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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Cass City Recreation Park, Cass City, Michigan, USA

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Cass City Recreation Park, Cass City, Michigan, USA
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Registered: December 2019
City/Town/Province: Cass City
Posts: 1
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Growing up homeschooled and in a family that appreciates nature, I have had lots of opportunity to explore the outdoors. When I was younger many school days were spent running through the woods, my mom trying to keep up carrying several field guides. I have always asked questions about everything around me. What is that bird? Why does the fungus grow on the side of the tree? What animal left that track? Having the opportunity to play outside and learning to appreciate our natural resources has made me feel motivated to protect them.

My family makes maple syrup in our 10-acre sugarbush. When we started hosting syrup tours in the woods, I realized that other kids did not have the chance to explore the outdoors all the time like I did.

Renovating the Cass City Nature Trails as an Apprentice Ecologist was a way to bring this appreciation for nature to more children in Cass City. Working with a group of nine friends from my homeschool group, we identified environmental literacy as a problem in Cass City. There are no opportunities to explore the outdoors in an educational way within the village. Families who already hunt, fish, farm, camp or otherwise spend time outdoors may have these opportunities, but other families who are less eager to go off the beaten path alone do not. Local parks are groomed with no natural areas. There was, however, already a forest adjacent to the soccer fields, pool and baseball diamonds that is owned by the village.

I was also excited about our project building community spirit in Cass City. Like a lot of small towns, Cass City is economically depressed and for the last five years we have not had a grocery store. People were excited to hear that something good was coming to Cass City.

The 13-acre forest we decided to work in is located in Cass City, Michigan, part of the Cass River Watershed. The property was given to the village by a local family decades ago. As part of the donation, they said the forest should never be harvested for profit. This area, like most of the Thumb of Michigan, was covered by glaciers. North and east of Cass City was the terminal moraine called the Saginaw-Port Huron Moraine. Our woods sits near the end of this glacier and holds a variety of sediment. The soil type on three-quarters of the land is Guelph-Londo loam, and one-quarter is Guelph loam. These soil types and the slope of the area indicate the woods has lots of issues with erosion. A stream runs off from a nearby field and flows into a marsh-like swampy area causing more erosion.

I took personal leadership by tracking down who in our village leadership would allow us to take on this project on public land and reach out to them with our proposed plan. It took a number of phone calls and visits to get it organized, but finally a well-respected person in Cass City endorsed the project and connected me to the village president. That was just what we needed to get started.

Our first step was to have a meeting with the village manager and village president. We found out they also had been thinking of improving the forest, but did not have a plan in mind and did not know how to do it in an environmentally conscious way. They were glad to hear we could take this on. They had us call the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy (SBLC) so we could all work together. SBLC applied for some grants since neither the village nor our homeschool group had much money to fund the project.

One of our first goals was to survey the area and get an idea of what kinds of plants and animals live in the area. I knew the county conservation district staff from other projects, so I reached out to them to see if they would help. By walking the woods with them, we learned that the forest is an Upland Forest and is primarily maple-beech. We learned that it probably was not always maple-beech, as conditions change and trees die from age, pests, or logging, other species can take over. In the past, there may have been more oak and hemlock in this area. Today, you can still find some oak, cherry, one hemlock, one paper birch and there are many dead ash due to the emerald ash borer. Another part of the survey was identifying key features to be included on the educational signs we put along the trail. With help with the district forester and wildlife biologist, we learned about specific trees and habitats that we wanted to highlight with our signage. We also identified trees that needed to be removed for safety, mostly dead ash. Another part of surveying the area was identifying any invasive species in the forest that the trail goes through. We were able to identify Japanese barberry and non-native honeysuckle.

We contacted the Natural Resources Conservation Service office and asked two staff members to volunteer to help us decide how to handle the small stream in the forest. The village was thinking of removing fallen trees and vegetation that we thought should stay, and they were thinking of putting culverts in the stream instead of letting it run its course. The NRCS professionals helped us verify what should be done so we could tell the village.

Once we knew about the soils and wildlife in our woods and we were well on our way to managing them well, we started working on mapping the trails. We used the app Map My Run to create a visual of the trails that could be overlaid on a drone picture the village had. Using this map and the information learned from the wildlife inventory, we wrote words for the educational signs and planned out places to put them. We took photos all year of the woods to place on the signs. The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy graphic designer made the signs and arranged for an extra crew of their youth volunteers to help rake the trails.

We hosted a scavenger hunt for children to collect items at the Cass City Nature Trails to get them exploring the new trails. We gave a presentation to parents about the importance of getting kids outdoors.

In 2020, we plan to keep working on the trails to make them even better by adding natural play areas and hosting a nature day camp. Some future goals of our project include receiving grant funding to pave a flatter area of the woods to make it accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, and building a functional bridge over the stream that runs through the woods.

It was important for Cass City children, adults and families to have a place to get outdoors and explore nature and I am proud that my friends and I could work with adults in our community to give them that. I am especially proud that we could make sure the project was done in the way that best protected the environment because when the village mentioned bringing in bulldozers, that was concerning.

Working as an Apprentice Ecologist on this project gave me faith that our small town is capable of coming together on things that are important to us. It has shown me just how needed it is for me to maintain a focus on environmental science in my future career.

I look forward to attending Michigan State University to major in Animal Science. I am very passionate about global food security, international development and policy. I do not yet know if this path will lead me to work in the developing world alongside subsistence farmers on environmental sustainability practices, the same here in the US, or on Capitol Hill creating environmentally sound food policy. I do know that I will feel fulfilled as long as I am getting food to people who need it through animal agriculture while remaining environmentally conscious. This project has helped me really understand the importance of keeping our environment at the forefront.
Date: December 31, 2019 Views: 4709 File size: 30.6kb, 167.7kb : 960 x 718
Hours Volunteered: 483
Volunteers: 27
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 12 to 56
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 5.2
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