Oakland Township has purchased property on Lake George Road, adjacent to the Lost Lake Nature Park, that has  been renamed the “Fox Nature Preserve.”

Oakland Township has purchased property on Lake George Road, adjacent to the Lost Lake Nature Park, that has been renamed the “Fox Nature Preserve.”

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Oakland Township granted extension to open Fox Nature Preserve to the public

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 12, 2022


OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has granted Oakland Township an extension of 90 days to get the newly named “Fox Nature Preserve” open to the public.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund allocated over $3 million to the township to help fund its purchase of the property on Lake George Road, adjacent to the Lost Lake Nature Park. The $3,081,000 grant covers the majority of the purchase price of the 235-acre addition, and was combined with just over $1 million in matching funds from the township’s land preservation millage.

“When we agreed to purchase this park using the grant funding, the understanding was that it will be for the purpose of a combination of natural area preservation, as well as offering recreation opportunities. This is an area that will be open to the public, and the main recreation activity will be trials — that’s what we had in the grant application and that’s what the intention is,” said Parks and Recreation Director Mindy Milos Dale.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant agreement originally required the township to open the property to the public within 90 days of acquisition, by April 26.

However, at the request of township officials on April 22, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has approved a 90-day extension.

“We’ve been given an extension, until July 26,” Milos Dale explained.

Over the winter, the township’s stewardship team began working on the property to get it ready to open to the public.

“This property is beautiful, but there were a lot of invasive woody plants out there because the previous property owner had let it go wild, thinking it was the best thing for the property,” Milos Dale said. “Some people, when they look at green, they don’t understand what is native versus what is not, and what’s a problem versus what is not.”

The wintertime, she said, is the best time to complete invasive shrub management work to remove dense populations of bittersweet, swallow-wort, buckthorn and others with a process called forestry mowing.

“When we have a dense area of invasive plants, they come in with this equipment that is capable of cutting down and basically shredding these invasive woody plants. … Then we come in afterward and we seed with native plants, so that the void left by the killing of the invasives is then filled by our native plants instead,” Milos Dale explained.

The Fox Nature Preserve and the existing Lost Lake Nature Park, she said, share a special oak forest between their boundaries.

“We were also girdling small maple trees to encourage the regeneration of oak trees and ground cover in that area. When the maple trees start coming into the special oak forests, they shade out everything,” Milos Dale added.

Some neighbors, alarmed with the stewardship work — which included removing woody invasive plants, girdling small red maple trees to encourage the regeneration of oak trees, and removing phragmites and invasive shrubs in the wetland area around Clam Lake on the property — voiced their concerns to the township’s Board of Trustees, which put a temporary halt on the work in early spring.

“The board wanted a little more input prior to larger things being done, like clearing of fields and things like that,” said Oakland Township Manager Adam Kline.

Since then, Milos Dale said, the Parks and Recreation Commission has held various public meetings with residents to explain its stewardship work in more detail and has resumed work on the property. The commission has also communicated its processes in more detail to the Board of Trustees, she said.

“If you are not familiar with these stewardship techniques and the goals and the methods, it could be alarming to the average person — and I think that is what happened here,” Milos Dale said. “What we found — and it’s the case in everything — is that good communication is everything. … Every new park, you’re always going to have concerns, because it’s a new thing. People are hesitant about any change, so there is always this initial period where you have to have good communication to keep making progress.”

The township is now working to meet the July 23 opening deadline.

The Parks and Recreation Commission recently approved the remaining stewardship work for the property for this calendar year, which, after press time, was headed to the Board of Trustees for consideration.

“The girdling and the forestry mowing has been completed for this year. We needed to do those during the winter, so we won’t be doing any more of that this year,” Milos Dale noted. “But we have proposed that we continue with the work in those areas to make sure that we don’t have other invasives return and that we replace the invasives with natives. So we will be continuing work out there, but it will be different tasks than what we have done. We still have to get final approval on that, but I think we are well on our way.”

The original plan also called for the existing buildings on the site — which Milos Dale said include a ranch house, a couple of smaller barn-type buildings and a very large barn — to be repurposed for a park visitor center, storage and maintenance. However, she said it didn’t make sense financially to repurpose the ranch house and smaller barn-type buildings following building inspections, though the commission is proposing that the large barn be kept.

“The Parks Commission just approved hiring a structural engineer to do analysis work on what initially would need to be done to stabilize that structure, so the Park Commission is recommending that the house and smaller structures be demolished and the larger one be retained and stabilized and used. That will be coming to the Board of Trustees at one of their meetings in the very near future here for their approval,” she said.

Ben VanderWeide, the township’s natural areas stewardship manager, said the 235-acre expansion property protects ecological links to the existing Lost Lake Nature Park, Addison Oaks Park and the Bald Mountain State Recreation Area. It protects the west branch of Stony Creek and Clam Lake; it contains important wetlands, like bogs and fens; and it includes fields with remnant native vegetation.

It offers access to over half a mile of the west branch of Stoney Creek and increases access to three lakes — Clam Lake, Tamarack Lake and Green Lake, up in the northern part of the township.

VanderWeide said the property includes some “really unique habitats” — including submergent marshes, southern shrub-carr, rich tamarack swamps, black spruce bogs, southern wet meadows, southern shrub-carr, mature oak forests and prairie fen, to name a few.

The new property will provide over 4 miles of internal trails — including connections to the Lost Lake Nature Center and Oakview Middle School in Lake Orion — and increased access to hiking, wildlife observation, hunting and nature programs.

The Fox Nature Preserve is not yet open to the public, and Milos Dale wants to remind residents to stay off the property until an official opening announcement is shared.

“We have to make sure that the access to the property — meaning the vehicular parking area and pedestrian access on trails — is all set up correctly and safely. We’re working on that right now, so I don’t want people to think the park is open. As soon as it is ready to be open — and we are trying to get this done by our deadline — there will certainly be a big announcement,” she said.

Fox Nature Preserve is located at 1401 Lake George Road in Oakland Township. For more information, visit oaklandtownship.org or call (248) 651-4440, ext. 299.