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.
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
are 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 that 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 nature's 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 Willett's death to
care for her mother.
Warnes was still farming the property,
which had cows, chickens, hogs, and he grew silage 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 leisurely 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
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