Beautiful Grand Mere Dunes

Beautiful Grand Mere Dunes by Mark Swanson

Beautiful Grand Mere Dunes by Mark Swanson

Michigan Trail Maps says that Grand Mere State Park:

…is a 985-acre unit in Berrien County that lacks the amenities found in most other state parks along Lake Michigan, including a campground and even direct access to its mile of Lake Michigan shoreline. It attracts only a fraction of the visitors that flock to parks such as Warren Dunes or Hoffmaster. Yet from a naturalist’s point of view Grand Mere is one of the most inquiring set of dunes in the state, an area so ecologically diverse that it 1976 it was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Congress.

The glaciers that scooped out the Great Lakes 10,000 years ago also carved out a number of smaller depressions along the western edge of the state, which evolved into interdunal lakes, ponds, and wetlands. At one time, this area contained a chain of five such lakes that were protected ecologically by a line of windblown sand dunes between them and Lake Michigan. Now there are only three, a result of aquatic succession. Today Grand Mere is a textbook example of the various stages of succession from aquatic communities to terrestrial. Beginning at North Lake, you can see how each lake is progressively disappearing, with open water first turning into marsh and then woodland swamps and closed bog forests, the fate of the former two lakes that lie south of the park.

Almost 4 miles of trails form a loop through open dunes and the wooded areas of the park, but the only designated trail is a half-mile Nature Trail. The paved, handicapped accessible trail extends from the picnic shelter around South Lake, passing 10 interpretive posts that correspond to back of the park map. The rest of the trails are neither posted nor maintained. The most distinguishable trail extends almost a mile from a small parking area off Wishart Road to the west end of the Nature Trail.

Mark took this photo a couple months ago & you can see more in his Spring gallery on Flickr.

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Grand Mere Dunes is cooler than you think

Grand Mere Dunes

Grand Mere Dunes, photo by mswan777

Grand Mere State Park is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan near Stevensville. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Sand Mine Restoration Plan explains that Grand Mere:

…contains some of the most unique sand dune features in the world. The park also contains three lakes, called North, Middle, and South Lake, and has over one mile of Lake Michigan frontage. The sand dunes within the park are part of the largest freshwater dune system in the world, lining the shores of the Great Lakes. These dunes historically supported a wide array of natural communities, including dry-mesic southern (oak-hickory) forest, rich conifer (cedar) swamp, southern (mixed hardwood) swamp, wetpanne and interdunal wetland (shrub swamp/emergent marsh), open dunes, and a wooded dune and swale complex.

The dunes at Grand Mere fall within a state-designated “Critical Dune Area.” The area containing the present-day park was also designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968. The park was first created on 393 acres of land in 1973, and more than doubled in size with the acquisition of 490 additional acres in 1986. The master plan for Grand Mere State Park, approved in 1986, cited “sand dune preservation” as the primary management objective for the park. A highly diverse flora exists at Grand Mere, with over 550 species of plants documented within the park. Furthermore, Grand Mere lies in a unique place on the southern shore of Lake Michigan where plants typical of both northern and southern temperate latitudes grow together in the same community. Because of the unique flora, fauna, and geology of the dune and wetland features at Grand Mere, the park has long been used as an “outdoor laboratory” for natural resource teaching and research.

…Within the park, the dominant landforms are the sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. A large  bay of the glacial Great Lakes was present where Grand Mere State Park is today. During Algonquin  Great Lakes time (roughly 12,000 years ago), a large spit formed from the south along the west side of the  bay, nearly cutting it off from the glacial lake (Tague 1947). Most of the dunes at Grand Mere formed on  this Algonquin sand spit during the later Nipissing Great Lakes period, approximately 4,500 years ago.  During the more recent post-Algoma period (3,000 years ago until present), a smaller spit from the north  merged with the larger, dune covered southern spit, closing off the bay. As water levels fell, five lakes  formed in this bay. The two southern lakes have subsequently filled in and have become the present-day  tamarack swamp south of South Lake. While the lakes were forming in the bay as water levels fell, some  smaller foredunes were formed along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The topography and sandy soils of  the park can be attributed to this glacial history.

Read on for more about the history & geology of this unique park, and check out Grand Mere State Park on the Absolute Michigan Map.

View Mark’s photo background big and see more in his Michigan –  Color slideshow.

More dunes on Michigan in Pictures.