Places We Protect

Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve

Michigan

The moon shines over Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve. The sun is just starting to rise over the horizon.
Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve The temperate climate, fertile soil and nearby river create idyllic conditions not only for vineyards, but also for land rich in biodiversity. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Prairie fens provide habitat for both wetland and prairie plants, making them especially diverse and important to the preserve.

Overview

Description

It's no coincidence that the Paw Paw River watershed is also known as Michigan's "Wine Country." The temperate climate, fertile soil and nearby river create idyllic conditions not only for vineyards, but also for land rich in biodiversity.

Notice the migration of songbirds during the fall months. You are most likely to catch them on their way south during August and September. Those with patience might spot species such as the eastern box turtle or an eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Anglers have been attracted to the river for years after hearing stories of trout as big as 27 inches.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Highlights

This land will be open for foot access and activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, birdwatching and deer hunting by permit.

Size

106 acres

Explore our work in this region

Photos from Paw Paw Prairie Fen

Tag your preserve visits on Instagram with #TNCMichigan to have your photos featured here!

A bug rests on the blossoms of blazing star at Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve.
Closeup of an eastern box turtle at Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve.
A variety of plant life growing at Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve in Michigan.
Two butterflies rest on a leafy plant at Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve in Michigan.

Midwest Wetlands

Learn about the wonderful world of wetlands.

Start Exploring

Rare Wetland Communities

The Paw Paw Prairie Fen site was originally slated for a housing development. The development company had removed all the topsoil, laid out a road route and began landscaping for a neighborhood when TNC was alerted to rare wetland communities at the site and began negotiations for acquiring the land.

A fen is a unique type of wetland, fed by alkaline, mineral-rich groundwater that supports highly diverse and rare plant life. There are several types of fens, but prairie fens, like Paw Paw Prairie Fen, provide habitat for both wetland and prairie plants, making them especially diverse and important to the preserve.

Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve (3:06) Colorful plants, insects, birds and other wildlife thrive at this unique wetland habitat in southwest Michigan.

Plan Your Visit

  • When to Visit

    The Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve is open year-round for hiking, birding and wildlife viewing. August and September are the best times to catch sight of migrating songbirds on their way south.

  • What to Bring

    Because of wet and uneven ground conditions during much of the year, we recommend wearing waterproof boots with ankle support. Also be sure to check for ticks after hiking since prairie grasses provide them with prime habitat.

  • Trail Info

    The 1.5-mile loop trail is generally considered an easy route, with wide, flat, well-packed terrain. 

    View our trail guide and map. 

  • Permitted Activities
  • Prohibited Activities
    • No motorized and non-motorized vehicles, including bicycles
    • No building of new trails
    • No trespassing on adjacent land
    • No pets
    • No hunting or trapping without a TNC-issued permit
    • No removal of stakes, poles or signs
    • 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 firewood collecting
    • No littering
    • No boating
  • Hunting

    The Nature Conservancy allows bow 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.

  • Questions?

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

A trail winds through tall grass at Paw Paw Prairie.
Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve The Paw Paw River watershed is hugely important for Michigan and the Great Lakes. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Background

TNC owns 106 acres along the east branch of the Paw Paw River near Mattawan. Fen restoration began in 2004 with the removal of invasives including glossy buckthorn and reed canary grass.

The following year, efforts to restore the native savanna began by treating invasives such as spotted knapweed and replanting prairie grass seed of varieties native to this habitat at this location. We have removed four acres of full-grown spruce trees, which were planted to line the main avenue of the housing development.

Professional land managers also employ prescribed fire throughout the preserve to reduce invasive species and promote healthy habitats for native plants and animals. These restoration strategies continue to be implemented throughout the preserve.

The Nature Conservancy has teamed up with farmers, the Van Buren Conservation District, The Coca-Cola Foundation and Michigan State University to protect and improve water quality and quantity in the Paw Paw River watershed.

Expand to see more Collapse to see less

Keep Exploring

From shifting sand dunes to granite bald mountains, explore our preserves and reserves spread across the state of Michigan.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

See the Complete Map

Make a Lasting Impact

You have the power to make a difference for the Great Lakes State and for our planet. Your support will help fund groundbreaking science and conservation activities that protect the lands and waters you love.