Point Betsie is a dynamic mosaic of shifting sand dunes, interdunal wetlands, boreal forest and sandy Lake Michigan beaches continuously impacted by natural stresses such as wind and wave action, ice scouring, and currents moving along the shore of the lake. This globally imperiled open dune habitat provides a place where threatened species such as Pitcher’s thistle, fascicled broomrape and the Lake Huron locust can thrive. Dune vegetation includes marram grass, beach pea and hoary puccoon with forested islands of balsam fir, paper birch, red oak and creeping juniper. Peaceful ponds among the dunes swell and shrink in sync with water levels in Lake Michigan, attracting migrating birds such as the semipalmated plover. Cedar waxwings flit through pockets of forest while spotted sandpiper and killdeer scurry over the sand.
Why TNC Selected This Site
Point Betsie became a preserve through the generosity of Steve and Connie Zetterberg. In 1988 the Zetterbergs donated the original 71 acres of virgin sand dunes which became the Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie—property that had been in their family for generations. After having been preserved by the Zetterberg family, Point Betsie is now maintained by TNC and cherished by generations of Michiganians.
The dunes at Pt. Betsie are part of the largest freshwater dune system in the world, which covers 275,000 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline. The Pt. Betsie dunes provide critical habitat for rare species, including Pitcher’s thistle. They have also been identified as a potential nesting site for piping plover as the population of this endangered species recovers. The Nature Conservancy works with partners through the Michigan Dune Alliance to conserve this rare coastal ecosystem.
What TNC Has Done/Is Doing
This project exemplifies the “site to system” approach of the overall Great Lakes Project as there are now a wide variety of landscapes being restored by a range of partners that includes state and federal agencies, non-profit groups, and regional land conservancies. Since 2006 when the Meijer Foundation first began funding the Lake Michigan Dune Restoration Project, seasonal crews have removed invasive species such as baby’s breath and spotted knapweed from our Zetterberg Preserve at Pt. Betsie and partner lands along the eastern Lake Michigan shoreline.
From an innocuous beginning of volunteer workdays pulling baby’s-breath at the Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie, the Eastern Lake Michigan project has grown to encompass 505 miles of ecological restoration from the Indiana border to the Mackinac Bridge. In 2009 TNC staff and volunteers planted native marram grass plugs at Pt. Betsie as an initial step to restore vegetation on walking trails through the dunes. The trails provide a route for new invasive species introductions and can cause erosion. Leveraging generous funding from the Meijer Corporation, we secured stewardship grants from Sustain Our Great Lakes (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation) in both 2010 and 2011 for invasive species control efforts along the entire Eastern Lake Michigan coast.