Nature provides an incredible backdrop for retreats where educational components are combined with reflective hikes and other activities. Our unique accommodations enhance this experience with guests staying in renovated farmhouses dating back to the 1800s, as well as five retired boxcars converted to comfortable sleeping units equipped with all of the modern conveniences of a hotel.

Here you will learn about our land management philosophy, how we deal with overstocked wildlife and diversity of our species inventory.


  • Conservancy Initiatives

    In addition to its focus on entrepreneurship, the foundation is committed to environmental conservation and preservation of our property. Many of the environmental standards for the property were developed by our founders and are deeply ingrained in the organization’s culture.

    Managing resources to achieve the best possible balance between sustaining the many diverse ecosystems and species and improving their health is both exciting and challenging.

    Big Rock Valley’s broad variety of habitats supports an unusually diverse species population. Underway for several years now, species inventories continually uncover new, rare species on the property, many of which are listed as threatened or endangered.

    The foundation’s environmental management philosophy guides us to be good stewards and caretakers of the property. We maintain as many self-sustaining, diverse native species populations as practical, giving special attention to listed species. We also give great consideration to the potential consequences of our actions, knowing that any enhancement program to improve the environment or habitat for certain species could have a negative effect on other species — or possible long-term collateral effects for the property.

    Property Overview

    The major natural components of the property are:

    Woodlands, both uplands and wet. Lakes, ponds and streams. Diverse wetland areas including cattail marshes, buttonbush swamps, sedge meadows, wet woodlands, fens and peat bogs. Several large, deep ravines. Relatively large contiguous parcels. Many varied and diverse ecosystems. Large number of diverse species.

    Big Rock Valley’s 2,600 acres are comprised of the following:

    Woodlands: 750 acres. Cropland: 850 acres. Hayfields/meadows/prairies: 350 acres. Marshlands/lowland woods: 550 acres. Building sites and roads: 100 acres.

  • Habitat Enhancement

    Habitat Enhancement Projects

    Habitat enhancement projects call for a concerted effort to re-establish a particular type of ecosystem that humans, history or nature itself may have disturbed. One example is prairie grasses.

    Before European settlement, southern Michigan was at the northern limits of the original tall grass prairie that covered most of the Midwest. Because prairies were often fertile and easy to cultivate, almost all of this original ecosystem has been converted to agricultural land.

    The foundation has an aggressive program to restore prairies to its property. Experimental patches of prairie plants were started in 1994, and significant acreage has been added annually since 2000. There are now about 150 acres of prairie at Big Rock Valley.

    Our restored prairies are not nearly as diverse or productive as the original, but we are steadily increasing their diversity and improving genetics. We have planted more than 100 different species of native plants in our re-established prairies.

    Other habitat-enhancement projects include aspen regeneration, food plot establishment, undisturbed grass and clover patches, wildlife structures, brush and log piles and construction of vernal ponds.

  • Woodland Management

    Woodland Management Issues

    Woodlands at Big Rock Valley are primarily northern mixed hardwoods. Some of the tree species on the property include maple, beech, oak, hickory, black cherry, hackberry, ash, elm, tulip poplar, aspen, walnut, hornbeam and birch.

    Woodland Management Units

    The foundation has divided its woodland areas into management units. Every other year we look at a designated unit and, if necessary, implement appropriate management activities and/or a thinning harvest. There are enough units that typically 12 years pass between management activities or thinning harvests on an individual parcel.

    Thinning Harvest

    When we conduct a thinning harvest, a forester marks the trees that he feels need to be removed because of spacing or health issues. We manage woodlands for diversity and long-term sustainability. In most other woodlands, trees that reach a diameter of about 22 inches (known as economic maturity) are harvested. In our management strategy, we require that some large trees be left in scattered clusters. Trees are not felled just because they are large. In fact, it’s common to see trees that are 30 inches in diameter or larger at Big Rock Valley. These large trees no longer produce wood mass as quickly as smaller trees, but their height and full canopy create unique microhabitats.

    Managing for Old-Growth Trees

    The foundation has designated about 10 percent of its wooded acreage (about 100 acres) to be managed as old-growth woodlands. These areas are basically “no-harvest” areas. We still do thinning if it is warranted due to health or spacing issues, but when we do thin in an old-growth designated area, entire tree and logs are left in the woods to decay over time.

    Components of an Old-Growth Woods

    Some of major components of old-growth woods include:

    • Trees of all age classes present.
    • Massive quantities of large, decaying logs
    • Open areas with lots of light, created by mature canopy trees dying or blowing over.
    • Large craters created when big trees fall over and uproot.

    Large, decaying logs are probably one of the most important components of old-growth woods, because they create a sponge effect and keep the area moist even in dry periods. In addition, these logs slow down the wind and evaporation along the soil surface.

