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Your Wetlands Are Not a Wasteland
Five years ago, Camp Henry located in Newaygo, Michigan, was surrounded by impenetrable wetlands that were disparaged and ignored except for the occasional bog walk or bullfrog hunt. Today, schools come from all over western Michigan to savor the educational opportunities afforded by the development of a trail system through the camp’s fifteen-acre wetland. Campers with binoculars in hand can now enjoy a variety of destinations: a dry landing by the wetland creek, a small tower overlooking the marsh, a woodland trail to the lakeshore, a winding trail through the hummocks of small willow, and an earth-berm trail through the heart of the wetland where new wetlands, created by impounding a small stream, meet natural wetlands.
A newly excavated shallow pond has created greater surface water for wetland wildlife. Students can inspect animal life up close; turtles, snakes, birds, butterflies, ducks, swans, and deer are prevalent. Rare cinquefoil bloom just inches from the path and marsh grasses waft in the breeze.
So, how does the disparaged become the deeply appreciated? With a change of attitude, a strong plan, some creative partnerships, public and private monies, and a labor of love, Camp Henry transformed their program area into an environmental resource. By observing the steps Camp Henry followed, you will be on your way to creating an effective land-management plan for your camp.
Step 1: Make and Attitude Adjustment
An attitude adjustment in thinking about your inaccessible properties will change your mental images from impenetrable overgrowth to the jewel of your program. The most likely impetus for the adjustment is that you simply haven’t been able to access the area to understand the raw beauty and power that resides there. Take a break from your busy day and hike into the areas; you may need a pair of very tall boots. You will find natural beauty beyond your imagination. Just a few of the benefits to your program are natural beauty, recreational opportunity, environmental education, conservancy, wildlife protection, and resource utilization. Making such beauty accessible to all can become an impassioned focus.
Step 2: Write a Forest Stewardship Plan
Camp Henry is one of hundreds of private landowners in Michigan that have taken advantage of the Forest Stewardship Act, which originated in 1990 and provides cost- sharing assistance for forest management, wildlife, and fisheries habitat enhancement, water and soil conservation, and wetland protection, as well as helps landowners pay for management plans for their properties. In 1996, Camp Henry’s Board of Directors decided to have a Forest Stewardship Plan written for their 200-acre property. The board hired a consulting wildlife biologist, one of Michigan’s certified plan writers in the Forest Stewardship Program (FSP). The consulting biologist also drew on the expertise available at the local soil conservation district offices. The plan, which was paid for largely through the FSP, provided a comprehensive set of land-management guidelines. And, it sparked a great deal of interest from volunteer groups and donors.
In addition to land-management directives, the Forest Stewardship Plan furnished several ideas for increasing recreational and educational opportunities. The plan presented the layout for a new trail system, officially called the Halstead Wetland Trail system, that would greatly expand access throughout the property for hiking, nature study, and cross-country skiing. The board adopted the plan and filed it with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Recognizing the educational benefits of wetlands, Camp Henry acquired an adjoining nine acres of wetlands and expanded the wetland trail.
Step 3: Create a Fund
Soon after the Forest Stewardship Plan was written and adopted, the board acted on one of the plan’s recommendations — to harvest a small portion of the mature hardwoods on the property. The sale of just seventy-seven carefully selected hardwood trees from two small areas of camp property grossed over $13,000. A management service was selected to bid and manage the harvest. The money was set aside in a special Land Stewardship Fund and designated to fund trail construction and other plan recommendations. Trails in the wilderness area of Camp Henry were the first to be addressed. New horse trails were cut to make circular loops within the eighty-acre wilderness tract.
Step 4: Get the Necessary Permits
Your consultant should be able to help you identify the necessary permits and walk you through the permitting process. For wetlands projects, at the very least, you will most likely need a state environmental permit, but don’t be surprised if you also need a local government permit and/or a federal permit as well.
Step 5: Find Private Partners for Special Projects
Camp Henry found a willing partner in the Wetlands Foundation of Western Michigan, which committed to funding materials for the proposed Halstead Wetland Trail system over a three-year period. Camp Henry agreed to supply the labor. Two separate lumberyard vendors gave special discounts for treated lumber purchased for the trail.
Work began on the first phase of the Halstead Wetland Trail in 1999. The initial stretch is a boardwalk that winds through the wetland at the west end of the main campus. This raised boardwalk allows users to easily access an isolated island that was previously difficult to reach without a boat. An overland trail leads to the second leg of the boardwalk that stretches from the island to a flooded impoundment. The third leg follows the top of the impoundment to culminate at a wetland observatory, which overlooks a stream impoundment, an excavated pond, and other manmade wetland improvements.
With the first leg of the Halstead Wetland Trail completed and dedicated, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which administers funds provided by Ducks Unlimited) readily agreed to fund the excavation of a small pond that was identified in the permit. With their commitment came additional consulting freely given on-site, including names of contacts for skilled excavation contractors.
