One of our most diverse properties is the Cedar River Preserve. A mixture of river, wetlands and forest come together to create a home for a wide variety of flora and fauna. Throughout the 548 acres of wetlands is a world unseen by most. Fen, shrub, and aquatic systems provide a haven for wildlife such as sandhill cranes and rare carnivorous plants like sundew. A FQI (floristic quality index) is a tool used to measure the quality of plant life in a specific area. A good FQI rating that marks conservation significance is 35 and above. Areas with FQIs greater than 50 are extremely rare and indicate significant native biodiversity. Cedar River Preserve rates a weighty 91.1. If you’ve ever experienced a peaceful, leisurely paddle down the Cedar River, these impressive numbers don’t come as a shock at all.
The Cedar River Preserve is in Solon Swamp, near the southwest corner of South Lake Leelanau. With the exception of some cedars that were chopped down over 100 years ago, the area has seen very little human impact; and the surrounding wildlife have thrived because of it. Today the preserve has over 260 plant species. “Some of these more rare species require a very specific habitat to survive,” says LC Land Steward Emily Douglas. “The Cedar River Preserve draw in aquatic macroinvertebrates.” A personal favorite of Emily’s is a special orchid. “There are different species here, but my favorite is the Rose Pagonia. It’s really simple and small, just a single flower.”
Plant species at CRP live aboveground, underwater, and a mix of both. Gorgeous green lily pads can be seen floating atop the river in spring, but there are also lesser known plants like bladderwort that reside in both worlds. “They’re mostly in the water, and have these little bladder shaped traps that draw in mosquitoes, amoeba, and other insects,” says Emily. Among the rarities are also standby swamp favorites like cattails, tamaracks, dogwood and more that all create the preserve’s peaceful ambiance.
Other creatures living at CRP are fish, turtles, otters, sandhill cranes, the list goes on. “We always see something anytime we’re out there. Once when we were monitoring in a canoe there was a huge snapping turtle with all of this plant life on his shell. We almost missed him because he blended in so well. He was really cool, like the grandfather of Cedar River Preserve.” Every type of wildlife that can be found in Leelanau can be found at CRP because it offers forest and wetlands that provide for them.
It’s always a worthwhile experience to take a paddle on the river. The slow flowing, easy to navigate river is easy to travel upstream and down. There are a few sections where the river diverges. These detours are worth checking out if you’ve got an afternoon to dedicate to exploring. If not, the main river will eventually lead you to Lake Leelanau. Start at boat launch in Cedar Village Park. You’ll reach the Conservancy property after about 4 miles (1.5 hours paddling).
We’re so proud of this compelling property and the hard work of staff and volunteers to continue to protect what’s at Cedar River Preserve so it can flourish. We encourage all to visit and enjoy one of the wildest places left in Leelanau.