Maher Sanctuary News

Maher Work Days

Check back for future Maher work days.

Maher Audubon Sanctuary Update and Other Nature News

by Chris Baer
This Maher Audubon Sanctuary steward was nosing around in the archives and decided to put some interesting things found in the Caller.

    Pre-Maher, around 1840, more than 100 Native American families camped along the Coldwater River. Arrowheads have been found west of Maher before the land there was ripped for crops in the 1900s. In 1846 108th St. was opened as a stage route from Battle Creek to Grand Rapids.
    In recent history, before Maher was gifted to the club in 1978, the site was visited by members who noted the bog, marshy area, cattails and saw grass (still there) and dense woods to the west (not there). Many dead elms were found (now there are many dead ash trees), the ridge was found to be very birdy and “wild, unspoiled and natural beauty” evident everywhere.
    In 1979 an inventory of plants was made by Susan Crispin, a MSU graduate of Environmental Science, with collections made deposited in the Beale Darling Herbarium at MSU. This predates Dr. David Warners list made in 2002. Our Floristic Quality Index from this list is 61.92 which is very high. Our native plant numbers are much higher than the invasive/non-native ones. Dr. Warners noted that this property was a truly remarkable place of “botanical quality and diversity.”
    As the club became landowners the Sanctuary needed a steward/chairperson to manage the work that was to come. In 1983 Al Huisjen asked Bill Sweetman to fill this position, becoming the first steward. Goals for that time included a path to the artesian well, signage for trails, path to the marl pond (the marl pond was formed by farmers removing lime for crop land). Neighbors were “welcomed for quiet observations on the trails, but deer, rabbit and bird hunting were to be discontinued.” Pallets as a temporary bridge crossed the creek in 1981. Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, railroad ties were brought in from CSX transportation with the help of Steve Minard. By 1990 the boardwalk was mostly complete thanks to work crews provided by Ray Gates, KISD Michigan Youth Corps, Helen Spore as supervisor (I can just imagine Helen Spore out there directing traffic on the boardwalk!), the Caledonia sophomore class led by John Van Orman and a work crew from the DNR.
    Bobwhite quail and Pheasant were common birds in 1983. Ruffed grouse were first recorded in 1981. Next month I will follow the birds from the late eighties to the present.
    From 1991-1997 work bees were yearly occurrences, although glitches became a common problem. A portable toilet in 1993 was destroyed by vandals, then discontinued. The bridge and bluebird boxes were regularly vandalized, and logs were put across the boardwalk and trail to discourage dirt bikes. (Vandals recently pushed over bird houses, threw a bench into the creek and removed planks from the boardwalk.) The sheriff said they would stop by Maher and the parking lot regularly to deter mischief. Signage was erected in the 1990s: “Visit the Sanctuary and leave it as you found it.” Edith Jarvi started the idea of benches along the paths and since then Doug Klein and Jim McMaster have built and put up more. The large sign (Maher Audubon Sanctuary) was erected on the slope southwest of where the sign is now, in the marsh. Ed Bolt, Jim McMaster and I moved the sign because the trees up on the slope were blocking it. Now the cattails in wet years have to be trimmed to see the sign clearly. Never a dull moment.
    Stewards for Maher after Bill Sweetman include Helen Spore, Steve Smith, Mary Jane Dockeray, Jim McMaster, Melanie Good, Doug Klein and Madeline Heibel. All have been stewards for a number of years clearing ash trees off the trails and boardwalk and repairing the boardwalk, sometimes with the help of the membership.
Invasive plants/shrubs have been a problem ever since the DNR encouraged landowners to plant them. Autumn olive, barberry, multiflora rose and honeysuckle continually challenge us. The boardwalk also needs repairs frequently and is being overrun by bluegrass (lawn exotic) and other invasive grasses.
    What is fun to do is to go to Maher regularly and see the seasonal changes of the birds and the native plants. Fall this year was stupendous. Asters, Bidens, wild Coreopsis, native thistle loved by Monarchs, blue lobelia, Joe-pye-weed and others graced the edge of the boardwalk and other places. You don’t need to leave the trail or boardwalk to see the show. Recently Jim and Susan McMaster were at Maher cutting two trees (ashes) off the boardwalk and spiffing up the entire path of limbs /branches. Please thank them next time you see them at the meeting.

The Maher bridge has finally been fixed!

See photos by clicking images below:

Maher Details

Questions and information about the Maher sanctuary can be E-mailed to

Graphic Graphic Graphic


Click here for a map of the Maher Sanctuary.


The Maher Sanctuary is located on the southwest corner of Woodschool Rd. and 108th St. on the border of Kent and Barry Counties. From Grand Rapids take I-96 east to Lowell. Exit at the Lowell exit and take Alden Nash Ave. south to 100th St. Proceed east 1/2 mile on 100th to Baker Ave. Turn right and go one mile south on Baker, which becomes Woodschool at 108th St. This is the Barry County line. The Maher Sanctuary is located on the southwest corner of Woodschool and 108th. Turn right on 108th and look for the parking area on the left (south) side of the road about 1/4 mile west of Woodschool.