As my service ends, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the year and all that I have done as a Huron Pines AmeriCorps member serving at the Little Forks Conservancy in 2020. I never expected this year to turn out the way it did, as I am sure many others did not either. A global pandemic and a 500-year flood in the same year? I definitely did not sign up for that. Serving remotely for many months was challenging. When I first started, I was expecting to be spending most of my service outside and working with other people. Instead, I spent a good portion of my service on my couch and became very familiar with using Zoom. However, even with all of the challenges that I faced – I was still able to get things done, take part in lots of exciting opportunities, and learn so much.
Throughout my service, I was tasked with recording the visitor data from our preserves. The conservancy tries to keep track of how many visitors they get so that they can better understand how people are utilizing their properties. Most of my service occurred as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking place. We began to see increases in the number of visitors that were using the preserves. I decided to analyze the data and compare it to previous data from 2019. All of the preserves saw greater numbers of visitors in 2020. It was interesting to view just how much people were going outside during a time when they were not able to do much else. Being out in nature is so important for our physical, mental, and emotional health.
Since many of our in-person events were canceled this year, we had to get creative and come up with some virtual alternatives. I became very familiar with using different types of software and programs to do outreach. I assisted with our virtual Garlic Mustard Pull where we encouraged the public to go out with their families to remove the invasive species.
Later in the season, once we were able to start working on our preserves and with volunteers, we held some work days doing things like trail building, invasive species removal, habitat restoration, and flood remediation. The 500-year flood damaged three of the conservancy’s preserves along the Tittabawassee river and their office. Forestview Natural Area in particular was affected. Boardwalks were shifted, the floodwaters caused the bridge to move off of the creek (getting damaged in the process), and piles of debris were deposited all over the land along the river. I helped plan a Huron Pines AmeriCorps service event at Forestview during which we spent a day rebuilding the bridge and removing flood debris from the property.
During some of my final weeks of service I took the lead on a scout project at Riverview Natural Area where were thinned some trees and removed invasive species. Having too many trees in one area can lead to overcrowding issues where the trees will compete with each other for resources. By removing some, we can establish healthier forests and increase growth in those that were left. The cut trees were used to create piles of brush that will serve as habitat for critters in the area.
Conservation easements are agreements with landowners that protect their properties and resources. Little Forks conservancy has over thirty easements and each one must be monitored annually. Over the past few months I learned about easements, various conservation practices, and communicating with landowners. My site supervisor, Elan, taught me how to complete a monitoring visit and create a monitoring report after. I spent many days hiking around some gorgeous properties in Mid-Michigan. I have seen farm fields, wetlands, forests, rivers and lakes. Getting to see firsthand how the conservancy has been able to protect land, resources, and habitats in the surrounding areas was amazing.
Not too far from the Chippewa River is a seven-acre property that was once part of a small family farm in Homer Township. This past summer, the Little Forks Conservancy accepted the donation of this property in honor of the family that owned it for generations.
The decision to donate the property was an easy one for John Anderson, as he and his late wife, Ursula, had discussed wanting to see it preserved for the education and enjoyment for the people of the Midland area. Ursula’s family had owned and lived near the property for years and to commemorate that legacy, John contacted Little Forks to preserve the family’s legacy.
The newly protected Anderson property will become the conservancy’s seventh nature preserve. Management objectives are being developed, but options include an outdoor learning space for Little Forks’ Nature/Nurture program as well as a small park area for the community. The property has been routinely mowed for hay, keeping invasive species just to the edges.
“This allows us to have a blank slate to work from and create something truly enjoyable for the community,” commented Sara Huetteman, preserve and volunteer manager.