Place-Based Education

Why do we care about strong, active communities? Huron Pines has updated our organization’s Strategic Vision to define ways we can do more for nature and people in our region. Along the way we noted the connection between strong, vibrant communities and appreciation of natural resources, realizing you can’t have one without the other.  That’s why our staff and Huron Pines AmeriCorps members are helping people make connections to the outdoors statewide.

Click here for more educator resources.

With our Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative partners we lead place-based education experiences where students use hands-on learning to connect to careers, have fun and make a difference in their community. At Charity Island in 2016, students mapped threatened Pitcher’s thistle and the density of invasive phragmites while applying science and math. They learned about the importance of habitat for biodiversity conservation and how Huron Pines is restoring the island’s ecosystems.

Check Out: Northeast Michigan Stewardship Initiative, Place-Based Education article
Contact: Community Program Lead Abby Ertel
,, (989) 448-2293 ext. 14


Charity Island

Big Charity Island, located in Saginaw Bay, boasts a historic lighthouse, scenic shoreline and important habitat for many plants and animals, including the threatened Pitcher’s thistle and many migratory and colonial nesting birds. The Charity Islands are part of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and closed to the public in order to protect sensitive habitat and species. Unfortunately, invasive Phragmites threatens to crowd out Pitcher’s thistle and is degrading shoreline habitat used by native birds, amphibians and reptiles. To address this issue, Huron Pines coordinated a series of meetings with a diverse network of partners and landowners to identify shared goals for protecting native species and their habitat. Huron Pines then developed a partnership agreement (LINK) and began treating invasive phragmites in 2015 and 2016. A unique aspect of the project is participation of K-12 students from Au Gres-Sims School District, who visit the island each spring and fall to help inventory Pitcher’s thistle plants and do pre- and post-treatment monitoring of phragmites. This not only adds value to our restoration effort, but also provides local youth with place-based outdoor learning experience with a real-world application. Students are learning to identify plants, operate GPS technology, set up monitoring transects and collect scientific data in the field.

Contact: Watershed Project Manager Josh Leisen, (989) 448-2293 ext. 16


Vanderbilt Area School

Vanderbilt Area School approached Huron Pines in 2016 about helping to improve their 110-acre school forest as a learning tool. Currently, in partnership with the DNR, Huron Pines is writing a Forest Stewardship Plan for the school to use as a guide over the next decade on proper ecological management as well as ways to incorporate student learning with that management. The VAS school forest is unique because, while every Michigan school has (or used to have) a school forest, many are not within walking distance of the school building. The VAS forest is directly behind the school playground and provides a great space for all students to explore the natural world. In the fall of 2017, a trail will be established to provide easier access to both students and community members to recreate and learn, thanks in part to funding from the Otsego County Community Foundation.

The school forest is part of a larger effort by the school to improve student performance; one avenue they are taking is by implementing place-based education programming across all subjects and grades. In the spring of 2017, several projects took place. The high school outdoor science class collected tree species and age data that will be incorporated into the Forest Stewardship Plan. They also participated in vernal pool investigations with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Kindergarten through 6th graders learned about single-use plastics and the impact on the Great Lakes as part of the Earth Day Bag Project; the project included the students decorating bags with conservation messages that were used at the local grocery store on Earth Day. The K-6 classes also learned about the biodiversity of their school forest through a Schoolyard BioBlitz. They spent a morning in the forest exploring and recording the plant and animal life they found.

Check out these awesome news articles about school forests and the projects completed by the students.

Vanderbilt students assist with skipping plastic this Earth Day
School forests provide valuable legacy of learning
National Geographic BioBlitz
Vernal Pool Patrol Project-NEMIGLSI

For more information about this ongoing initiative, contact Community Program Lead Abby Ertel, at, or Huron Pines AmeriCorps Member Emily Vogelgesang at