff Reporter

Superior Township—Township environmentalists and conservationists have proved they’re not just a group of dreamy tree huggers.

Over a year-long period, members of the Superior Land Conservancy have faithfully invested time, money and volunteer labor toward a collective vision.

The goal is to transform 9.2 acres of the 171-acre LeFurge Woods acreage the group has owned for the past several years, back to a full-fledged wetland.

Some 50,000 cubic yards of dirt and mud have been removed from the former soybean and corn farm, and thousands of woody species have been planted to create a wetland. The property now serves as a wildlife habitat and storm water holding pond for runoff flows into drains and the Huron River.

Already, a large variety of amphibians, including frogs and toads, and water fowl have settled in thanks to a large amount of snow last winter.

During the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy’s annual meeting on Sunday, board members of the township group reported they have exceeded initial expectations of LeFurge Woods.

Founder and President of the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy Jack Smiley reported that LeFurge Woods now serves as a haven and habitat for diverse animal and plant wildlife when just a few years ago, the site had been underutilized farm land.

The “Field of Dreams” theme for the 1999 meeting, said Marion Morris, chair of the Superior Township group is a perfect metaphor for members’ ongoing desire to conserve open land instead of watching developers take over their community.

“When we first met in 1991, most of us weren’t having dreams. In fact most of us were having nightmares that Superior Township would become just another suburbia brightly lit and paved over,” Morris said in her introductory remarks.

Now board members and other conservationists can rest easy knowing that plans have been made so that LeFurge Woods will be a permanently protected conservation site in the township.

LeFurge Woods, located in Prospect Road between Geddes and Vreeland roads, is believed to be named for Isaac LeFurge, who came to Michigan from New Jersey with his father and brother over 150 years ago. LeFurge owned and farmed a large portion of the present site in the 1850s and 1860s.

In recent years, the combination of woods and farm land appeared to be prime location for housing and business developers.

But that’s when Jack Smiley and Bill Seacrest and other concerned conservationists stepped in to intervene.

Bob Morningstar, a wetlands consultant and board member of the township group, said he and others began to try and arrange a way to restore the wetlands over the last five years.

After purchasing an additional 40 acres for the LeFurge site in the mid-1990s, the group envisioned a way they could develop the land to include endangered plant species.
But first they had to find the funds.

Finally in 1995, the group secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay back the loan conservancy board members had taken out for the land purchase.

They also made a deal with Chrysler Corp. to pick up the $200,000 cost of the earth worth and construction costs, board members said.

Now, Smiley said Sunday, almost every type of mammal native to Southeastern Michigan has recently been seen on the site, including coyotes, foxes and deer.

He also noted that the site is home to 100 species of birds, and conservationists have documented hundreds of bush, water lily and plant varieties at the area.

Morningstar said so far the majority of plants and wildlife on the LeFurge property have grown well, but problems with invasive species like purple loosestrife or erosion sites are still a concern.

“Only time will tell what type of plant community develops,” he said.

Many expressed strong support for the project.
“This is the most rewarding thing I do,” said conservancy board member Sandi C. Lopez.
Others agreed that the project is important.

"There are simply enough malls. We have empty stores downtown, while they're demolishing historic farm houses to build more malls," said Terry Lee Lansing, a Superior Township resident.
Bill Seacrest, founder and board member of Superior Land Conservancy and board member of the Southeast Michigan Conservancy, said the group is thinking of the future.

"We are trying to establish a green belt, a buffer, for the future generations of people, especially (so that) the children will have access to the wild," he said. "We do this with a global understanding.

"… Everyone's talking about saving the rain forest but we're losing our own backyard."