A Brief History of Saginaw Forest

Forestry first was recognized as a field of instruction at the University of Michigan in late spring, 1901. However the first courses were not taught until 1902-1903 and the Department of Forestry was not established until 1903. One of the early needs of the department was an area for research and teaching. University Regent Arthur Hill from Saginaw deeded 80 acres of property to the department with the stipulation that it be used as a demonstration and experimental area for forestry and named it the "Saginaw Forestry Farm,"  although this name was changed in 1919 to "Saginaw Forest." As of the mid 1950s, many older residents of Ann Arbor still referred to it as the "Forestry Farm." (Dana, 1953).

At the time of deeding, almost all the land had been cleared of trees and used for agriculture although some small areas of secondary growth oak and hickory were on steeper slopes and the wetlands around the lake had good growth of elm, aspen, willow and red and silver maples. The land had been rented for farming before it was deeded to the university and Young (1928) notes that the soil had deteriorated under these practices and was in poor condition. Steeper slopes were badly washed and numerous eroding gullies had been formed there (Young, 1928). Third Sister Lake was originally designated as a potential source for potable drinking water for Ann Arbor (Weld, 1904).

The department board promptly appropriated $557 to begin work on the property. Planting started in 1904 on the poorer soils and continued until 1915 when most of the area was covered. 40 species, of which 28 were not native to southeastern Michigan and 10 non-native to the United States were planted on 55 acres (Dana, 1953, Young, 1928). It is worth noting that some of the land on better soils was still under lease for farming purposes until 1915 (Young, 1928).

A co-operative agreement was signed with the U.S. Forest Service in January 1906. At least 20 acres of Saginaw Forest was to be set aside as the "Ann Arbor Forest Experiment Station" to be managed and maintained by UM and USFS. The goal of this co-operative work was to determine by experimental planting the species and cultural methods that were best suited to southern Michigan. Annual expenses were estimated at $200, to be shared equally between the two institutions. Extensive planting was done in 1906-1907 in accordance with this agreement, but there are no further records of active involvement by the USFS in Saginaw Forest (Dana, 1953. However, see Webber, 1966 for a USFS project that did utilize Saginaw Forest). The annual campfire occurred in the fall and a weekend long field day took place in the spring for many years.

When the land was deeded, an old barn stood on the southeastern corner of the property. In 1914, the frame of this structure was sold to a neighboring farmer. In was decided that some sort of shelter was needed for tools, work crews, and classes, so the stone cabin was built in 1915 at a cost of a little over $300. Unfortunately, the need of a caretaker's residence was not foreseen. Initial plans for the building were drawn by Professor Beverly Robinson of the Department of Architecture. Wood was kept to a minimum due to fire concerns which prompted criticism from some alumini (Dana, 1953). A separate storage building was built in 1947.

A variety of thinning experiments were conducted on Saginaw Forest from 1915 until the early 1950s. Insect and weather related damage has occurred sporadically in the forest, but most of the early damage to forest stands was grazing on young saplings by mice and rabbits (Spurr et al., 1957, Young, 1928). Hunting in the early years restricted the damage caused by rabbits, but the activity was on-and-off again regulated and prohibited. Rodenticide (a mixture of tallow, strychnine, and saccharin) was twice applied to limit mouse grazing. (Young, 1928).

Fishing was banned on Third Sister Lake in 1932, although some angling occurred in concurrence with the studies of Ball, Brown, and Hayne in the early 1940s. In 1941, rotenone was used to kill all fish in Third Sister Lake as part of a project to examine fish production in the lake (Ball, 1943, 1947, 1948, Ball and Hayne, 1952 and Brown and Ball, 1942). The agricultural land that has surrounded Saginaw Forest has gradually given way to a variety of more urban development and construction, especially on the land bordering Saginaw Forest to the east (Hammer, 1995).

Dioxane was found in Third Sister Lake and the small intermittent creek that feeds it starting in 1984-1985, although it is likely that dioxane had been present there for several years, perhaps since 1966 when the Gelman Corporation started producing waste including this product. Samples taken in 1986 from the caretaker's well and Third Sister Lake found dioxane levels to be nearly 20 times the legal limit for drinking water and nearly at the legal limit for bodily contact (Englebert et al., 1988). More recently, salt inputs from increasing urban development may have affected the stability of Third Sister Lake (Bridgeman et al., 2000, Hammer and Stoemer, 1997, Judd et al., 2005. In the late 1980s, a zooplankton predator,Leptodora kindtiiwas accidentally introduced into Third Sister Lake (Mcnaught et al., 2004).

In 2008, the School of Natural Resources and the Environment began the current process to develop a management plan for the property. This process utilizes the talents and knowledge of local residents and neighbors, students, professors and a forestry consulting/landscape architecture firm to better plan for future research, education and demonstration, and recreational public use of the forest property.