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 Jackson Audubon Society

 The Audubon Society of Jackson County, Michigan

Kate Palmer Sanctuary

Spring Arbor Township at O' Brien and McCain Road

View or download map of the Sanctuary here.

eBird Species List for Kate Palmer Sanctuary  (it takes a few moments to load)

The Kate Palmer Sanctuary, located five miles west of Jackson, is a fifty-three acre tract of varying ecosystems:

  • Upland and lowland deciduous woods
  • A grove of large White Pine trees
  • Marshlands and natural springs
  • Ever-flowing Sandstone Creek and basin

The Kate Palmer Sanctuary is regarded by many Jackson County naturalists and botanists to be the richest public woods in Jackson County for wildflowers. At the right time of spring (usually late April to early May), the woodland is carpeted with masses of Trout Lilies and Trilliums. Goldenseal, Golden Alexander, and Maidenhair Ferns come later as well as over 50 identified plant species. The Kate Palmer Sanctuary is one of the last places in Michigan to find Shingle Oak trees with their unusual elliptical leaves.

Over 100 species of birds have been identified in the sanctuary, including Pileated Woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, and over 20 warblers.

Sandstone Creek feeds the Grand River and is one of the only streams in southern Michigan able to support a Trout population. The creek dissects the sanctuary providing an attraction to birds and a spot to fish.

Marked trails circle through the lowland woods near the creek. The sanctuary is the perfect size for snowshoeing. Parking for a limited number of vehicles is maintained. The upland woods are accessible by parking at the Trinity Lutheran School. Please inform the school when you enter the sanctuary from there.

Kate Palmer Sanctuary: History

In1880 it was discovered that the area was underlain with fire-clay and coal. The pits from which the clay was taken are still in evidence on the west side of O’Brien Road. The sites of some of the coal shafts are marked by piles of disintegrated shale and springs which are still rising where the old shafts were located and now filled in. The last coal lease expired in 1924.

The sanctuary area has remained undisturbed since 1926 when the Jackson County Audubon Society purchased the acreage. The money for the purchase was raised through donations from many well-known members of the community. The largest donor was Kate Palmer, born near Parma, Michigan in 1858. As a charter member of the Jackson Audubon Society, Kate was a proponent of the preservation and conservation of natural lands to be used as refuges for species pressured by increasing development.

The Jackson Audubon Society maintained the sanctuary, put a trail through it, used it for their meetings and for nature study. When the society temporarily disbanded in 1941, the land was donated to Jackson Public Schools, so that it could continue to be used by teachers and students as a living laboratory in the natural sciences.

Bob Whiting used the sanctuary as an outdoor ornithology lab during the 27 years that he taught at Jackson Junior College (now Jackson College). The Jackson High School Biology Club and Parkside High School used “Bird Haven” as it was known for bird-banding, the study of wild flowers, and an artesian well was tapped, allowing the public to get their drinking water from this well until the early 1980's. In 1960, Eliot Porter a nationally renowned photographer photographed the uncommon Cerulean Warbler at the sanctuary.


In 1986, the land was conveyed to Michigan Audubon through the efforts of Jackson resident, Nancy Lapinski for safekeeping. She maintained it as a member of Jackson Audubon Society for 20-years. Jackson Audubon remains as steward, recruiting students and citizens to assist in annual cleanup activities.

All good things are wild and free ~ Henry David Thoreau ~

Please respect this Sanctuary and Help keep it clean

Do not dump leaves, yard waste or trash into this special spot


Biography of Kate Palmer (1858 – 1918)

by Jann Krupa

Ella “Kate” Palmer was a quiet but driving force during her lifetime (1858 – 1918) in Jackson County. We associate Palmer with the sanctuary named after her but her influence and community building went far beyond her involvement on the early Jackson Audubon Society Board and her $1,000 bequest ($31,000 in today’s dollars) that later supported the sanctuary.

My curiosity about Palmer was nudged about a year ago when we were well into the pandemic and I was walking in the Mt. Evergreen Cemetery for social distancing and somehow my attention was drawn to a flat grave marker with the simple inscription “Kate Palmer.” Coincidentally, I was planning to visit the sanctuary the following day and I wondered if it could possibly be “our Kate.”

As an amateur, I went as far as I could with and fortunately was able to get validation and much more information from local librarians and volunteers. The research was problematic for all involved until we realized that Ella L. Palmer was Kate’s legal name. Another problem was that all known Jackson newspapers issues from July1904 thru June 1912 were destroyed in a fire.

Eventually articles regarding Palmer’s will were located and thus we learned that she had left sizeable gifts to Associated Charities of Jackson, First Church of Christ Scientist, Jackson Friendly Home, Y.W.C.A., Y.M.C.A., Jackson County Humane Society, Audubon Society, Leland Powers School of Boston and many friends and relatives. As one article reported, “…the public bequests made by this highly esteemed Jackson woman have a special local interest. Always shrinking from publicity and interested in the higher life and the better things of this city, its schools, churches and benevolent institutions, this woman …gives generously…”

Throughout her life, Palmer gave much of her time in founding and supporting organizations that were considered benevolent such as the local YWCA of which she served as its first president.

She also was on the founding board of the Free Kindergarten established in 1892 to serve needy children, some quite destitute. The Free Kindergarten was initiated by Mrs. L.H. (Allathena) Field and the Mechanic Street building was designed by Leonard H. Field Jr. During the 1918 Flu Pandemic the organization shifted to more of a hospital function. A 1896 local article stated, “A large measure of the success of this organization is due to Miss Kate Palmer, who ever since the starting of the the free kindergarten has been a most faithful worker.”

Ah – but Kate must have known how to have fun. She was one of the first to own an electric car in town, she hosted at least one Suffrage Tea and she was an active art patron following studies at Boston’s Leland Powers School.

It should be noted that Palmer’s maternal grandfather, William M. Mitchell had the status of Jackson Pioneer as issued by the Jackson County Genealogical Society.

Many thanks to Jackson County Genealogy Library volunteers Amy Nora and Lora Painter as well as Jackson District librarian Tim Frusti for their considerable research and assistance, especially through the limitations of this pandemic. 

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