Fish Lake preserve ideal for inspiring faculty and student research

Fish Lake preserve ideal for inspiring faculty and student research
EMU students look at juvenile amphibians (frog tadpoles and salamander larvae) that they trapped in one of the wetlands on the property. (Story photos courtesy of Katy Greenwald)

Few Michigan universities can claim a research site like Eastern’s Fish Lake Environmental Education Center, an unspoiled natural habitat with a wealth of geological and biological diversity.

Located near Lapeer, about 90 miles from Ypsilanti, Fish Lake includes 240 acres of fields, woodlands and wetlands filled with an extraordinary array of plants, wildlife and environmental features.

Visitors will find a variety of trees, from thick oak and hickory forests to pre-lumbering pines and hemlocks. Wetlands and bogs sit among ponds and streams. The site is adjacent to more than 5,000 acres of undeveloped state-owned land. Both areas support dozens of wildlife species, from snakes and salamanders to tree frogs and wild turkeys.

“Fish Lake is a lovely environment with a very interesting range of landscapes and species,” says Katy Greenwald, associate professor of Biology at Eastern. “It’s an ideal site for our work as biologists and extremely valuable from a teaching perspective.”

Eastern purchased the property in the 1960s from a farmer named William Mussing, who wanted the land maintained as a nature preserve. Kresge Foundation grants made in the 1970s supported the construction of three buildings: one for instructor lodging, a larger dorm that accommodates up to 60 adults, and a classroom/laboratory facility with a modern dining hall and commercial-grade kitchen.

“The facilities are really convenient for day trips or overnight stays,” Greenwald says. “It’s also a great site for long-term data collection. You can set up an experiment and check it a few times a year knowing it will be undisturbed.”  

One of Fish Lake’s notable features is a floating bog. Carbon dating has determined it to be about 10,000 years old.

“On the surface of a pond is a large, floating mat of vegetation,” Greenwald says. “You can wade out to the mat and walk on it. It has trees and carnivorous plants. The whole mass is floating on the water and bounces like a trampoline. It’s an incredibly rare feature that represents the landscape’s great diversity.”

Greenwald uses the site to study salamanders and teach a field course in herpetology—the behavior and ecology of amphibians and reptiles. Students learn sampling methods, set traps and identify different types of salamanders, frogs, turtles and snakes.

“A few species that turned up surprised me, like Redbellied and Milk snakes, which are pretty rare,” Greenwald says.

Other Biology faculty study birds, prairie plants and arachnids (spiders) at Fish Lake, but the site isn’t limited to biologists. Geography and Geology and Physics and Astronomy faculty also use the site. Other visitors include Oakland University, the University of Michigan-Flint, students from Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, and the Boy Scouts. Even a local quilting group used Fish Lake for a retreat.

“We’d love to have more people rent the Fish Lake facility,” Greenwald says. “No one in southeast Michigan can offer the great diversity of landscape and organisms along with a residential setup. The experience Fish Lake provides students can also be life-changing. Students tell me regularly that the class at Fish Lake was their favorite college experience. Some entered field research or graduate school for further study. Fish Lake provides a method of learning that can’t happen any other way.”

To learn more about Fish Lake or facility rental opportunities, visit the Fish Lake website or contact Biology Department Chair Marianne Laporte at 734.487.4242 or You can also learn more by visiting the Fish Lake Environmental Education Center Facebook page.

March 14, 2018

Written by:
Jeff Samoray

Darcy Gifford