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.
Now is the time of the year when the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and the birds are chirping. I don’t know about you, but I have been waiting for some nice, warm weather for months. As you are visiting Little Forks’ preserves and other natural areas you are probably seeing many exciting things. Maybe it is an animal that you came across when strolling down a path. Or perhaps it is a beautiful flower that you have seen before but can’t quite identify. Lucky for us, there are plenty of useful resources that can be used to help identify and record what we see when we are out in nature!
iNaturalist and Seek:
iNaturalist is website that allows users to record what they observe and share their finds with others. It covers a range of taxa: mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, plants, insects, and more! It also has an app that can be downloaded onto your phone through the app store. This is great if you struggle to identify things yourself. If you are unsure of the species it will offer suggestions based on similar postings to help you narrow it down. I took an entomology class last year and I used iNaturalist quite often when I was having trouble identifying an insect. It is very helpful and offers lots of information about each species including a general overview of the animal, where they are found globally, their taxonomy, and their conservation status. Seek is an educational and entertaining identification app that was also created by the iNaturalist team. With seek, users can earn badges and participate in challenges as they observe the organisms around them. Seek can be used to identify plants, animals, and fungi. It is simple to use and is fun for people of all ages. The apps can be downloaded in the app store. I highly recommend checking them out.
MISIN (Midwest Invasive Species Information Network) is used to detect and identify invasive species. This is really important for invasive species management. If we don’t know where invasive species are then how can we control them? Along with their website, MISIN has an app that can be found in the app store. MISIN has a lot to offer users. Not only are you able to report the invasive species that you find, but you can also explore and learn more about species that you may not be familiar with. You can look up a specific invasive species if you are interested in learning more about it. Or you can search geographically to find which invasives are present in a particular area. They also offer free training modules, once you pass the short quiz you will receive a certificate of completion. If we want to stop the spread of invasives in our area then we need to do our part by reporting what we find! Megan Garrett from our local Central Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area has created a video teaching you how to use the website and app from start to finish.
eBird and Merlin Bird ID:
Do you love birds? If so, eBird and Merlin Bird ID are just for you! Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these resources have tons of information that will help you on your journey to becoming an expert birder. eBird allows users to share birds that they find, explore and learn about other birds, and find hotspots near them. Our preserves in Midland County are hotspots for many species of birds, where visitors have recorded tons of observations. eBird will keep track of the birds you find, the photos you take, and even the sounds that they make! Merlin Bird ID is very useful if you see a bird but don’t know what it is. You can answer a few simple questions about the bird you saw or upload a photo and the app will suggest possible birds that it could have been. If you visit the app store and search for “eBird” and “Merlin Bird ID” you will be able to find their mobile apps.
MI Herp Atlas:
Another resource you may be interested in is the Michigan Herp Atlas. This is where you can enter information for herps, amphibians and reptiles, that you see on your adventures. You can upload information about your observation as well as photos of what you saw. You can view previous records that have been posted and learn more about Michigan’s amphibians and reptiles. This resource has descriptions about the characteristics, behaviors, and habitats of the animals. The Mobile Mapper can be downloaded in Google Play or the iTunes Store. Recording the herps that you see helps by documenting how their populations change over time.
I encourage you all to get out to our properties and try some of these resources! When visitors use them, it gives us valuable information and a better understanding of the land that we manage. If you post anything to social media use the hashtag #LFCtrailfinds or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with some of your observations. We love hearing from our preserve users and are interested to see what you find!
Shelby Cain - Huron Pines AmeriCorps Member
Now Accepting Applications for 2020!
In partnership with the AmeriCorps program, we are able to offer an exciting position that will work to improve and protect the health of our region’s land and water. We are seeking an individual to assist with the Conservancy’s land stewardship program collaborating with landowners and at our nature preserves. We will be looking for someone who is self-motivated, knowledgeable in GPS and GIS, is able to manage multiple tasks, communicate well through public speaking and writing, and has a background in natural resources.
All positions require the following:
Hello! My name is Ted and I’m the newest blog poster (and Land Steward) here at Little Forks. I come to Little Forks through the Huron Pines AmeriCorps program, which provides service members to more than a dozen organizations and government offices in Michigan.
Coming to Little Forks and Michigan has been quite the experience– there are so many new people to meet and places to learn about. There are times when everything seems different, and that can be disorienting. I always find reassurance, however, in knowing that I have something extremely important in common with folks here at Little Forks. Even you, no matter who you are out there reading this post, most likely share this tenet: we care about the environment!
So it makes sense to begin my introduction with our commonality: why I care about the health of our planet. For me it began growing up in Newington, Connecticut, a suburb of Hartford. My childhood was spent building boats with my friends on Piper Brook (turns out all you need is plywood and caulk…lots of caulk), going for hikes on the Metacomet Trail with my dad (or “forced marches” as my brother and I affectionately called them), and making a yearly pilgrimage with my mom and cousins to Nickerson State Park on the Cape.
I went to college at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and spent the spring and summer of my junior year thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (yes I got credit and yes I received a stipend for the project. Clark is amazing!). What blew me away on the hike (besides the endless panoramic views) was that the 2,000+ miles of trail I walked was on unbroken conservation land. I spent an extra year at school digging deeper into conservation, writing a research paper about land management strategies in Worcester.
Through all of these experiences I have developed an affinity for our natural world that extends beyond the science of biodiversity or carbon sequestration. For me, the objective need for good stewardship of our Earth has lined up with a deep personal relationship. I’m pretty sure that those two ingredients combine to make something called passion!
Anyways, I arrive here in Midland, ready to learn the ins and outs of Michigan (c’s that sound like w’s? Driving 72 mph is slow?), and pursue my passion with a year of service at Little Forks! I’ll finish by asking you the question I’ve asked myself in this post: why do you care about the environment, and why do you support Little Forks?