Behind the Scenery at Seney
Seney National Wildlife Refuge and Museum
By Mikel B. Classen
The "Seney Stretch," the words terrify the faint of heart. All of those familiar with it dread the driving of the "stretch." It is 25 miles of flat, jack pine wetlands that are between Seney and Shingleton in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This is a drive that is considered so boring, that stopping for strong coffee before daring to make the crossing is mandatory. But looks can be deceiving.
Behind the scenery at Seney are some amazing things. If one watches and looks hard enough, the rewards can be rare gems indeed. The amount of wildlife concentrated in this area is staggering. Behind those jack pines, and sometimes right in front of you, is the home for nearly every species of wildlife and migrating birds that are in the State of Michigan including rare and endangered species. A visit to the refuge itself and its museum/headquarters can be very enlightening.
The well-marked entrance to the Headquarters, located three miles south of M-28 at Seney on M-77, is situated just west of the highway. The U.S. Forest Service has set up a visitor's center which provides details on the Seney area in one concise package.
The Center doubles as an information center and museum. Exhibits depict history, ecology and wildlife management. Displays range from actual specimens of wildlife in the refuge, methods of identification, habitats and habits, to general information on wildlife and conservation. This is all done with the aid of dioramas, models, visitor participation boards, movies, photos, and the rangers who are present, willing to talk and filled with stories and information.
The tour becomes a comprehensive course on wildlife and why management coupled with environmental protection and conservation is vital,an admirable mix of education and entertainment.
The Seney Wildlife Refuge was created in 1935 as a project for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCCs).When the area was logged in the late 1800s the region left a wetland and the land itself was left behind with no ownership having reverted back to the State of Michigan. It was decided to try to drain the water to create farmland. It didn't work. The surrounding area is a spring laden swamp that wouldn't be drained. However it left behind a system of drainage ditches and ponds.
In 1935, Canada geese were an endangered species. It's hard to believe today, now they again fly the sky in abundance. Hunting pressure had nearly decimated the geese, so it was deemed, some kind of nesting area needed to be provided to keep the numbers of geese from failing. The CCCs built an interlinking system of ponds and streams. When it was all done, there was over 7,000 acres of open water within 26 ponds or small lakes. The place became dedicated to the preservation, protection and production of migratory birds and wildlife. The visitor center includes a nice historical display that illustrates the scope of this mammoth project.
A souvenir room holds T-shirts, sweat shirts, and photo prints of wildlife in all sizes ranging from poster to postcard. Stationery and trinkets are offered for sale. All money, after covering costs, helps maintain the center and refuge--money well spent.
The rangers provide a good insight into their goals and basic purposes. Documentation and data collected on both endangered and common species fills volumes, much of it provided by visitors. A log is kept with different species sightings by visitors to the refuge. The rangers state 80% of all information on Michigan wildlife comes from the Seney Refuge, and proves invaluable. Virtually every species of wildlife that is native or passes through Michigan can be found on the refuge at one time or another.
The visitor center is only the beginning. The Refuge is also open to visitors. A seven mile drive, built by the Forest Service, cuts through bayous and wetlands that make up most of the Seney stretch landscape. The abundance of wildlife seen is unexpected and staggering. There are nesting bald eagles, trumpeter swans, beaver, song birds, turtles, wolves and deer. All can be seen in a drive around the refuge. Turnouts along the road afford walking and observing refuge wildlife at a leisurely pace and close range. A camera is a must for this visit.
For the more ambitious visitor, the Forest Service provides hiking trails, offering even more rare views of wildlife. Limited hunting and fishing are allowed on the refuge. Very stringent rules must be followed to the letter. More information can be obtained by writing: Seney Wildlife Refuge, HCR2, Box 1, Seney, Michigan 49883.
Canoeing is allowed and is a productive means to view wildlife. Rentals are available in Germfask, 13 miles south of the Visitors' Center. The Manistique River cuts through this town and the heart of the refuge. Several navigable tributaries provide additional miles of exploring and pleasure.
For winter buffs, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing are allowed, but no snowmobiles. No trails are groomed; still the area provides something different for a winter day or weekend.Investigate the Refuge for even more possibilities.
Wildlife abounds in the "Seney Stretch." Instead of lamenting the bleakness of the drive, watch closely for a glimpse of its beauty and wildlife. The Seney stretch is filled with the rarest of gems. Explore it, don't ignore it.
For more information, check out their website: