DNR News: Michigan's fall color show, National Public Lands Day and Network to Freedom historian spotlight

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News Digest - Week of Sept. 21, 2020

fall forest road

Peak fall foliage is just around the corner, but what makes the leaves so colorful?

Some of the items in this week's news digest reflect the impact of COVID-19 and how the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is adapting to meet customers' needs. Public health and safety are our biggest priorities, and we will continue to share news and information about the safest, and sometimes new, ways to enjoy our state's natural and cultural resources.

Follow our COVID-19 response page for FAQs and updates on facilities and reopening dates. For the latest public health guidelines and news, visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Here's a look at some of this week's stories from the 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 the images used below, and additional ones, are available in this folder.

Bring on the birds for National Public Lands Day

mallard closer

This Saturday is National Public Lands Day, and we’ve got three ways to make the most of the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands and national parks – by engaging with Michigan’s birds!

Visit a nearby Important Bird Area

Did you know that many state game and wildlife areas double as Important Bird Areas? IBAs are places that are vital for the conservation of bird populations. Researchers need help monitoring IBAs and mapping bird ranges, especially in state game and wildlife areas. You can be a citizen scientist and report your observations on eBird, a global community science database. Having more data from these often-underrepresented state game and wildlife areas gives eBird researchers a better understanding of the IBAs and the birds using them. On your next visit, help advance conservation efforts by sharing your bird sightings on eBird or at MiBirds@Audubon.org.

To plan your birding trip, check out the Michigan Hunting Digest for hunting season start dates, or call your local DNR center or field office. Birders are advised to wear brightly colored clothing, as fall hunting will be in full swing. 

For a full list of IBAs near you, including public lands across Michigan, visit Audubon.org. A Recreation Passport is required for vehicle access to state parks and recreation areas.

Experience Michigan waterfowl hunting 

Access to quality public lands is a big part of the fall hunting tradition in Michigan. Explore Michigan’s Wetland Wonders during waterfowl hunting season.

Early teal and goose hunting seasons opened Sept. 1 statewide. Duck, coot and merganser seasons open Sept. 26 (north), Oct. 3 (middle) and Oct. 10 (south). Visit Michigan.gov/Waterfowl for regulations, bag limits and additional waterfowl hunting details.

Join us online 

If you can’t make it outdoors this year, you can still celebrate National Public Lands by visiting MI Birds online – it’s your one-stop shop for all things birds in Michigan. Follow MI Birds on FacebookTwitter and Instagram or visit the website.

The DNR is responsible for nearly 4.6 million acres of public lands owned by Michigan residents – state parks, trails, game and wildlife areas, forests and developed facilities like boat launches and fish hatcheries. We’re currently updating the strategy used to guide public land ownership and ensure maximum benefit for residents and the state’s natural resources. Join us virtually to review and provide feedback on newly released draft components

What’s behind Michigan’s fall color show?

fall foliage

Cooler temperatures mean that pumpkins, cozy sweaters, spiced lattes and brilliant fall colors are just around the corner. The dazzling switch from summer green to autumn bronze, red, yellow and maroon on the trees may prompt the question: “Why do leaves change in the fall?”

“It takes a lot of energy for a tree to grow and maintain healthy leaves, and in the cold winter, it’s too difficult,” said DNR forester Cheryl Nelson. “Instead, the trees reabsorb their nutrients and drop their leaves for a long winter sleep, growing new ones when sunnier seasons return.” 

Fall color starts with shorter days and cooler weather. These changes send a signal to deciduous – known as broadleaf – trees that it’s time to stop making chlorophyll, the light-absorbing parts of cells responsible for making leaves green. This allows other colors to shine. 

Pigments called carotenoids make fall leaves turn yellow and orange. They are also found in squash and pumpkins. Anthocyanins, the same antioxidant responsible for the deep colors of red wine or purple farmers market carrots, are plant pigments that cause red, pink or purple colors to show through. 

There are some trees that don’t change color, even with colder weather. Unlike their leafy cousins, most trees with needles – called conifers – have a sticky, resinous sap that works like a natural antifreeze to keep them green all through the winter. 

Viewing the spectrum of fall colors is a time-honored Michigan tradition, and there is no better place to see this gorgeous color show – just be sure to time it right. The Upper Peninsula kicks off Michigan’s fall color in mid- to late September; the northern Lower Peninsula’s fall hues usually peak in early to mid-October; and southern Michigan’s color can last into late October. Areas near Great Lakes shores may change a little later due to the special coastal weather patterns. 

Visit Michigan.gov/StateForests to find a forest, check out the DNR’s fall color map to help plan your viewing, and get ready for a peek at Michigan’s peak colors!

Local historian brings national Network to Freedom designation forward

Carol Mull

The National Park Service recently accepted Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve into the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program

Such a designation doesn’t come easy. It requires a great deal of documentation, as well as a nomination that successfully makes the case for the national significance of the site.

Carol E. Mull of Ann Arbor, a seasoned historian and past chair of the Michigan Freedom Trail Commission, began work on this nomination even before Watkins Lake became a public property. The park is Michigan’s 103rd state park and the first state park in Michigan to be jointly managed with a county recreation agency.

Mull has watched and supported the public acquisition of the property since it came on the market. It’s one of the many sites included in her book, “The Underground Railroad in Michigan,” published in 2010. Once the new park was announced, Mull renewed her volunteer research and work diligently on the nomination.

"The Michigan DNR is proud to have been able to establish a new state park in partnership with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission in 2016, and more recently to preserve the role Watkins Farm played in the Underground Railroad," said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. "We want to thank Carol for her tremendous work, as she was at the heart of this national designation." 

Mull combined information from Watkins' family descendants, material in the Bentley Library, Laura Haviland's autobiography and many other sources to reveal the dramatic story of the foiled kidnapping attempt to return Felix John White, an employee on the Watkins Farm, to slavery.

Volunteers like Mull continue to work every year to expand our knowledge and understanding of Michigan's history with abolition and the Underground Railroad.

Visit Michigan.gov/FreedomTrail for Michigan Network to Freedom sites (including several others nominated by Mull) under the programs and initiatives section.

Questions? Contact Sandra Clark (DNR), 517-243-4041 or Kira Macyda (Washtenaw County), 734-971-6337, ext. 321.


Michigan Trails Week is Sept. 20-27 (that's this week!), and there's no better way to celebrate our state's great trails than participating in the Trails Week Challenge. 


There are plenty of opportunities to plan your perfect hunt this fall. Find a place to hunt and make sure you have a valid hunting license before you head out.


Whether you're out on a trail or sitting in a hunting blind, take notice of the wildlife around you and report your observations. This info helps us keep up to date on Michigan's wildlife populations.

DNR COVID-19 RESPONSE: For details on affected DNR facilities and services, visit this webpage. Follow state actions and guidelines at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus.

Census 2020 - Be Counted