Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

Armintrout- Millbocker Nature Preserve plans fall opening

By Leslie Ballard

The Armintrout-Milbocker Nature Preserve, which opens this fall in Allegan, will have even more to offer visitors than anticipated.
At the beginning of the year Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) received the Ecological and Floristic study from their consultant Orbis. This was an examination conducted during the previous year during several seasons.
“Armintrout is much more botanically diverse than we expected, containing over 550 species of plants, which is 25% of all plants that you find in Michigan. Several of the numerous habitats found on the site are extremely high quality, especially the forested floodplain edge along the Kalamazoo River and some of the slopes that rise 60-80 feet above the river and are not easily accessible,” said Peter D. Ter Louw, SWMLC President and Executive Director.
Most of this initial work to get the preserve ready is funded by $100,000 Consumers Energy Foundation’s Planet Awards grant that SWMLC was awarded in the spring of 2021. The organization’s goal is to complete all of the initial startup work by September 30 or so and hold a grand opening event in mid-October of this year, according to Ter Louw.
In late April, working with a licensed contractor Plantwise SWMLC burned 14 acres and 1,700 feet along the Kalamazoo River. “We chose to undertake fire management on this section of the preserve because it is a dry mesic southern forest that is in great shape, and the reintroduction of fire as a natural process will aid in restoring the ecosystem health,” Ter Louw added.
“The canopy of oak and hickory has “closed in,” Creating openings and reducing the duff “fuel” will allow for more light to reach the forest floor, which will improve the shrub and herbaceous layers. Fire also increases growth and regeneration of the oak component, knocking back succession and promoting a more age diverse forest. And, of course, assists in controlling the invasive species.”
In mid-May SWMLC held a Saturday stewardship workday to pull garlic mustard, which was attended by approximately 25 people that included neighbors, families, SWMLC volunteers and high school students and several teachers.
As part of this invasive species removal, Ecology students from Allegan High school are documenting several sites where garlic mustard is not being removed to use as a comparison to better understand the effectiveness of pulling vs leaving alone. Current research indicates that if left untouched garlic mustard will eventually die off on its own.
The General Biology students are also investigating the impact of the various invasive species on the native plants.
This spring SWMLC’s Stewardship Crew has been on-site working on invasive species removal, which included tree of heaven, Japanese honeysuckle, autumn olive, black locust, and barberry.
In late June, the Allegan City Council approved the proposed site plan for a parking lot on Thomas Street to create public access to the preserve. The lot provides 28 parking spots and a turn-around for school buses to support school use of the preserve. Currently, SWMLC is waiting on the erosion control permit and once approved completion of the parking lot will take approximately two weeks.
Once that is completed, trail consultant and contractor Trail Sense will work with SWMLC to refine the proposed trail and then begin construction of the trails, which is expected to be ultimately 1 ½ – 2 miles in length and contain a loop segment that will be hard-surfaced. The trail system that will create new and improved access to the preserve and will be designed to reduce erosion and be more easily maintained.
SWMLC staff have held several meetings with Allegan High School biology teachers to identify potential short- and long-term projects and understand site infrastructure necessary to support their use. During the past year Armintrout-Milbocker Committee member and Allegan High School biology teacher Cindy Eichbauer have been working on projects with her students on the site.
Eichbauer is excited about having the 140 acre preserve so close and hopes exposing students to what it has to offer will encourage them to explore the other preserves in Michigan. “It’s important to get out and enjoy the natural environment so we can become ambassadors for it and learn how to deal with the environmental issues facing us,” she said.
She believes that “there are lots of different opportunities for all levels and content areas that enriches the appreciation of nature and the desire to protect our resources,” citing the learning potential the preserve offers to students in PE, art, English/Language Arts, history and other classes as well as science.
“Just getting outside and not being online is good for the mental health of all K-12 students, and working with partners on projects face-to-face will help alleviate some of the lack of positive socialization that took place during the pandemic,” Eichbauer added.

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