Bayou bash

Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve celebrates first year

Joe Hillier of Harvey, takes to the Chocolay River at Saturday’s Chocolay Bayou 1st Birthday Bash. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

HARVEY — One year isn’t exactly perpetuity, but it’s a start.

The Chocolay Bayou 1st Birthday Bash took place Saturday at the Chocolay Township Marina, located just down the road off Main Street from the entrance to the new nature preserve.

The event marked the first year of the Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve, which encompasses about 12.5 acres of habitat near the mouth of the Chocolay River.

The preserve is unique in that it’s nestled between the populated communities of Marquette and Harvey but also bordered by the Iron Ore Heritage Trail and and North Country National Scenic Trails, which run together along that stretch.

It’s a wilderness setting located a relatively short distance from the busy U.S. 41 corridor. The wetland acts as a stopover for migrating birds, and bald eagles have recently nested on the property.

Silent auction items line the table at Saturday’s Chocolay Bayou 1st Birthday Bash. The event also included children’s games, watercraft races, guided birding and plant hikes, plein air painting and live music. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

The Chocolay Bayou also is a popular spot for canoeing, kayaking and fishing.

Funding to purchase the land from private landowners came from individual donors and businesses as well as grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Hirvonen Foundation and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.

The Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy, based in Harvey, purchased the property and acts as its steward.

“The first year has been incredible,” said Andrea Denham, UPLC assistant director.

She said about 40 to 50 volunteers have logged over 1,000 hours of work for the preserve. Also, $7,000 has been raised toward the overall goal of $25,000 to ensure the perpetual care and keeping of the bayou property.

Saturday served as a kickoff for that fundraising, Denham said.

The event also celebrated people who have donated toward the project. Denham noted nearly 300 individual donors have made contributions, with the names of 45 people being on UPLC’s “bayou-specific volunteer email list.”

“From the minute that we heard the property was for sale and somebody was thinking of developing condos, there was just an email chain that went like wildlife that involved birders and artists and local residents and environmental groups and business owners,” Denham said.

Creating the Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve was a fairly easily sell.

“Everyone just kind of heard about the property, and the more we got people out onto the property, the more they fell in love with it, and the more people have been wanting to be involved,” Denham said.

The bayou trails being ready also are a bonus for attracting more volunteers, she said.

Saturday’s agenda included hikes, children’s games, rubber duck and watercraft races, a birchbark canoe demonstration and a plein air painting demonstration — with some of those art pieces created outside that day available at the silent auction.

UPLC Executive Director Christopher Burnett said “good” numbers of people showed up at Saturday morning’s botanical and bird hikes.

The botanical hike, which he attended, focused on invasive species like the spotted knapweed and St. John’s wort, which are being removed, as well as native plants with beneficial medicinal and health qualities.

“We talked about milkweed quite a bit because of the monarch connection,” Burnett said.

Milkweed is the host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, an important factor since that butterfly species has seen a decline in the United States in recent years.

UPLC plans to perform a botanical survey to obtain a more detailed plant inventory at the site, he said.

The preserve attracts many kinds of wildlife, but how is it botanically valuable?

“I guess we’re still determining that,” Burnett said. “One of the things that’s pretty unusual is the size of the tamarack trees that are down along the boardwalk. There’s some pretty enormous tamaracks that we think are, you know, as big as they can get.”

Helleborine orchids also were discovered this summer, he said.

“I think there’s a lot yet to learn,” Burnett said. “Mostly this year was getting the infrastructure — the boardwalk, the fence.”

Native plantings also have taken place, he said, plus an observation blind has been set up.

Donations still are being accepted. To learn more about the preserve, visit, call 906-225-8067 or email

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is