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Former Hartford Michigan Graduate Mike Latus
Writes Warren Dunes State Park Almanac and  leads natural explorations at the Park 

Mike Latus has been keeping nature notes on his observations of the different environments at Warren Dunes State Park for almost two decades. He has been kind enough to distill his observations down for park visitors and e-mail subscribers so that they can share in his broad knowledge of what is actually happening each week in each area of the park. The weekly Warren Dunes Almanac is also on the State of Michigan web site.


Warren Dunes Almanac for March 25 through March 31, 2012

Sky

Sunrise is 6:40 and sunset 7:05 on the 25th. We have gained almost 19 minutes of sunlight since last week. The typical high temperature is 48 (record 81 in 1963) and the typical low is 31 (record 6 below in 1960). March averages 12 days with snow or rain, with 1 day having precipitation of more than one-half inch. The average total precipitation is 2.5 inches of rain, or snowfall of 8 inches with a maximum of 26 inches of snow in 1960. 

The moon will be first quarter on March 30th. In the southwest sky, halfway up you may be able to find the V shape of Taurus the Bull. The brightest star, Aldebaran is red. If you extend the V into horns, one will poke into the corner of Auriga. The other horn ends in a dim, unremarkable star, but near it you can find the Crab Nebula. This is a cloud of gas left from a supernova explosion. You can find it with binoculars.

Forest

In some areas of the forest edge the Sassafrass trees are blooming. They produce female and male flowers on separate trees. Oak trees now have strings hanging from their end twigs. These are the male flowers in a part called a catkin. They are producing lots of yellow-green pollen which will be blown by the spring winds to other oaks where the female flowers wait to be pollinated. The twig ends are covered with miniature leaves. Soon they will be full-sized oak leaves. The white flowers of Shadbush are blooming. This tree was also called Preacher Berry or Service Berry because its bloom declared that the roads were clear enough for the travelling preacher to come and perform the spring marriages.  Paw Paw buds are emerging. By next week we should see the flowers. On the ground, the first spring ephemerals are showing flowers: Trout Lily (yellow blossom with mottled leaves), Gooseberry (on a prickly stem), Dutchmans Breeches (white V-shaped pantaloons with a fringed leaf), and Cut-leaved Toothwort (pink/white tubular flower with very narrow leaves) are all becoming easier to find.

Wetland

Buttercups (five shiny yellow petals), Wild Ginger (three petals with an inconspicuous flower), and Gill-Over-the-Ground (purple low flower on a minty leaf), are showing up in the wetlands. Marsh Marigold lines the creek where the banks allow. 

Meadow

Even the edge of the parking lot has beauty to show. Cranesbill (five purple petals with lacy leaves), Speedwell (four blue/white petals on a tiny plant), and Dandelions make every space a place of flowers. The Dandelions name is a corruption of the French for Tooth of the Lion. 

Buttercups with their glossy yellow petals look as though they might have been made of butter. Marsh Marigolds love marshy environments and brighten them up with their sunny blossoms. The gorgeous purple petals of Cranesbill (above) and tiny blue blossoms of Speedwell (below) beautify the edges of parking lots.

Speedwell

Miniature Oak leaves and catkins emerge from the winter bud and the cross-pollination race begins in earnest. Buds of the Paw Paw herald the imminent arrival of its flowers.

 
The exotic-looking Trout Lily with its mottled leaves
is a regal addition to the parks flora.
Dutchmans Breeches are happy in a wide range of habitats. You see them everywhere adorned with their whimsical flowers!  

 

Harbor Country News
July 27, 2011
by David Johnson

Mike Latus leads natural explorations at Warren Dunes State Park
 

SAWYER  Nature exploration has a name at Warren Dunes State Park, and that name is Mike Latus.

     People ask me if we have a nature center, and Im it, said Latus, an Outdoor Explorer Guide who has been explaining the areas natural wonders to park visitors since 1994.
     Im hired for the summer to do nature programs for the campers, to visit people on the beach and share information about the natural history of Warren Dunes, he said
     Warren Dunes State Park is located along Red Arrow Highway in Lake Township between Sawyer and Bridgman.


Outdoor Explorer Guide Mike Latus (right) checks out a rock found along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Warren Dunes State Park near Sawyer during a recent Fossil Hunt. 


                           photos by David Johnson

     Latus, who spends the rest of the year teaching math and science at River Valley High School, runs the weekly Exploring Nature Programs at Michigans busiest state park, mostly between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
     During the week I do Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday day programs  things like insect hikes, wildflowers, trail hikes, bird-watching, he said. And then on the weekend I do afternoon and evening programs that can be fossil hunting, more trail hikes. We do storytelling on Saturday night. Around the campfire we watch the sunset and listen to Indian legends and ghost stories.
     Latus also has access to three six-inch reflecting telescopes that come in handy on summer weekends.

    Mike Latus travels to a recent Exploring Nature Program on a bike that carries a
portable museum and more.


     On both Friday and Saturday night we do astronomy. Weve got telescopes and sky maps. This year were looking at Saturn ... pretty soon well have the Parsed meteor shower.
     His office inside State Park headquarters is a veritable museum of everything from the pelts of native mammals (raccoon, possum, red fox, muskrat, mink, etc.) to examples of the typical fossil rocks that can be found along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
     Virtually everything has been organized into portable kits that Latus can take with his on the vintage Mountain Dew edition Murray bike that he uses to visit various parts of the park.
     The insect kit that Ive got there has insect samples in it, its got bug jars, magnifiers, Ill put the insect nets with it, and its got insect books, he said.
     Latus noted that most of the deceased inhabitants of his museum, including many
of the insects, met their end after colliding with vehicles on local roadways.
 


Mike Latus (left) gives Barb Emery a close-up look at a dragonfly while her husband, Ken, looks on during a recent Dragons and Damsels hike at Warren Dunes State Park

 


    On a recent Dragons and Damsels afternoon program, Latus led a leisurely stroll through the Floral Lane section of the park in search of dragonflies, damselflies and other winged inhabitants of a wetland area that also proved to be rich in unique plant life. Participants learned to indentify some of the plants they encountered with the saying Sedges have edges, grasses have sashes, and rushes are round the whole world round.
   



 
     A recent Fossil Hunt brought several families to the beach on a hot Friday afternoon. Latus explained that many of the fossil rocks found at Warren Dunes are the remains of an ancient ocean that predated the dinosaurs. He explained the common fossil often referred to as Indian beads is actually a portion of a plant-like creature known as a crinoid. He also noted that volcanic rocks now common on the beach came from Canada, deposited here by glaciers.    Latus said weekly Exploring Nature Program schedules are posted throughout the park as well as on the Internet at www.michigan.gov/natureprograms (click on Schedule of Nature Programs in Michigan State Parks).
     He added that some signage in the park also explains natural phenomena including the frighteningly large, but generally docile cicada killer wasps that tend to be active in mid to late summer.
     You would have to be really aggressive to them grab a hold of one (to get stung). In 18 years Ive never been stung by one, he said.
     One of Latuss portable kits contains both a cicada killer wasp and its prey, the cicada

Mike is a 1973 Hartford High School Graduate.

More proof that when something needs to be done right, hire a Hartford Grad! 

2011 - Thanks to Lois Latus, mother of Mike Latus, for contributing the photos and interesting article regarding another "Famous Folk" from Hartford Michigan.


Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 



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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.


Revised: March 20, 2014