Step 6: Partner with Other Organizations for Volunteer Labor
Camp Henry partnered with Bethany Christian Services and the STEP Program (Supervised Transitional Evaluation Placement) to provide ongoing labor for the project. Teenagers placed in a foster care setting by the court system, under a highly supervised regimen with almost a one-on-one ratio, rolled up their sleeves and carried literally tons of wood chips and wooden trail sections to the farthest most regions of the trail using sheer muscle power and determination. The sense of accomplishment was palpable.
"The STEP Program has given countless hours of volunteer services to help make this trail a possibility. These young people are well supervised and a wonderful group to have at Camp Henry helping with whatever hard work needs to be completed. We are grateful for their time and commitment," noted Tom Halstead, Camp Henry’s facilities manager.
Other volunteer groups, including workday groups, members of the board of directors, United Way Day of Caring volunteers, school groups and adult corporate groups, Boy Scout troops, and individual Boy Scouts seeking eagle merit badges willingly undertook trail sections, planting, mulching, and reforestation. Hundreds of seedlings and young plants have been planted. Nearly all of these were made available at a very reasonable cost by the local soil conservation district office.
Upland portions of the trail, some still in progress, are also being constructed by volunteers clearing brush and spreading wood chips. Offshoots from the upland trail will provide access to various points of interest on the property, including a spring, a vernal pond, and a bog. The trails will enable visitors to easily discover Camp Henry’s wide variety of natural habitats with their diverse populations of plants and animals.
Step 7: Create a Quality Environmental Education Program
Camp Henry’s staff has been hard at work matching environmental educational modules to the new resources at hand. They hired an environmental education director to develop a curriculum for an exceptional environmental education program. A great deal has been accomplished in a short period of time, including modules that meet Michigan educational standards, contacts with over 300 schools within a 100-mile radius of camp, outreach to local schools, a brochure, and descriptions posted to camp’s Web site.
Expanding the Forest Stewardship Plan
Camp Henry has implemented several other projects that were proposed in their Forest Stewardship Plan. Hundreds of trees and shrubs have been planted for reforestation and wildlife cover. At least fifteen nest structures have been installed for wood ducks, bluebirds, swallows, bats, and tree squirrels. With seed donated by Pheasants Forever, two small food plots have been planted for upland game. And, through a grant from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) program, a 300-foot vegetation corridor was constructed for wildlife moving between isolated wood lots. SIP (Stewardship Incentive Program) funds, although applied for, were not awarded.
Recently, Camp Henry developed a small aspen clear-cut for ruffed grouse and deer and conducted timber stand improvement work in a portion of their oak forest. The corporation doing the management will supply seedlings in the fall for
under-planting the pine forests that were disturbed in the clearing process. While these timber operations did not generate a large sum of money (about $4,000) they will significantly improve future wildlife use and forest production. They will also provide examples of forest management that may be used as educational tools or to demonstrate a commitment to the wise use of forest resources.
The Time Is Now
Identify your consultant, write your plan, and everything else will flow from there. Resources will readily appear. The time is now to showcase and protect the natural world and appreciate the wonders of creation.
Michigan's Forestlands: New Opportunities for Private Land Management
Forests are a major feature of the Michigan landscape, currently covering 19.3 million acres-- about 53 percent of the state's total land surface. Michigan's forestlands are indeed a wonderful resource. They teem with plant and animal life; they provide diverse outdoor recreation opportunities; they protect and enhance air and water quality; and they support more than 200,000 jobs and contribute over 12 billion dollars to Michigan's economy each year. Yet, much of this resource is underutilized or improperly managed.
Ownership of Michigan's forestlands is mostly private. Public holdings, including three national forests and the nation's largest forest system, account for 6.5 million acres. Industry owns about 2 million acres, and the remaining 10.5 million acres are privately owned. Professional land managers believe that the majority of small-privately owned forests are poorly managed-- producing at one-half or less of their potential.
In the past, forestry and other resource management endeavors were focused mainly on public lands. This occurred, primarily, because public funds were not available for private land management. In Michigan, state and federal resource professionals were obligated to work and finance projects on publicly owned forests and wildlife areas. But, recently much more concern has been placed on increasing the productivity of privately owned forestlands. With this came opportunities or private landowners to utilize public funds and professional advice to greatly enhance their properties.
Environmental Resources on the Web:
The National Association of Conservation Districts
Forest Stewardship Program
USDA Forest Service State & Private Forestry Cooperative Forestry
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Environmental Grantmakers Association
Judy Hughes Astle is an attorney and has been the executive director of Camp Henry for the past eight years.
Jack Boss is a wildlife biologist with King and MacGregor Environmental Inc., of Wyoming and Michigan, and is a member of the Camp Henry Board of Directors.
Originally published in the 2000 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.