Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve
Posted on August 8, 2022
by Isaac Smith
Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve (CTMP) is named in memory of Chris Thompson, Chikaming Open Lands’ late executive director who passed away unexpectedly in June 2016. Thompson was a firm believer that creating access to nature through preservation helps form a bond between people and the natural world. This reconnection to nature makes people happier and healthier, and it impresses the importance of conservation upon the community. As such, this preserve has been created with the hope of achieving these goals.
The entire property was once all beech-maple forest like much of Michigan before European settlement. When they did arrive most of the Preserve was logged and cleared for agriculture, with the exception of the area along the river bank. The property was in agricultural production until 2008 and ten years later acquired by Chikaming Open Lands. Chikaming Open Lands is now working to restore the agricultural field to native forest, savanna, and prairie habitats.
When condensed into one sentence this endeavor sounds straightforward, but it is in fact a massive undertaking. To restore the forest, the ecological process of succession must take place. Succession is when the mixture of species in an area shifts. This can take decades. In fact, it might not be until the next century that mature hardwoods develop in this area. Savannas were once prevalent in Michigan; since then, they have all but vanished. They have become so rare most Americans strictly associate savannas with Africa when, in fact, they have existed here for centuries. Their disappearance has largely been the result of clearing for agriculture and a lack of fire. Fire may sound counter intuitive but it is very important in controlling invasive species, improving biodiversity, and eliminating middle story species not present in savanna ecosystems. The restored savanna would feature a few trees and shrubs with lots of prairie grasses and wildflowers. The final piece of the CTMP restoration puzzle is the prairie. Prairies, like savannas, were once common in Michigan and now are barely surviving. In fact, the Michigan Natural Features Inventory estimates that no original mesic (moist) prairies exist on land available to the public. Thus, restoration is incredibly important. COL will be reseeding the prairie with prairie seed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and reintroducing fire at the preserve.