Saginaw Forest

Saginaw Forest is an 80-acre parcel of land comprising about 55 acres of plantations, Third Sister Lake, and surrounding wetlands. Located 5 miles west of the university campus on Liberty Road, Saginaw Forest lends itself well to the study of forest and sustainable ecosystem management. It serves as a setting for research on diverse topics, including woody plants, forest ecology, freshwater ecology, and soil properties and processes.

The land was a gift to the university from University Regent Arthur Hill of Saginaw in 1903. Some of the land had been used for farming and the soil was in poor condition, so students and faculty in the newly established Department of Forestry (forerunner of SEAS) set to work planting trees. Planting continued until 1937. Several tree species, both native and exotic, make this a rich environment for training and research.

Saginaw Forest is open to the public from sunrise to sunset only. Further,

  • No vehicles may park in front of the access gate at any time. 
  • No vehicles or bicycles are permitted on-site. Bikes can park at Liberty Gate. 
  • No camping is allowed at any time.
  • Dogs must be on a leash, and owners must bring doggie bags to carry out pet waste. We do not have facilities to collect waste.
  • Cutting or collecting of plants and hunting or harming of vertebrates are not permitted

Learn more about Saginaw Forest:

Scio Township
80 acres
900-1,100 ft above sea level
Ecological Features: 

Saginaw Forest’s primary features are forested areas and a 10-acre lake. The property is surrounded on three sides by old farm fields, sub-divisions and commercial developments. The interior is a diverse assemblage of deciduous hardwood stands (14 acres) and approximately 33 acres of conifer plantations of pines, firs and spruce, largely succeeding into a maple forest. To the northwest of the site is also an Arboretum. Saginaw Forest is one of only 2 known sites in the world of the rare Murray’s Birch (Betula murryana), discovered and named by U of M forest ecologist Burt Barnes (Barnes and Dancik 1985).

Third Sister Lake is 3.8 ha kettle lake of glacial origin (one of 3 similar lakes in the area) that nearly bisects the northern end of the property and has a fish community including bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish and large-mouth bass. Lake and groundwater dioxane contamination from the Gelman Corporation was discovered in the 1980s and annual monitoring now occurs, showing decreased levels.

The lake is bordered by a marsh on the eastern edge, which is composed of invasive common reed (Phragmites), soft maple, willow and aspen. The western edge empties into a peat bog bordering the property. The marsh in this area is composed primarily of native cattails, invasive reed canary grass and a mixture of soft maple and elm. Both marshes are semi-permanently flooded.

Just 75m south of the lake is a large pond bordered by white cedar and invasive buckthorn on the northern edges and a mesic oak–hickory forest with interspersed historical plantings of other species including Norway maple, spruce, and red pine on the southern edge. The green ash trees that once bordered the western edge are now dead. Three species of turtles, painted, Blanding’s and snapping are seasonal inhabitants of the pond. The pond is also a breeding habitat for five species of amphibians including, wood frogs, green frogs, spring peepers, gray tree frogs and chorus frogs. Grass frogs and American toads also occasionally reproduce in the pond. The mixed hardwood forest south of the pond serves as the terrestrial habitat for these amphibians.

A seasonal stream flows through a Douglas fir and oak-hickory forest into Third Sister Lake on the eastern edge of the property. This stream has an unconsolidated bottom of cobble-gravel and organic matter and serves as an important habitat, particularly during dry years, for juvenile and adult frogs. The northwestern corner of the property contains seasonally flooded forested wetland of broad-leaved deciduous trees. Two ephemeral ponds, with breeding populations of wood frogs, spring peepers and gray tree frogs border the northern property line.

Soil: There are seven major soil types found:
1. Fox sandy loam, 2-6% slopes
2. Fox sandy loam, 6-12% slopes
3. Miami loam, 2-6% slopes
4. Miami loam, 6-12% slopes
5. Miami loam, 12-18% slopes
6. Houghton muck
7. Wasepi sandy loam, 0-4% slopes

Topography: Most of the site consists of level to gentle slopes with a few steep slopes. In recent years, erosion has been occurring, particularly during large storm events, creating an incised creek situation with water flowing from development to the east and south toward Third Sister Lake.

Distance from campus: 
4.4 miles west
Open to Public?: 
Sunrise to Sunset

Small cabin, barn, and outhouse.

Current uses: 

Field site for classes and projects like soil ecology, forest ecology, limnology, mushrooms, and restoration ecology. Used by other local Universities. Research includes forest ecology and management, lake ecology, amphibian ecology, and green buildings. Recreation uses include walking, hiking, bird watching, and dog walking(on leash only). For research access please email


Saginaw Forest is an excellent field site to study and demonstrate concepts of sustainability due to its proximity to campus, forestry history, existing buildings, and mix of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Specific additional opportunities at this site:
• Potential ecological restoration and forest management research and teaching (and public outreach partnered with NGOs) for certain portions of the site - invasive species removal, prescribed burns, plantings, etc. Saginaw offers the unique opportunity to observe the succession of and participate in the restoration of several different plantations, including one of the oldest pine plantations in the country. While Saginaw is often the subject of student restoration plans, as part of their work in the Ecological Restoration course, these plans have great potential for hands-on learning if implemented and monitored.
• Landscape Architecture or planning courses could study, create, and implement plans to manage stormwater and surficial water flow issues causing stream bank erosion on site. There is access to the private stream that feeds Third Sister Lake.
• Research or student project on feasibility of using stormwater surge for hydroelectric power.
• Murray Birch preservation research
• Continued study of Third Sister Lake, which is changing over time due to urbanization an invasive zooplankton and could be compared with the other Sister lakes which have similar origin but different ages and context.
• 1,4-Dioxane monitoring
• Edge effects research – studying changes from agriculture to development conversion on boundary of forest property
• Community engagement assessment: Public use is high and will increase with development to the west and northwest. Assessment could be made of community perceptions, use, and engagement with the site, also to evaluate the effectiveness of the interpretive signage that will go in in 2017.
• Green building construction or renovation, given the needs and great potential use of the current structures.


One of only 2 sites in the world for Murray Birch.