- No biking or jogging on the trails
- No dogs in the Natural Areas
- No fishing
- No picnicking
- Areas are open from sunrise to sunset
The 300+ acre Environmental Study Area (ESA), adjacent to the former home of Henry and Clara Ford, features many natural habitats. These include a mature beech-maple forest, a floodplain forest, an upland mesic forest, meadows, an 8-acre lake, and the Rouge River on its western border.
The ESA continues to be managed as a nature sanctuary. As an oasis for biological diversity in the middle of a highly urbanized area, it remains important in the preservation of our local natural heritage. The ESA landscape continues to change. New challenges to its stewardship, based on an assortment of human influences, include the negative impacts of an increasing abundance of invasive plants and animals. To learn more about the history of this space, and to track the changes in aerial photographs from 1937 to the present, please visit the ESA Story Map.
Visitors are invited to walk the nearly 3 miles of trails and learn about the Hidden Benefits of Trees along a marked trail on the west side of Fair Lane Lake.
The ESA has several distinct habitat types:
This forest came to be after the management of the large apple orchards that were once part of this space was discontinued, starting about 70 years ago. A complex of scattered tall deciduous trees with forest openings of shrubby undergrowth offers many habitat niche options for wildlife. A characteristic bird species of this habitat is the Indigo Bunting, which comes north from its wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America to breed in our region. In spring and early summer, listen and look for the male buntings singing their territorial song from the tops of tall trees, while the females are likely to be seen near the ground amid the dense shrubbery, where they place their nests.
Hundreds of years old, this beech-maple forest remnant represents a forest type that once covered much of what is now Dearborn. It also harbors the oldest trees in the Environmental Study Area including a few Bur Oaks which are estimated to be 250-300 years old. Among its forest denizens is the Red-backed Salamander, which finds the rich topsoil and many fallen logs perfect for its survival needs.
A dense and shrubby mix of plant life with very few trees, this habitat has wonderful diversity of native plant species. These include the thorny Climbing Rose (Rosa setigera), thickets of Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) and an assortment of wildflowers that characteristically bloom from mid-summer through the fall, such as the Ironweed (Vernonia sp.), a favorite nectar source for many butterfly species as well as clearwing moths (Hemaris sp.).
One of the few remaining forests of this type along the banks of the Rouge River, this flat, low-lying habitat experiences regular overflow from the river. There are also several vernal ponds of various sizes. A diverse plant community, characteristic of this habitat type, includes flood-adapted trees such as the American Sycamore, of which several large specimens can be found. This habitat also supports a population of Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) , a highly unique wildflower species that has a long, narrow flower spike (spadix) which resembles a lizard’s tongue.
One of very few remaining floodplain marshes situated along the Rouge River, this wetland has gone through various ecological changes over the last 100 years. Primarily open, marshy wetland in the first half of 20th Century, by the 1960s it had become a wooded swamp, which it remained until the late 1990s when all the ash trees in it were killed off by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer. Since then, the dramatic increase in sun exposure has changed the plant community completely back to marsh. A large and dense mass of cattails now dominates the space. Pools of surface water provide an ideal breeding medium for the Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata). Wood Ducks can also be found here fairly regularly during the nesting season.
These planted forests were established starting in 1914, when Henry Ford hired the renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen to develop, design, and implement a plan for establishing a native forest on his estate grounds. The landscape chosen for Jensen’s forest restoration was completely devoid of existing trees; a blank and barren planting slate. Thousands of trees and shrubs of dozens of different species were planted. These forests are now part of a National Historic Landmark which highlights the entire Jensen landscape, as part of the former estate of Henry Ford. Today, these forests provide a wonderful native habitat for birds that stopover to rest and feed during their spring and fall migrations. An assortment of bird species, such as the Eastern Wood Pewee, also find highly suitable nesting habitat among the trees and shrubs.
Fair Lane Lake is of human construction. The design schematic for the lake was completed in 1915 by Jens Jensen as part of the overall landscape plan he developed for Henry and Clara Ford’s estate. In his plan, Jensen simply refers to the lake as a pond. The lake increases in depth from the north end to the south end. The deepest area shown in Jensen’s plan is a 12 foot “deep-water wintering protection area for fish.”
As for it original habitat development, Jensen’s plan called for planting “water hyacinth [probably the native sweet-scented water lily which currently is found in the lake], spike rush, cat-tail, arrowhead, native grasses, and wild rice” within shallow areas and shoreline edges. It is clear from Jensen’s vegetation plan that the lake was intended to provide habitat for wildlife, especially birds. It’s known, for example, that Henry Ford had previously had wild rice planted in a wetland area on his property around 1911 (prior to when he and Clara had their estate built) to provide food and cover for waterfowl.
Today, the lake continues to provide excellent habitat for an assortment of bird life including several species of herons and the Belted Kingfisher. A substantial population of turtles is represented by several species including the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemeys picta marginata) which can be seen basking on floating logs and branches during the warm months. Bullfrogs also occur here and can be regularly seen as well as heard during their late spring and summer breeding period. Over 10 species of dragonfly can be seen laying their eggs in the lake from spring through fall.