Legacies from Legacies

Where did you gain your interest in nature?  What were your first experiences in the out-of-doors?  Who first introduced you to the mysteries and joys of some special place?  These thoughts crossed my mind as I attended the dedication of a preserve addition on a Great Lakes shore on a blue-sky day in July.

Big Trout Lake is the new gem in the crown of properties The Nature Conservancy (TNC) protects along the northern shore of Lake Huron in the Les Cheneaux region of the eastern Upper Peninsula.  After several years of fundraising and effort, 722 acres of land were recently acquired to expand the existing 828 acre Carl Gerstacker Preserve at Dudley Bay.  This preserve, which TNC started to assemble in 1993, protects valuable shoreline, upland forests, and Little Trout Lake.  The new expansion contains an outstanding Aspen-Birch-Spruce-Fir forest and Big Trout Lake, a large inland body of water virtually free of development.

The rocky, island-studded, wooded north shore of Lake Huron plays a critical role in the ecological vitality of the Great Lakes (click here to see my account of an earlier visit to the area).  For many years, TNC has been working with a number of researchers from several universities to learn more about the importance of the region’s shallow waters to support fish reproduction, the refueling stations for migratory birds in the spring, and the complex interactions between water quality, wetlands, near shore forests, insect life and the birds and fish who feed on them.

Jerry Jung and his daughter

Legacies of Legacies.  It is science that directs TNC’s preservation of ecological hotspots like the Les Cheneaux coastal region, but what is the motivation of the donors who make it possible to protect these places?  Of course, many supporters are impressed with the science basis of TNC’s efforts, and they certainly see how preserves like Gerstacker at Dudley Bay add to the quality of life and local economy of a resort region like the Les Cheneaux.  However, when donors speak about their motivations they often recall their youth and some one, and/or some place, that made them into the people they are.

Jerry Jung, a long-time supporter of TNC, and one of the donors of the Big Trout Lake expansion, spoke only briefly at the dedication of the improved preserve, but he mentioned two things.  First, he recalled his grandmother, Alma Jung; secondly, he spoke warmly about spending time with her as a child on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Significantly, he also brought with him his three children to share in the creation of this legacy of a preserve.  His mother’s name will be on the dedication sign at Big Trout Lake.

The recollection of people and places seems typical of conversations with conservationists.  A vacation spot cherished for generations, a trip with a relative to an exotic locale, summer camp, and the care of interest of an aunt, grandfather, counselor, or other adult with a commitment to nature all seem to be common threads among those who work, or give, or write, or research, or otherwise conserve our natural places.  We talk of preserves as a legacy for the future, and they very much are, but they are also  embodiments of a legacy of some earlier very personal experience.

Little LaSalle Island.  After the dedication of the new addition to the Carl Gerstacker Preserve, I was fortunate to be able to visit another TNC property in the Les Cheneaux area, the 104 acre Little LaSalle Island Preserve south of Cedarville.  Accessible only by boat, this preserve too is a legacy of a legacy.    After several decades of family summers exploring the shores and bays of the Les Cheneux area, Sam Benedict made a land donation to The Nature Conservancy in 1976.

Olle Karlstrom leads an
expedition on Little
LaSalle Island

His daughter, Libby Maynard, who has served as a trustee of TNC’s Michigan Chapter, recalls learning to walk there, finding beaches on other islands as a teen, and sailing a wooden L class sailboat in the sheltered waters of northern Lake Huron.  This family’s attachment to place continues, and will be a perpetual legacy, thanks to the creation of this very special preserve.  As Libby’s husband Olle led us across ancient and new shorelines on the island, and we clambered through and around larch-studded wetlands, we were taunted by the cries of a circling bald-eagle, who thought we were too close to a nest we never saw.

The Next Generations.  Following the publication of Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods,” new attention has been given to the importance of the outdoor life for children.  There are many benefits that nature provides to young people in their growth and development, but when children become adults they can make a repayment.  They volunteer, they give, they teach the next generation, or find other ways to employ their concern for and connection to nature.  Certainly the nature that is the Les Cheneaux region has benefitted from the youthful lessons of place and people that continue to work to protect the Great Lakes.

To Visit.  The Les Cheneux islands in the area of Cedarville and Hessel are a great place for a multi-day vacation or a short-term expedition (go to www.lescheneaux.net for information).  You can learn more about the Carl Gerstacker Preserve at Dudley Bay at the website of The Nature Conservancy in Michigan (click here for information and directions.)

TNC’s Michigan Director Helen Taylor outlines past, present, and future plans
to protect the Les Cheneaux shoreline of Lake Huron

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