An Impaired Watershed

Located in the critical Mitchell Creek watershed and just a few miles south of downtown Traverse City, Mitchell Creek Meadows: The Don and Jerry Oleson Nature Preserve is the perfect place to advance stewardship and protect the region’s significant natural, scenic, and farm lands. Once an abandoned golf course under threat of massive development, this ecologically significant property was protected with a generous gift from Don and Jerry Oleson. 

Critical for people and wildlife, the Mitchell Creek watershed is the third largest watershed that flows into Grand Traverse Bay and covers roughly 15 square miles in parts of Garfield, East Bay, and Blair townships and Traverse City. Its waters flow into East Bay—the source of Traverse City’s drinking water— and support valuable habitat for trout and other aquatic species, although this habitat’s quality has declined in recent years.

Because much of the watershed lies within one of our region’s most urbanized landscapes, significant runoff from human activities like fertilization, erosion, and other contaminants have degraded this precious source of fresh water, causing the EPA to list the watershed as impaired.

Many of these human activities have also led to the removal or modification of wetlands, open fields, and other natural systems that serve the vital role of filtering surface runoff and keeping our waters clean. Since settlement, nearly half of the watershed’s wetland cover has been lost.

Safeguarding Water Quality

Mitchell Creek Meadows: The Don and Jerry Oleson Nature Preserve protects 225 acres of land and more than a mile of frontage along several tributary branches, which feature spawning brook trout and provide a considerable volume of water to Mitchell Creek.

While much of the property’s habitats are impaired from previous use, the preserve contains substantial forested wetlands that safeguard water quality and support a variety of wildlife. These habitats include large swaths of rich conifer swamp and the remnant of a much larger and globally rare dune-and-swale complex that once lined the bay’s south end.

A collaborative strategy designed to safeguard Grand Traverse Bay’s water quality called the “Coastal Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Plan” emphasizes the importance of the Mitchell Creek watershed. The Conservancy and our friends at The Watershed Center, Conservation Resource Alliance, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Grand Traverse Conservation District, and others have committed to continuously monitoring and improving water quality within the watershed. Recognizing the property’s critical role in safeguarding this precious freshwater resource, the Conservancy and its partners are actively pursuing funding to restore the property’s terrestrial and aquatic habitats, which will improve downstream conditions and the overall health of the watershed.        

Restoring Habitat at Mitchell Creek Meadows

Once operated as a cattle pasture, then a golf course, and later, as a wedding venue, the property that is now the Mitchell Creek Meadows: The Don and Jerry Oleson Nature Preserve has undergone numerous modifications that have altered its natural landscape.

While we are encouraged by evidence of some healthy native species in the property’s forested wetlands, aggressive invasive plants have been allowed to grow unchecked throughout much of the grounds. The Conservancy’s volunteers, staff, and partner organizations have been working diligently to remove autumn olive and other invasive species that have hindered the growth of native plants. This human-powered labor will continue as we work to restore the preserve’s unique natural ecosystems, with a small goat herd aiding in the effort. Successful fundraising may also allow us to seek professional assistance, which would significantly expedite the overall habitat restoration process.

Native landscaping near the Conservation Center and restoration efforts in targeted areas throughout the preserve will improve the property’s biodiversity and wildlife habitat and provide food and refugia for our imperiled pollinator species. Native seed mixes, seedlings propagated at the greenhouse, and native trees and shrubs will be planted throughout the preserve’s wetlands, meadows and rich conifer swamp zones, helping restore areas heavily impacted by invasive species.

Are you interested in joining the effort? Fundraising is underway to restore habitat and enhance recreation at Mitchell Creek Meadows: The Don and Jerry Oleson Nature Preserve. Click below to learn more about this project and share your support or to check out our upcoming volunteer opportunities.