    Woodland Management Demonstration Plots

    The foundation has been developing adjoining woodland management demonstration plots, which clearly show the effects of different management styles on wooded areas. The management styles used in the demonstration plots include:

    • High-intensity timber management.
    • Natural or no management.
    • Management for old-growth woodlands.
    • Management for environmental diversity, which is our predominant management style.
  • Wetlands Management

    Wetlands Management

    The foundation’s property contains different types of wetlands, including calcareous fens, a lakeside fen, marshes, shrub-carr brushy areas, streams, ponds and a lake. The area’s many natural springs provide abundant water flow to these wetland areas, ensuring an influx of fresh nutrients and a healthy ecosystem.

    Vernal Ponds

    Vernal ponds — also referred to as ephemeral pools — are extremely beneficial and critical to a number of species. Because they are seasonal and occasionally dry up, they won’t support fish. This makes the ponds a safe haven for amphibians to reproduce as eggs and larva won’t be eaten by fish. Other animals and birds also frequent the ponds.

    Vernal ponds are typically small and fed by intermittent water supplies, such as rain runoff and seasonal springs. As a result, they are more common than ponds that are continually spring- or stream-fed and easy to create artificially.

    Fish Population

    The property’s ponds and lake contain numerous fish species, including bass, bluegills, crappie, perch, pike, gar, as well a variety of minnows and smaller fish. Unfortunately, carp — a nonnative, invasive species — migrated to Sharkey Lake from a downstream location. Management efforts have been implemented for population control to reduce the threat of major negative impact on native species.

  • Research Projects at BRV

    Research and Educational Collaborations

    The foundation collaborates with numerous groups to leverage its resources and capabilities, gain technical expertise and provide a platform for education. Collaborations have included:

    Most notable are longer-term research projects. A few recent examples include:

    Teams from Michigan State University have conducted studies in the tall-grass prairies for bioenergy research. A Michigan State University researcher conducted a multiyear study on garlic mustard to develop biological control. Central Michigan University researchers have conducted two projects: a two-year study on massasauga rattlesnakes, and a study on the hybridization of mice.

  • Land Management
    The Edward Lowe Foundation practices the following land management techniques:

    1. Enhancing and protecting habitats and species diversity.
    2. Encouraging researchers and naturalists to visit and catalog the flora and fauna, with emphasis on identification of listed and endangered species.
    3. Restoring and preserving wetland, forest and prairie habitats for native plants and animals. This often involves combatting the natural succession process.
    4. Controlling invasive species.
    5. Using new forestry techniques to manage old-growth woodland areas, including active thinning without harvesting in order to maintain critical decaying biomass levels.
    6. Managing demonstration plots to show that forestry management with an emphasis on diversity is more environmentally beneficial and almost as profitable as managing only for high-value timber.
    7. Controlling the numbers of overpopulated species such as deer and raccoons, whose unrestrained growth has had a negative impact on other species.
    8. Selectively enhancing the habitat to encourage declining species to flourish. For example: providing hibernacula for snakes, houses for bats and nesting houses for wood ducks.
    9. Limiting the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.
    10. Replacing marginal agricultural cropland with indigenous prairie vegetation.

    By setting good environmental stewardship examples, the foundation hopes to encourage CEOs and leaders of entrepreneur support organizations who visit Big Rock Valley to adopt similar practices. Other efforts to raise environmental consciousness include:

    1. Utilizing parts of the property as a living classroom for local schools and the community.
    2. Employing technology to mitigate harmful environmental practices, such as encouraging telecommuting and teleconferencing to limit travel.
    3. Using energy-efficient construction, lighting and transportation.
    4. Hosting environmental events offered by other organizations.
  • Overstocked Wildlife

    The foundation aims to support a broad range of species on the property and to maintain as many healthy populations of native species as possible. Occasionally some of these species experience a population boom, causing an imbalance in the various habitats.

    One correction is to implement management practices that reduce the population of the overstocked species. We currently control deer and raccoon populations. We are also keeping a close eye on wild turkeys because their numbers have increased rapidly. The foundation has allowed the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to trap turkeys on the property and to relocate them to other areas where they are needed.

    We have seen very positive and sometimes even dramatic improvement in the population of suppressed species when the number of targeted species is reduced.

  • Species Inventory

    For several years the foundation has been developing an inventory of species on the property, with a concentration on botanical, reptile and amphibian species.

    Collecting such information is crucial for good habitat management. Certain species have specific ecosystem needs, and even subtle, gradual changes in their habitats can impact them negatively. This is especially true for listed species, which have often diminished in numbers because of habitat loss or degradation. Awareness of the species population on the property and learning their specific needs helps us to be responsive to their habitat needs and make management decisions that support a healthy ecosystem.

"As a general rule, Number One can become Number Two. "
— Edward Lowe