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Climate-Resilient Sugarbush Forest Restoration & Demonstration

The Kalamazoo Nature Center was founded 60 years ago when passionate nature lovers came together to save the historic beech-maple forests of Cooper’s Glen. KNC celebrates this heritage every year with the popular and family-friendly Maple Sugar Festival which attracts thousands of visitors. While some forests on KNC’s grounds have been relatively undisturbed for the last hundred years, other parts of the property, like the maple grove (or “sugarbush”) along Fern Valley Trail, have been challenged by serious ecological threats.

Fern Valley Trail cuts through a beautiful area of beech-maple forest that was also dominated by ash trees. Once a lush and shady place for visitors, Fern Valley Trail now features acres of dead ash trees laid to waste by the emerald ash borer, a devastating invasive insect. As ash trees died, openings in the canopy let unexpected sunlight onto the forest floor, creating a window of opportunity for invasive shrubs like honeysuckle and autumn olive to flourish and grow. Shrubs took over, blocking regeneration of native trees, and leaving KNC with a huge problem.

KNC’s stewardship team cleared this area to prepare for replanting a new sugarbush, but the decision to replant is complicated due to climate change. Research shows that plants and animals are already adapting to new climate patterns and changing their ranges. Experts warn that not all of our native trees will be well adapted to the warmer and wetter future that is projected. Sadly, in Kalamazoo’s future, beloved trees like eastern white pine, aspen, paper birch, and even sugar maple may be unlikely to thrive. KNC’s restoration plan takes both our history and this uncertain future into consideration.

Our team has worked to build a plan that will honor Kalamazoo’s ecological heritage, while also planning for a healthy future forest. KNC staff and volunteers have reforested part of Fern Valley by planting young trees typical of a beech-maple forest, along with some less common, but more climate-resilient species.

Read more about the Sugarbush restoration at KNC’s Land Managment page >