Leave only footprints, take only pictures

News Photo by Darby Hinkley This purple flower is known as gaywings, or fringed polygala, according the the United States Forest Service website.

Everyone needs to take time out to stop and smell the flowers, breathe in the fresh outdoor air, and enjoy being surrounded by nature. But when you set foot in a state park or nature preserve, remember that nature needs to stay natural.

“One of our mottos is ‘Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.’ Definitely don’t pick the wildflowers,” said Blake Gingrich, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation supervisor.

Gingrich oversees operations at P.H. Hoeft/Thompson’s Harbor State Parks, Presque Isle State Harbor, Rockport State Recreation Area and Ocqueoc Falls, as well as Norway Ridge, Chippewa Hills and Thunder Bay River areas.

While he recommends that everyone get outdoors and visit the beautiful parks in our area, Gingrich reminds hikers and campers that destroying, damaging or removing trees, wildflowers, plants and even dead logs and brush, is illegal.

“A lot of people don’t get out and smell the flowers and see things like that anymore,” Gingrich said. “I think if you spend two hours minimum a day just away from electronics, going on a little hike, exploring somewhere, it helps you release some stress.”

News Photo by Darby Hinkley This is a common violet, which blooms low to the ground in small clumps in shady, moist soil.

He said bringing a friend or family member with you can be a fun shared experience.

“Bring someone with you, bring binoculars to look at things, and take a compass because you can’t always rely on GPS on your phones to work out there,” he said, adding, “You should try to learn something new every day.”

This reporter did just that on a recent nature hike through Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway in Mackinaw State Forest in Presque Isle County. With husband and son in tow, and phone doubling as a camera, wildflowers of all colors and a slimy toad or two were encountered on a warm June day.

The wildflowers found included the yellow violet, purple gaywings, white starflower, common violet, white tree blossoms, and small white bell-shaped flowers growing low to the ground. Luckily, no poison ivy was encountered, but a nest of garter snakes and a tick or two made an appearance.

While garter snakes are nearly harmless, Gingrich said to watch for massasauga rattlesnakes, which can be found in this area of Northeast Michigan.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley A panoramic view of the natural scenery along Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway in Mackinaw State Forest in Presque Isle County. All the photos were taken while hiking on June 9.

As for wildflowers, Elizabeth Littler is the expert on that topic. She has been interested and studying wildflowers since she was a little girl.

She said the dwarf iris, Michigan’s state wildflower, is an endangered species that appears in our area in late May to early June.

“They’re quite unique to this corner of the state,” Littler said. “It only occurs in Alpena around the coast and then up to the bridge,” referring to the Mackinac Bridge.

She said the weather was strange this spring, staying cooler longer than usual, then with a lot of rain and now into a dry spell.

“They go on hold and they don’t bloom,” Littler said of this year’s wildflowers. “There was such an abrupt change, that I don’t know if they had time to set seed.”

News Photo by Darby Hinkley White bell-shaped flowers growing in clusters close to the ground on a wild blueberry bush.

She said we will find out next spring.

Wildflowers that are blooming right now include:

¯ The wood lily, which is an orange flower

¯ Indian paintbrushes, which are red-orange in color

¯ Black-eyed Susan, with a black center and golden petals

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Blossoms on what appears to be a wild cherry tree.

¯ Swamp milkweed, with pink flowers

¯ Coreopsis, a yellow daisy-like flower

Littler said some irises may still be in bloom as well, but the above flowers will be the most conspicuous, with some growing along roadways.

“Coreopsis love the gravel, the edge of the road,” Littler said. “I’m a 45-mile-an-hour botanist.”

She added that identifying plants is much easier in-person than with a photograph, because you can see and feel the texture of the leaves, bark and petals.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley A white starflower.

Littler is on the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board of Directors with Judy Kalmanek, who is the board secretary.

The board just finished a wildflower guide this week, completed by graphic artist Betsy Hale, who is Kalmanek’s sister, and Littler, who helped with identification.

The guide lists all the wildflowers common to Island Park in Alpena, located within the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary. It also identifies, with color photos, common non-native plants, and invasive land plants such as knapweed, and invasive water plants including frogbit and narrowleaf cattails, not to be confused with the native broadleaf cattail.

“We have quite a few invasive plants,” Kalmanek said. “Invasive species destroy the biodiversity of the plant life. They do that because they can outcompete the native plants.”

Over the past 10 to 12 years, invasive narrowleaf cattails have grown 12 to 14 feet tall, and they continue to overtake the area, providing the shade needed for the invasive frogbit to thrive. Both species must be cut back and controlled to allow native species to regain their territory.

“They have taken over and destroyed many of our native species,” Kalmanek said of the narrowleaf cattails. “Right now we’re cutting them and that’s a very time-consuming job.”

They are always looking for more volunteers to help remove the invasive species.

“If we don’t get rid of the narrowleaf cattails, we will never get rid of the frogbit,” Kalmanek said.

She added that the island is home to some protected species of wildflowers, and that no one should be picking anything that is not an invasive species.

“We do have trillium on the island,” Kalmanek said, referring to the white three-petal flower. “They are a protected species.”

She explained why plants should stay put.

“If plants remain, they will reseed themselves and spread,” she said. “If they are picked, they die out.”

She said one way to encourage the spread of native plants is to attract pollinators, such as butterflies.

“There is a butterfly garden right by the water tower that is intentionally planted to attract butterflies,” Kalmanek said. “Butterflies help to pollinate and help keep the species going and promote plant diversity.”

To learn more about the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary or to volunteer, contact board Chairman Terry Gougeon at 989-464-4788 or TPGougeon@hotmail.com.

For more information and resources on wildflower viewing sites, identification, and invasive plant species, visit the United States Forest Service’s “Celebrating Wildflowers” webpage at https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/index.shtml.

And the next time you’re vegging out on your couch, staring at your phone or the TV screen, remember these words from Gingrich: “Get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.”

News Photo by Darby Hinkley A yellow violet.

Courtesy Photo This wildflower identification guide shows the many wildflowers that can be found at Island Park in Alpena. The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Island Park Wildflowers guide was just completed this week by graphic artist Betsy Hale and Elizabeth Littler of the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board. The guide also identifies water plants, common non-native plants, invasive land plants, invasive water plants, and poison ivy.

Courtesy Photo Informational brochure from the state about Michigan wildflowers.