DNR News: Winter animal tracks, state park business ventures, invasive yellow floating heart

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News Digest - Week of Dec. 16, 2019

a bobcat, facing the camera, up to his belly in snow, some branches in the background (courtesy USFWS)

A good covering of snow can help wildlife watchers find many otherwise hard-to-spot animals, like this bobcat.

Here's a look at some of this week's stories from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

See other news releases, Showcasing the DNR stories, photos and other resources at Michigan.gov/DNRPressRoom.

PHOTO FOLDER: Larger, higher-res versions of some of the images used below are available in this folder. The bobcat image in the banner, above, is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Follow animal footprints to track down some winter fun

A bobcat paw print in the snow

Everything looks a little different with a blanket of freshly fallen snow, and some things – like animal tracks – become even easier to see. It might be challenging to spot Michigan’s more elusive critters, but many do leave clues behind. That’s one reason winter is a fun time to get out and explore different habitats.

Tracking wildlife can be done at any time of the year, but snow makes a great backdrop for animal tracks. If there’s no snow, wet sand, soil or mud works well, too.

“Figuring out which species produced the tracks you find is like solving a puzzle and can be done readily with the right book or tracks chart,” said Hannah Schauer, a wildlife communications and education coordinator with the DNR Wildlife Division. She pointed to some sketches of animal tracks available online to get started.

“Key in on the overall shape and size of the track, if you can, and try to distinguish the number of toes the animal has,” Schauer said. “Raccoons show ‘fingers’ not unlike our own. Beavers have webbed feet. Deer have a familiar two-hooved print, while most birds have three toes pointing forward and one facing backward.”

Hopping and walking patterns can help, too. Looking for claw marks also can help you determine whether you’re looking at cat tracks (such as bobcat), which lack the claw marks shown by dogs (like fox and coyote).

Other tips:

  • Take a journal and camera to document tracks and other observations, like where tracks start or stop.
  • A ruler can help track measurements, which can point to species.

No matter where you search for tracks – there are plenty of wildlife watching opportunities at state wildlife/game areas, in recreation areas or in local communities – grab your skis, snowshoes or muck boots and get out there!

Questions? Contact Hannah Schauer at 517-388-9678.

Business partnership opportunities available in state parks, harbors

A concessions worker at Petoskey State Park scoops up ice cream for a park visitor while another employee assists customers at the register

Every year, more than 28 million people head to Michigan state parks and harbors to enjoy the outdoors. The business operators who provide food and beverage sales, equipment rentals, horse stable operations, firewood and merchandise sales, lighthouse tours, shuttle service and other recreation-related services in many of these destinations play a big role in the experience.

The DNR Parks and Recreation Division offers opportunities each year for partnerships to operate concessions and other business prospects. Currently, nearly 75 concessionaires operate some type of business within the Michigan state parks and recreation system. In addition to generating revenue for the DNR, these business operations also help create jobs within the state’s private sector.

“Our business operators provide tremendous services to our customers every year,” said Lori Ruff, DNR Parks and Recreation Division concession and lease manager. “They improve and add value to the visitor experience in many ways, offering services that staff otherwise could not provide.”

Right now, the DNR is offering a number of business opportunities to operate concessions and other services at several DNR properties, including openings for beach and camp stores, mobile food operations, water park operations, watercraft rentals, a riding stable, electric vehicle charging stations and others.

Visit Michigan.gov/StateParkConcessions to see a list of current opportunities and locations. This list is regularly updated as opportunities are added or filled.

Individuals and business owners interested in submitting a bid, asking a question or being added to an informational mailing list are encouraged to contact Lori Ruff at RuffL@Michigan.gov or 989-275-5151, ext. 2722006. She will answer bidding process questions and notify people when new opportunities arise.

ICYMI: Successfully eradicating invasive yellow floating heart

three people holding a net, removing yellow floating heart from a pond

It may look pretty, with its brightly colored flowers and heart-shaped flowers, but yellow floating heart is an invasive aquatic plant that can quickly form dense mats on the surface of water. Those mats then can shade out native plants and cause problems for people swimming, boating, fishing or enjoying other forms of water-based recreation. In Michigan, yellow floating heart is a prohibited species, which means it is illegal for anyone here to buy, sell or possess it.

Two yellow floating heart infestations – one in the reflection pond at the Clara Ford Rose Garden in Dearborn, and a smaller infestation in a small pond at the Red Oaks Nature Center in Madison Heights – were successfully eradicated, thanks in large part to a strong partnership effort by the state of Michigan, the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the Red Oaks Nature Center. In total, more than 1,000 pounds of the pesky plant were manually removed in 2016, and annual monitoring efforts since then show the sites remain free of the species. When a site is free of an aquatic invasive plant for three consecutive years, that species is considered eradicated from that location.

Read the full news release about this success story from southeast Michigan.


Did you know that there are only four luge tracks in the U.S., and one of them is right here in Michigan? Plan a visit to the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex this season and go for a ride at speeds up to 30 mph!


There are two weeks left to get Pure Michigan Hunt applications for the upcoming Jan. 18 drawing! Just $5 per application for your shot at elk, bear, antlerless deer, and spring and fall turkey licenses.


It's not too early to get some On the Ground events on your calendar. The DNR partners with MUCC on this fish and wildlife habitat improvement program, and new volunteers are always welcome.

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