Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary
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Shelby Township Historical Committee

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Shelby Township is home to a unique piece of property known as the Wilcox Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

The sanctuary, owned by The Michigan Nature Association (MNA), and dedicated in 1975, was a gift from Harold L. Warnes. The 45-acre parcel located at Schoenherr Road and 26 Mile Road has 27 acres of woods with a tiny stream and 18 acres of open area, part dry and part wet.

As described by the MNA, a nature sanctuary is a place where all living organisms have been and will be left alone in the future to continue in age-old rhythms; a place where one can see the living space for hundreds of native species just as they were before the first settlers came 150 years ago. These fast disappearing natural areas have a diversity of life forms unimaginable to the casual naturalist who sees only his back yard and old fields. These few existing natural areas show the way our Michigan used to be, everywhere, and are the homes of endangered species.History

A historical piece of property, the 45 acres is part of 160 acres originally a land grant signed by Andrew Jackson, April 4, 1833, to David Wilcox, who deeded it to his son Willett, when Willett became 21 in 1842. Willett Wilcox was the father of Anna Wilcox who eventually became joint tenant of the property with Harold L. Warnes, and allowed the property to pass to him upon her death in 1956.

The southern 27 acres of the sanctuary is a mixed hardwood forest containing 30 species of trees. Although the largest have been cut, many fine examples still remain. 400 to 500 tulip or whitewood trees exist on the property.

The north 18 acres of land was last plowed in 1957 and natural processes of succession have resulted in many small trees appearing. Sun and water-loving plants such as marsh fern, penstemon, kalms lobelia, and bottle gentian occur on the part of the new preserve.

Growing in the Warnes Woods are a few large round-leaved orchids, also known as the "dinner plate" orchid because of the size of the two leaves. These are a remnant from the time the area around Ray Center and Davis was rich in native flora in its bogs and swamps before the coming of civilization and drainage.

The woods have never been grazed and will be left untouched and let to grow natures way as it has in the past.

Warnes was born on a farm in Macomb Township in 1893. He attended Macomb school to the eighth grade, and then went to the Davis school until he finished the tenth grade in 1911. He used to pass the Wilcox place walking to the Davis school.

The year after he finished the Davis school, he applied for a job as a farm hand with John Rowley, whose second wife; Mary Wilcox had survived Willett Wilcox. Rowley was a civil war veteran.

Anna Wilcox, born in 1867, was the daughter of Willett and Mary Wilcox, and went to Hawaii in 1896 for seventeen years, returning after Willetts death to care for her mother.

Warnes was still farming the property, which had cows, chickens, hogs, and grew sileage corn and some wheat. He became joint tenant of the property in 1951 with Anna Wilcox, and upon her death in 1956, became sole owner.

Warnes never married. An older brother, William, lived in the Oxford area. A twin brother, Don, lived with Harold Warnes on the Wilcox property until his death. Don was an amputee. Both William and Donald were veterans of World War One, from which Harold was exempted because of needed farm work and the need for food.

He kept about ten milkers and three or four heifers before selling out this stock in the fall of 1959.

The Michigan Nature Association (MNA) was founded in 1952 by Bertha Daubenkiek originally as the Macomb Nature Association. The intent of the organization is to preserve sanctuaries of forests, marshes, bogs, lakes, prairies, and dunes using private funds. Today, the Association owns 151 permanent sanctuaries encompassing over 7,600 acres in 53 Michigan counties.

There is no hunting, fishing, camping, or trapping allowed in the sanctuaries. However, visitors are welcome for hiking, birding, photography, or simply a leisure stroll through the woods. A few sanctuaries are considered so pristine; they can only be visited when accompanied by a guide.

"We never were able to buy a woods in Macomb County. At the time we first started purchasing nature sanctuaries in 1960, land in Macomb County was already way beyond our means, and we had to go to a farther removed county, St. Clair, and over into Oakland, to purchase land at $100 an acre. Since then prices have escalated 10,20,30 times and now we can only find comparatively bargain priced land in the Upper Peninsula." Bertha Daubenkiek, said in a 1973 interview for the Romeo Observer.

The land will never be subdivided according to Mr. Warnes wish. It is, instead, the closest MNA sanctuary to Detroit, and the first nature sanctuary in Macomb County.

The Wilcox sanctuary is open to the public only for periodically scheduled field trips. Groups may visit by appointment. Direct inquiries to: MNA, 326 E. Grand River Ave., Williamston, MI 48895-1418

 

By Dan Kaczorowski

Sources: Michigan Nature Association

The Romeo Observer 4/16/73

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