It Takes a Village: How Engaged Communities Drive Conservation

Au Gres senior Natalie Hoadley installs native plants in a stormwater bioswale on school grounds in May 2022.

We can accomplish more when we build partnerships, connect with communities and activate volunteers. We are lucky to have such a strong network of people ready to engage in the protection of Northern Michigan’s resources. Over the last year we’ve looked to you, our friends and partners, to become community scientists, to pledge your support for Lake Huron, to master your understanding of your environment and to act as tour guides showcasing your favorite natural places to visitors from across the state.

Your work has helped drive ours. These are some of your stories.

Keeping an Eye on the Coast
In July, Huron Pines launched a community science monitoring program focused on the health of Lake Huron. In our volunteer Coast Watchers program, participants were trained to record air and water temperature, seasonal changes in water levels, and occurrences of sensitive or invasive plants, fish die-offs, storm damage or pollution. Volunteers are local residents who visit their designated stretch of shoreline once a week to collect information and contribute to a long-running data set on the condition of the Lake Huron coast.

Volunteer Coast Watchers take part in a training in Alpena.

Coast Watchers has been an important program of the Lake Huron Coastal Centre in Goderich, Ontario since 2005, and data collected helps guide their shoreline restoration efforts there. Huron Pines is now piloting the program on the Michigan side as part of the Lake Huron Forever Initiative, with the expectation that it can help guide and prioritize our future restoration efforts along the Northern Michigan coast.

Taking a Pledge to Protect Lake Huron
One of the underlying goals of the Lake Huron Forever Initiative is for coastal communities — and eventually communities across the Great Lakes region — to take a pledge of support for the long term health of Lake Huron. In 2022, our first two Lake Huron Forever communities were established after signing the pledge into action. Au Gres and Bay City each took the Lake Huron Forever Pledge which lays out the specific challenges facing a lakeshore community and the measures the community plans to take to address them.

Diane Mahoney, President of Bay Area Community Foundation, holds a Lake Huron Forever sign with Au Gres City Manager Dale Wiltse.

For Au Gres, the pledge prioritizes efforts to reduce stormwater runoff, treat invasive plants, limit the use of fertilizers and herbicides on city property, and promote environmental education to the general public. The community of Au Gres is a longtime and active partner of ours, and students of Au Gres-Sims Schools have been deeply involved in efforts alongside Huron Pines to install stormwater bioswales at two city parks and on school grounds.

Bay City is a more recent partner of Huron Pines. Its pledge emphasizes the reduction of stormwater runoff using nature-based solutions, improving the quality of natural areas, planting trees within the city to support biodiversity and urban resilience, expanding a recycling program, controlling the spread of invasive plants and promoting conservation education. Bay City will also work in partnership with its sister city of Goderich, Ontario to engage on a local level and learn from one another. Integrating pledge goals into city recreation and master plans will move both city and Lake Huron Forever goals forward.

Being a Lake Huron Forever Community helps cities prepare projects in support of their goals and be ready to break ground if grant funding becomes available.

Huron Pines is leading the Lake Huron Forever initiative in Michigan with funding from Bay Area Community Foundation, Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan, Consumers Energy Foundation, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network. Support is also provided by Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hands-on Mastery
Master Naturalist helps people cultivate an appreciation of the natural world through direct experiences with local habitats. In 2022, Huron Pines had the privilege of hosting the Master Naturalist program in Northern Michigan in partnership with Michigan State University Extension and Pigeon River Country Discovery Center. For six months, 30 participants from diverse geographies and backgrounds come together once a month at the Pigeon River Country (PRC) Discovery Center to learn about and explore Michigan’s natural communities.

Katie Venechuk snaps a photo with her phone during Michigan Master Naturalist in the fall of 2022.

Full-day sessions covered the Native American history and geology of the PRC, wetland habitats, wild elk, forest health, river ecology and more, all led by conservation professionals. The six sessions were held in person and included classroom learning and field trips throughout the PRC. Many of the participants have become more deeply involved with Huron Pines’ mission and are local champions of conservation since completing the program.

Maddie Khuri, Community Education Project Manager, helped lead and support Master Naturalist.

“It was really cool to bring people from across the state to the PRC to share some of the natural wonders of Northeast Michigan,” Khuri said. “It was inspiring to watch their appreciation and understanding of the natural world grow as they made their way through the program.”

Advocating for Northern Michigan
Through tours, community connections, public meetings and ongoing conversations with the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) Board, Huron Pines is working to showcase the untapped potential for acquisition and development projects in the Northern Lower Peninsula.

The MNRTF receives revenue from oil and gas leases on public lands that can be appropriated to land protection and outdoor recreation projects. This is exactly what happened in the case of Alabaster Township’s award of a $1.7m MNRTF grant for the acquisition of Lake Huron Coastal Preserve.

Water Program Director Samantha Nellis discusses the importance of protected forest wetlands during a field tour for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board in Alpena.

Huron Pines has two active roles in helping connect the MNRTF to Northern Michigan communities. We advocate on behalf of the communities we serve and help communities plan and submit proje cts to the MNRTF for funding.

In our role as advocates, Huron Pines had the privilege of hosting the MNRTF Board and Department of Natural Resources staff for a day of field trips ahead of their August meeting in Alpena. By highlighting our unique natural resources and connecting local leaders to the Trust Fund, we can help ensure a greater return
on our investment in this treasured asset for the people of Northern Michigan.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.