WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS | HURON PINES

Preserving Michigan’s Nature and Raising up the Next Generation of Stewards

As a child, growing up surrounded by Oregon’s natural beauty, the thought never occurred to me that the scenery I enjoyed was due, at least in part, to the effective efforts of conservation organizations. Even years later, after moving to Michigan and being surrounded by stunning wildlife, forests, lakes, and hills, I was just as naive, unaware of the scores of people and organizations working tirelessly to preserve these landscapes.

One such organization is Huron Pines, a nonprofit located in Gaylord. Since 1973, it has focused on the environmental conservation of lakes, forests, and streams with the ultimate goal of protecting the Great Lakes.

To accomplish this work, the group uses five guiding principles, which are as follows:

  • Improve quality of life
  • Do good work
  • Discover and share
  • Provide access to all
  • Provide a sustainable future

A few examples of how Huron Pines executes these goals include the removal of dams in order to reconnect waterways, thereby improving the habitat for fish and reducing sediment. The organization also removes invasive species and promotes the use of native plants, as they not only grow better, they create a more robust supply of food for animals throughout the year.

Another focus of Huron Pines is investing in the next generation of environmental stewards. In partnership with the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, the organization built a forest management plan to integrate forest preservation into the Gaylord school system curriculum. Through this program, kids can explore the outdoors and receive tactile, plant-based lessons over the course of the school year. Originally piloted at Vanderbilt Area Schools, the goal is to duplicate the program elsewhere in the coming years.

Huron Pines was recently gifted an 80-acre plot of land to develop as a land preserve and use for further education and recreation. Fundraising efforts are underway to establish the endowment and prepare the land for use by the spring of 2019. The Hubbard Lake Preserve, as it has come to be called, includes trails for all kinds of outdoor activities regardless of the season.

In 2007, the organization developed the Huron Pines AmeriCorps program, which inserts 30 members within various organizations across the state of Michigan doing conservation work. It is a service-based program for college grads that runs for ten months. In 2015, the program received the Governor’s Service Award for Outstanding National Service Program because of its impressive impact so far. To date, members have restored over 1,000 miles of river, 22,000 acres of public land, and connected with over 73,000 students across the state.

What is remarkable about Huron Pines is the breadth and depth of its programming – which can also be its biggest challenge, according to marketing director Colby Chilcote.

“We do so many different kinds of conservation that people aren’t always aware of all that we do. We are trying to connect with people where they are, so we continuously refine the articulation of our work so more people can understand and get involved.”

Chilcote is originally from northern Michigan, but she and her family lived in southwest Michigan for about ten years before deciding to move back.

“We decided to make a huge life change so that we were able to enjoy some of the natural resources and family connections we had in northern Michigan. I grew up on a river with the ability to go into the woods and be surrounded by nature. I realized I wanted a job where I could connect others to that world, and part of that means helping to preserve it,” says Chilcote.

Stories like Chilcote’s are increasingly becoming my own. As I get older and a little wiser, I am compelled to invest in the nature that sustains me and inspires ease and a vibrant awareness of passing time.

Huron Pines 4241 Old US 27 South, Suite 2, Gaylord MI 49723 l (989) 448-2293 l HuronPines.org