History of the Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary
The Phyllis Haehnle (pronounced Hane-lee) Memorial Sanctuary has a very interesting history. Up until 1921, there were many marshes along the Portage River of Jackson County in which hundreds of Wood Ducks would feed on wild rice. Many hunters owned or leased large tracts of marsh as their private hunting preserves, and the legal "take" was very liberal by today's standards. Common Loons nested on Eagle Lake as late as 1918, and Ruffed Grouse were fairly common in the area, but interestingly enough, there were no White-tailed Deer. But in 1921, the Portage River was dredged and straightened, and Mud Lake, which drained into the Portage River, became Mud Lake Marsh, as the marshes along the river became reduced.
After the river was dredged, drained, and straightened, the area northeast of Mud Lake was farmed to produce onions, potatoes, corn, sod, and peppermint. Unfortunately, since it's dredging in 1921, the Portage River Drain has silted in, flooding the adjacent fields until they were unsuitable for farming. During the Depression, veteran soldiers and sailors were allowed to take wood from a strip of state land east of the present sanctuary. Fortunately, the stately Tulip trees growing in the Beech-Maple woods southeast of the Mud Lake Marsh were unaffected by the cutting.
During the 1930's, the Federal Government planned the Waterloo Recreation Area, which would retire many acres of sub marginal land from agriculture and provide areas for public hunting, fishing and recreation in southeastern Michigan, with Mud Lake Marsh on the western edge of the Recreation Area. Another incident from the 30's gave Bogus Lake, a small, deeper lake north of the Mud Lake Marsh it's name. A group of counterfeiters, fleeing officers of the Treasury Department, dumped their printing plates into the lake so as to avoid being caught with them. As farming ended, the area gradually reverted to marsh. An old peppermint still, just north of the sanctuary boundary, is the only reminder of the farming activity in the area.
One of the hunters attracted to the area was Casper "Cap" Haehnle, who over the years purchased several pieces of property in the area, including Mud Lake Marsh. After purchasing Mud Lake Marsh, Cap Haehnle built a hunting cabin on "Eagle Island", the high ground between Mud Lake Marsh and Eagle Lake to the west.
In 1935, Dr. Lawrence Walkinshaw, a Muskegon dentist and avid birder, noticed the potential of the Mud Lake Marsh while on his way to the Portage Marsh nearby. He returned several times over the next 20 years. In all Dr. Walkinshaw listed 138 species of birds, including Yellow Rail, Greater Prairie Chicken, and nesting Great Blue Herons. The area was also a favorite birding spot for Harold Wing, a member of the Audubon Society.
By the mid-forties, Cap Haehnle wasn't hunting as much as he used to. About this time Harold Wing approached Cap Haehnle about making the Mud Lake Marsh into an Audubon Sanctuary. At first, Cap Haehnle was uncertain about whether Michigan Audubon Society could keep Mud Lake Marsh as a Nature Sanctuary. But on January 22, 1955, after many visits by Harold Wing (accompanied by other Michigan Audubon members) he was convinced of Michigan Audubon's commitment, and Cap Haehnle gave the Michigan Audubon Society 497 acres, including Mud Lake Marsh. The Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary is named after the Haehnle's only daughter, Phyllis Haehnle Clancy, who died in 1950. Since Cap Haehnle's original gift of 497 acres, gifts from Cap's granddaughter, Judy Cory, and purchases by the Michigan Audubon Society, including the recent Klee Tract addition, have enlarged the sanctuary to over 1,000 acres. The sanctuary is owned by the Michigan Audubon Society and managed by the Jackson Audubon Society.
Many things have changed around Mud Lake in the last 95 years. The last Greater Prairie Chicken boomed his courting call in 1941, and the Great Blue Herons found other nesting areas after 1952. On the other hand, Canada Geese, which were uncommon in the 1950's, are now regular nesters at the sanctuary, and White-tailed Deer, which were unseen 80 years ago, have increased to the point of being destructive to local farm crops. Wild Rice, which vanished along the southern border of the marsh, is abundant once again. The one thing that has not changed in the last 60 years is the stewardship of the sanctuary by the Jackson and Michigan Audubon Societies. Haehnle Sanctuary continues to serve it's intended purpose as a sanctuary for wildlife in an increasingly developed world.