Yellow Creek Natural Area
Points of Interest:
- Walk among stands of large pin and bur oaks, pecans and shellbark hickories.
- See a remnant of the bottomland hardwood forests that were once extensive along portions of the floodplain of the lower Grand River and its tributaries.
- Look for a variety of forest birds.
Natural Features Description:
In 1818 this area was described by land surveyors as “flat bottom timber, hickory, elm” and “timber on creek sycamore, black and white oak.” Surrounding the mile-wide belt of timber along Yellow Creek was a large expanse of bottomland prairie to the north (including much of what is today Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge) and to the south past Whitham. To the west the surveyors mapped timber to the Grand River. Today most of the wet prairie is gone and so are much of the bottomland hardwood stands too. In the early 19th century this area would likely have looked more open as prairie fires would have surely swept into the timber stands.
The hydrology of the area has changed too with flooding here being more frequent and of longer duration and also sometimes depositing heavy silt loads. This has impacted parts of this forest creating conditions more favorable for silver maple than bur oak. Resource managers are currently investigating ways to provide for the oaks to regenerate. You will see few oak seedlings and saplings in this forest today. Yet despite these ecological changes this remnant forest still possesses exceptional value as a place to conserve bottomland forest species and to learn about the functioning of these riverine systems.
Shellbark hickory which occurs here has tremendous sized nuts that can be baseball-sized. The understory contains patches of palm sedge and Gray’s sedge – both species utilized in native landscaping today, especially in rain gardens. Yellow Creek winds its way through this forest in a tortuously sinuous path. Sloughs formed from old meander cut-offs of the creek provide openings in the otherwise thick forest canopy. Ringing some of these sloughs are rose mallow and buttonbush.
The forest provides habitat for a number of woodpecker species, including pileated, red-headed, red-bellied, and downy woodpeckers. Look for wood ducks in the sloughs. The northern parula, American redstart, yellow warbler, great blue heron, and prothonotary warbler use the area in the spring and summer.
This natural area is within Yellow Creek Conservation Area. From Sumner, travel one mile south on Highway RA. Here the pavement ends and you’ll want to jog right then left on to Hog Ridge Avenue (gravel). Follow Hog Ridge Avenue south 3.5 miles to the parking area. Hunting and fishing are permitted. A map and compass are recommended for exploration.
Get more information from the MDC Atlas.
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