Places We Protect

Maxton Plains Preserve


The sun sets behind the trees and reflects in a calm body of water at Maxton Plains Preserve in Deerton, Michigan.
Maxton Plains Maxton Plains Preserve at Drummond Island is home to rare plant species and state-threatened wildlife. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Maxton Plains Preserve protects the globally-significant alvar landscape and 10 state-rare plants.



The 1,210-acre Maxton Plains Preserve protects the globally-significant alvar landscape and 10 Michigan state-rare plants, eight found in the alvars and two found in the forests. The alvars found on Drummond Island are the largest remaining high-quality alvars in North America. The Maxton Plains Preserve protects nesting and feeding habitat for the state-threatened osprey and potentially for grassland, forest and shorebirds.

Alvar is a Swedish term used to describe dry grasslands found on limestone pavements. The last glacier receded over 10,000 years ago, leaving no, or only a very thin (up to 10-inches), soil layer over limestone bedrock. Areas of pavement alvar are found in central Maxton. On the pavement alvars, the plants grow only in the bedrock joints where soil and sediment collect.




Because of its dark sky and large open spaces, Maxton Plains is a very popular place for stargazing.


1,210 acres

Explore our work in this region

Plan Your Visit

  • This preserve is open year round. Mid-June is the best time to observe the pale-rose blooms of the prairie smoke spread throughout the alvar. In September, the prairie grasses and aspen leaves glow like gold throughout the preserve.

  • We recommend head netting to guard against mosquitoes, black flies, and other insects during the midsummer months. Bring a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself as the area has little shade.

  • Alvar is a very delicate natural community. During your visit please respect these simple rules.

    • Keep ORVs and bicycles on the roadways.
    • During the spring and fall rainy seasons, tread lightly on the grasslands.
    • Avoid walking or driving on thin soil pockets; they are easily compacted by foot traffic and tires.
    • Do not collect or take plants, animals (non-game), rocks or other natural objects from alvar grasslands.
    • Leave rocks just as the glacier left them; no rock piles or cairns.
    • Remove any trash you may find and carry out all that you bring in.
    • No motorized and non-motorized vehicles
    • No pets
    • No hunting or trapping without a TNC-issued permit
    • No removal of plants or animals (alive or dead)
    • No removal of rocks, water or other non-organic materials
    • No camping, bonfires, fireworks or other fires
    • No littering
  • The Nature Conservancy allows hunting for white-tail deer on this preserve to reduce threats too many deer pose to our conservation targets and to ensure that the preserve does not become a “refuge” for deer during the hunting season.

    In order to be eligible to hunt at this preserve, hunters are required to receive a permit from TNC, follow TNC hunting program rules and comply with all local, state and federal laws and ordinances governing hunting activities, including obtaining all required government licenses or permits. For more information, please visit our Deer Hunting in Michigan page.

  • Have questions about the preserve? Contact Shaun Howard, TNC protected lands project manager in Michigan.

The wispy blooms of prairie smoke at Maxton Plains.
Maxton Plains While it may be tempting, don’t pick or remove prairie smoke from its habitat at our Maxton Plains Preserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative


This habitat contains an extremely rich diversity of flora and fauna and hosts a unique mixture of arctic tundra and Great Plains prairie plant species. Eight Michigan state-rare plants grow in the alvars. Among these are the prairie smoke, a spring bloomer, and Houghton’s goldenrod, which bloom just as the prairie grasses turn gold in the late-summer sun. Little bluestem grass and prairie dropseed grass also thrive in the sparse soil.

This site attracts as many as 160 species of birds including such rare and threatened species as the upland sandpiper, osprey, northern harrier and the sharp-tailed grouse.

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