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U.S. Forest Service

Eastern Region Viewing Area


Ottawa Visitor Center native plant gardens map. Ottawa Visitor Center native plant gardens map.

Ottawa Visitor Center upland native plant and pollinator garden. Ottawa Visitor Center upland native plant and pollinator garden. Photo by Sue Trull, Ottawa National Forest.

Planting the Ottawa Visitor Center rain/wetland garden. Planting the Ottawa Visitor Center rain/wetland garden. Photo by Sue Trull, Ottawa National Forest.

Ottawa Visitor Center rain/wetland garden after 2 months. Ottawa Visitor Center rain/wetland garden after 2 months. Photo by Sue Trull, Ottawa National Forest.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Monarch butterfly caterpillar on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) at Ottawa Visitor Center rain garden. Photo by Sue Trull, Ottawa National Forest.

Ottawa Visitor Center Native Plant and Pollinator Upland and Wetland Gardens

Forest: Ottawa National Forest

District: Watersmeet Ranger District

Description: On the grounds of the Forest Visitor Center in Watersmeet, Michigan, are two native plant gardens. One is a small upland garden, which may be reached by a short path from the Visitor Center, or may be viewed from inside the center. This garden was established as a National Public Lands Day project in September 1999. The approximately 100 square-foot garden features sun-loving and mesic soil-associated species.

Plant species in this garden include: bottlebrush, Canada wildrye and big bluestem grasses; white meadowsweet; blue-eyed grass; smooth oxeye, woodland, and giant sunflowers; black-eyed susan; Canadian anemone; Lindley’s, calico, and bigleaf asters; common cinquefoil; common self-heal; wild bergamot; and Canada goldenrod. Spotted joe pye weed occupies a wet corner where the roof drains. Plants are labeled and there is an interpretive panel about pollinators. The abundant yellow sunflowers and purple bergamot in mid-late summer attract many butterflies. This garden produces a small amount of native seed for use in Forest projects.

The second garden is a work in progress, planted in 2010 as part of construction of new administrative offices across an access road from the Visitor Center. Roof and pavement runoff from these offices is piped under the road into a natural depression. The basin was cleared in 2009 and a drainage channel added, so that the site could be developed into a rain garden. Due to soil conditions and final drainage elevations, water is held in the lowest part of the rain garden nearly continually, so that it functions more as a wetland garden than a rain garden. The area serves to hold and allow infiltration of runoff, lowering erosion and flood risk and providing pollutant abatement. This garden features wetland species that can tolerate some flooding.

The rain/wetland garden was planted with over 2000 seedlings in June 2010. Seeds were collected on the Ottawa National Forest in 2009 and started inside for planting as seedlings in June. Species planted include: Canadian anemone; swamp milkweed; white turtlehead; parasol whitetop and purplestem asters; spotted joe pye weed; boneset; sneezeweed; smooth oxeye; great St. Johnswort; northern blue flag iris; wild golden-glow; purple meadow rue; seep and Allegheny monkeyflowers; green bulrush and woolgrass; blue joint, rattlesnake manna and Virginia wildrye grasses; and fringed and common fox sedge. The seep monkeyflower is a rare plant, listed as Regional Forester’s Sensitive and Michigan special concern. Seeds were collected from a documented large and secure population on the Ottawa.

The rain garden includes milkweeds, which are the exclusive food for caterpillars of the vulnerable monarch butterfly. Monarch butterfly caterpillars were found at the site a few weeks after planting and butterflies are expected to return in future years. Dragonflies are also common visitors to this garden.

Safety First: A paved parking lot is available at the Visitor Center. The short trails to the gardens pose few hazards. Biting insects and wood or deer ticks may be present. Some plants in the gardens are poisonous; do not collect any plant parts.

Directions: The gardens are located at the Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center, on the southeast corner of Highways 2 and 45 in Watersmeet, Michigan. The entrance is about 100 yards east of the intersection, on the south side of US Highway 2. Parking is available at the Visitor Center any time. The center is open for visitors Monday through Wednesday and Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer, and Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The upland garden is adjacent to the center, on its southeast side, reached by stepping-stones from a sidewalk near the front door of the center. The wetland garden is east of the center, off the main parking lot loop, to the south, also reached by stepping-stones.

Other Features: The Visitor Center offers free, fully accessible facilities, Forest Service information, visitor information, interpretive programs, nature films, and an interpretive hiking trail. A small gift shop is also included.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Ottawa National Forest, Watersmeet/Iron River Ranger District. Contact the Ottawa National Forest at (906) 932-1330 for more information.

Closest Town: Watersmeet, Michigan.