Known for the ability for birders to get up close to wildlife and offer amazing views, the Fish Point Wildlife Area is a large sanctuary. With over 3,700 acres and including about seven miles along the Saginaw Bay shoreline. Before 1950, all of the present wildlife was in private ownership. The State began acquiring the land in 1950 for “protecting natural shoreline habitat and enhancing waterfowl production, improving resting and feeding areas for migratory waterfowl and providing waterfowl hunting opportunities.”
By 1959 about 2,000 acres had been acquired and were being administered by the Michigan Department of Conservation. Approximately half of the total acreage was dedicated as a wildlife refuge in 1958.
Today, Fish Point Wildlife Area has thousands of hunters tromp in the area annually, and tens of thousands of wildlife viewing trips each year. Fish Point is a designated DNR Watchable Wildlife Site.
Sebewaing FFA Natural Trail
The Sebewaing FFA (Future Farmers of America), established a trail and erected interpretive signs at the Fish Point Wildlife Area in the 1970s. The trail went without maintenance for many years before the Fish Point Wildlife Association, and the Michigan DNR received a Saginaw Bay WIN grant in 2003 to make the current trail improvements and educational features possible. The Fish Point Wildlife Area includes a wildlife and waterfowl observation tower and a wetland restoration project.
This 1 1/2 mile trail begins at the observation tower and continues along the dike tops of the wetland impoundments managed for wildlife. Interpretive signs are located along the trail. The trail is closed during the hunting season.
Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands
Gracing our Great Lakes Shorelines, coastal wetlands are one of Michigan’s genuinely unique ecosystems. Coastal wetlands are found on all five of the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair. Coastal wetlands are actually made up of several different zones ranging to submerged vegetation, like wild cherry, to wet prairie plants such as blazing star and big bluestem.
One of the more unusual things about coastal wetlands is that they are continually changing, shifting back and forth with the rise and fall of the Great Lakes, powerful storms, and fires. These different vegetative zones, which change from year to year and season to season, provide the right mix of cover, food, and water to attract an abundance of wildlife, particularly birds. The marches attract a variety of ducks, geese, swans, grebes, rails herons, plovers, sandpipers gulls, and terns.
Migratory Flyway Support of Fish Point
Saginaw Bay, which lies within the Mississippi Flyway, is one of the most critical wetland complexes for ducks, geese, and swans in the Great Lakes region. Saginaw Bay supports an annual migrating population of over 3 million waterfowl. The average peak duck population during November exceeds 100,000.
Coastal Wetlands Value to Fisheries
Of the nearly 200 fish species in the Great Lakes, more than 90% use coastal marshes during some part of their life. Fish such as the northern pike and yellow perch spawn in coastal wetlands in early spring. Marches serve as an essential nursery habitat with abundant invertebrates providing food for immature fish.
At Fish Point, coastal emergent marshes and county drains running through the area serve as spawning and nursery areas for yellow perch and northern pike, channel catfish, pumpkinseeds, black crappies, suckers, bullheads, carp, and other fish species.
When Water Levels Change on the Great Lakes
As Great Lakes water levels rise and fall, this can drastically alter the wetland plant community. Beyond the emergent zones, lies broadband of submergent vegetation. Cottontail, common waterweed, and water lilies all the 2 to 3-foot depths. If the water levels recede, a rapid invasion of emergent plants moves across the newly exposed muck to form dense stands of arrowhead, yellow pond lily, and soft stem bulrush.If the water continues to drop, cattails move in an dominate.
In low water, wet meadows develop of wild rice.
For decades, State Wildlife Areas around Saginaw Bay have provided outdoor recreational opportunities for hunters, trappers and wildlife viewers. This area supports a great diversity of wildlife populations.
Loss of Saginaw Bay Coastal Wetlands
There has been approximately a 50% loss in wetlands in the Saginaw Bay area since European settlement. Total area in coastal wetlands may have excess 70,000 acres around the Bay in pre-settlement times. More than 70% of the inland coastal wetlands have been converted to agriculture, while fewer than 1% of the original wet prairies remain.
Agricultural development was accompanied by extensive scale drainage and was well underway by the late 1800s. Indeed as a condition of a homesteading deed, landholders agreed to make improvements such as draining swamps and land.
By 1917, there were already 2016 miles of drains in Bay County and 235 miles in Tuscola County.
More Reading on Fish Point State Wildlife Area
The Amazing Boardwalk Trails of Huron Nature Center – The Huron County Nature Center is located midway between Caseville and Port Austin. The wilderness arboretum offers over 120 acres of woods, dunes, marsh connected by an intensive trail system. This offers a glimpse of the upper thumb as it appeared 100 years ago.
The Secrets of Sleeper State Park – Visitors can watch both sunrises and sunsets on Saginaw Bay, relax in the shade and seclusion under the tall oaks in the campground or roam the trails of the ancient dune forests. It’s one of the most widely visited parks in Southeast Michigan. Yet the park contains impressive secrets.
Camp in a Ghost Town at Port Crescent State Park – Port Crescent State Park is one of the largest state parks in southern Michigan. Located at the tip of Michigan’s “thumb” along three miles of the sandy shoreline of Lake Huron Saginaw Bay, the park offers excellent canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, birding, and hunting opportunities. However, a little-known aspect of this park is that it sits on the location of a ghost town.
Fun at Caseville Campground Since 1919 – Caseville County Park was and is a premier beachfront park in Michigan’s Thumb. The park first opened in 1919 and has been a Caseville campground and beach destination for Southeast Michigan. The park is located on the site of a former sawmill and salt production operation.