Newcomb Tract

Property Size: 247 acres - represents GIS measurement of the area received from UM- Real Estate Office. Includes: Newcomb tract (1930) – 206 acres and Murdock tract (1951) – 33 acres

Location: (42.41553 N, 83.90367 W - caretaker house) Webster Township, Washtenaw County, approximately 17.8 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. Newcomb Tract is located just a half mile east of Stinchfield Woods on the other side of the Huron River, a 5 mile drive between entrances. It is bound by Baseline Lake to the North and Huron River Drive to the west, and the Michigan Sailing Club  to the east. Nearby points of interest include the Reichert Preserve, Hudson Mills Metro Park, Pinckney Recreation Area, DNR Shooting Range, Dexter Cider Mill. Directions: Driving time:   30 min

Access: Unlike Stinchfield & Saginaw, Newcomb Tract is not open to the public.  Vehicles parked at the site that are not affiliated with the school will get towed.  With prior approval, the site can park 10+ cars on gravel area.  Grass areas available for additional parking. There is direct access via Huron River Drive and Strawberry Lake Rd.  Strawberry Lake Rd from Mast is gravel to where it turns to Huron River Drive and where it meets N. Territorial Rd.  Entrances are not gated.  There is a gate for access for DTE & Wash Cty Drain Commission. To visit the site contact

History:  The 206 Acre Newcomb Tract was purchased in 1929 from William W. and Esther M. Newcomb, originally intended as a site for an observatory. It was used for at least 19 years for ornithological and limnological studies by the Department of Zoology. In 1949, 80 acres of it was managed by the School of Natural Resources, which used the farm buildings and a nursery as headquarters for the forest management of Stinchfield Woods. In 1951 the adjacent 33 acre forested Murdock tract was also acquired, and remained a hardwood stand. SEAS now manages all 247 acres.


  1. Farmhouse – 4-5 bedrooms, one full bath, one full kitchen. As of 2015, caretakers are no longer housed in this building. Major equipment upgrades have been made, but the roof, gutters, and back and side porch, and possibly other structures are in need of repair.  Has septic, water, heat and power.  Building is considered historic. Potential use for meeting room. With upgrades could be reconsidered for a Caretaker cabin or for overnight retreats.
  2. Small Barn –  In good condition, recently organized for better research use.  Needs power lines and control panel in building repaired.
  3. Big Barn – Recently cleaned and organized with minor upgrades. Includes a workshop area with heated office, bathroom facilities, and a garage storage area that houses 6 boats/trailers, 2 canoes, and many aquatic & terrestrial supplies.
  4. The John Flook Dam – began in operation in 1966 to maintain water levels in Portage & Base Line Lakes. U-M has granted a limited easement to Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission for areas immediately around the Dam (shown fenced here).
  5. Remnant buildings foundations and old outhouse pit still exist and could be used for project sites.
  6. Fenced in area with power can be used for research.
  7. Atmospheric, Oceanic & Space Sciences (College of Engineering) has a small observatory and trailer they use periodically.
  8. The School of Public Health has a storage container and often use the fenced in area in the back for research.
  9. Researchers in SNRE collect data from a privately owned weather station.
Webster Township
247 acres
860-1,010 ft above sea level
Ecological Features: 

Newcomb Tract includes a large variety of habits within a relatively small area, including shoreline along the Huron River and Bass lake (approximately 5,000 linear feet), a small 3-acre lake surrounded by forested property, about 50 acres of hardwood forest with different management history, 51 acres of old fields, and 10 acres of open areas surrounding the farmhouse.

The forests include Scot’s pine (Pinus sylvestris), white pine (Pinus strobus), Norway spruce (Picea abies), and larch (Larix sp.), as well as red oak (Quercus rubra) and white oak (Quercus alba) on the uplands.  Wildlife is likely similar to Stinchfield, but with the inland lake and shoreline habitats, herps are also likely an important resident of Newcomb Tract.

Soil:  There are three main soil types typical of outwash plains and moraines found on this site: 1) Fox sandy loam, 2-6% slope, 2) Fox sandy loam, 6-12% slope, and 3) Fox sandy loam, 18-25% slope.

Topography:  Elevation at the site ranges from 860-1010 feet above sea level, creating a rolling topography with moderate to steep slopes.  Surface water includes the one unnamed approx. 3-acre lake within the property.  

Distance from campus: 
17.8 miles northwest
Open to Public?: 
Access Point: 
At Huron River Drive and Strawberry Lake Rd

Pole barn with workshop, small barn, and farm house

Current uses: 

Educational Use:  This site is occasionally use by some field courses including Field Ecology, and other EEB courses, as well as by students in the School of Public Health.

Research Use: Newcomb Tract has been referenced in at least 20 thesis and dissertations, and some additional publications (see below). The Murdock Tract in particular has a history of use for ornithological and limnological studies by the Zoology (now Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) Department, so historic data may exist. As with Stinchfield Woods, Newcomb tract was the subject of several studies related to forest management and pests, silivicultural practices, and succession, including Dr. Burton Barnes' Larch Provenance Trial and Western White Pine Provenance Experiments. More recent studies include soil ecology and landscape ecosystem type and management comparisons. Kathleen Bergen and Shannon Brines at the UM Environmental Spatial Analysis Lab have also collected, digitized, and analyzed spatial data on the management history, changes in forest structure and diversity, and land-cover and land-use changes surrounding Newcomb Tract. Newcomb is also is the site of an active and long-term mercury deposition study, now run by the Burton lab, and additional pollution research by Dvonch at the School of Public Health .

Public Use & Outreach Activities: While Newcomb does not technically have public access, and is not used by the public nearly as much as Stinchfield, there are some who use it for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, and fishing.


The relative proximity to Ann Arbor, variety of habitats within a small area, including a small private lake, easy parking and access, and direct access to river and lake frontage make this a uniquely and very useful field site for research, classes, as well as public outreach opportunities.

Specific additional opportunities at this site:

  • Shoreline erosion improvement activities could be done in ways that engage the local community on Baseline Lake, including the Sailing Club
  • Herp, fish, and other wildlife surveys including long-term comparisons with early surveys
  • With improvements, historic farmhouse could serve as a retreat facility or living area for weekend field classes.
  • Potential site for plant nursery or agricultural studies.

Additional Related Resources