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Adopt-an-acre program: Protecting the UP one acre at a time

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

How much is an acre worth?

It seems a simple question, but in reality it is a multifaceted concept! Economists, environmentalists, and real estate agents all have different ways of addressing this topic, but the answer remains elusive and subjective. One possible way to answer this question is to ask the living creatures. A single acre of Upper Peninsula land might support four breeding pairs of tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds. An acre of cobbled lakeshore can be the territory of an endangered piping plover pair. An acre of healthy forest can support between 40 and 60 mature trees, which provide shelter and food resources for dozens of species. And this is to say nothing of the millions of insects and dozens of mushroom species that can all co-exist on a single acre.

Of course, as John Muir wrote, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Clearly, the value of an acre is more than its individual species or parts. Ecosystems are created by the complex and ever-changing relationships between and among species (including humans!), climates, and geographies. These interwoven relationships drive everything from food chains to nutrient and water cycles, and they support all life on Earth. How can we begin to place a value on that?

Perhaps, then, the answer lies here: What is an acre of land worth to you? What is it worth to you to stand on the shore of an inland lake, or breathe the scent of rich humus during a hike? What is the worth of seeing a carpet of spring beauties, or the shy bloom of a nodding trillium, or the flicker of a scarlet tanager high up in a mature forest? What is the value of sharing these experiences with someone you love?

All of these additional questions point to one thing – the worth of an acre can’t really be put into words. Like a precious gemstone, the true beauty and value of an acre comes from appreciating all of these facets as part of the whole. An acre is worth more than the individual creatures that live within it, or the relationships among those individuals. It’s worth more than our individual emotional connection to the landscape. Its value is a synthesis of all these things and more – something greater than the sum of its individual parts.



The value of protecting acres

Although it’s nearly impossible to assign a definitive value to an acre, it is clear that acres are worth protecting. To further quote John Muir, “there is not a “fragment” in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself.” The interconnected habitats of the Upper Peninsula are incredibly diverse: peat bogs, cobbled lakeshore, hardwood forests, and granite balds – all in addition to our 11,000 inland lakes. Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s conservation properties protect an astonishing amount of this diversity, and a single 40-acre parcel may host as many as 8 different habitat types!

The UP’s most well-known habitat is forests, which inhabit over 84% of the land area, so let’s dive to greater depths by exploring the value of forests.

Most of our forests are quite young, due to the logging boom in the late 1800s. Young forests, like those that grow up after sustainable timber harvests, are critical habitat for many fauna: American woodcock, cottontail,  bobcat, and wood turtles are just a few of the species that require young forests. Some of Michigan’s endangered bird species, like golden-winged warblers and Kirtland’s warblers, nest almost exclusively in young and shrubby forest habitats.

Old-growth forests are famously valuable ecosystems, given their diverse biological resources and physical structure characteristics. Old growth is rare in Michigan due to the logging boom, but remaining pockets do exist, especially in places that were difficult to access for harvesting. Some pockets of forest with old-growth characteristics can be found on UPLC properties, like Norwood Lake Reserve and Mt. Benison Conservation Easement. By protecting old-growth forest, we are protecting our historical legacy.

The really great news is that although old growth forests are currently rare in Michigan, it doesn’t mean they have to stay that way! Hardwood forests in the eastern US can develop old-growth characteristics within just a few generations of trees, or approximately 150-500 years depending on the species. UPLC is a land trust that pledges to protect land in perpetuity. Protecting younger forests today will encourage them to regain their old-growth status. By adopting an acre of young forest, you’re investing in our present and providing hope our future.

Of course, the healthiest ecosystems are those with the greatest diversity, and we’re not just talking about species. A mosaic of interconnected diverse habitats – from old growth to new – that each have diverse age classes and three-dimensional structure will benefit a broad range of critters.  Every single acre that you help us protect is important, both on its own and as part of the bigger picture.



What is the Adopt-an-Acre program?

UPLC currently protects over 6,000 acres, and the cost to protect each individual acre is about $30 per year. UPLC has an ongoing fundraiser called Adopt an Acre, which is a year-round fundraiser. By adopting an acre in 2019, you are helping to secure our future. Adopting acres is a symbolic gesture that shows you are as committed to protecting land as we are.

For each acre you adopt ($30 each), we will send you a personalized certificate with the location of the acre(s) and your name (or the name of someone you’d like to honor). We will also put your name on our website’s interactive map! If you adopt at least 40 acres, a representative for UPLC will personally hike out with you next summer to visit your sponsored acres.


How will my donation help the UP?

We use adopt-an-acre for every aspect of our operations: on-the-ground projects (trail building and interpretive signs), annual events and outings to our properties, administration, and project development. UPLC turns 20 years old in 2019, a milestone that will come with a few growing pains as we try to expand our operations. We’re especially looking forward to hiring an additional permanent staff person, and to move forward with a couple of exciting new conservation projects. Keep an eye on our website and social media for future updates!

Ready to adopt your acres for 2019? Click the button below:


Please note that all online donations are handled through PayPal, but you do not need to have (or create) a PayPal account in order to donate. Simply follow the link and click “Donate with a Debit or Credit card” to use this option. If you prefer to use an offline payment method, you are also welcome to pay by check or cash sent to Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy, 2208 US-41 S, Marquette MI 49855.


Day in the Life: Stewardship Monitor

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

There’s nothing before me but a seemingly impenetrable tangle of browns and emeralds, and nothing beneath the soles of my boots but springy mats of verdant sphagnum. No trails exist here, unless of course you count the meandering tracks laid down by generations of hungry white-tailed deer or the occasional rambling moose. The trees here grow thick and wild. Young saplings strain towards what limited light exists in the understory, much of it occurring only in shimmering patches that dance with every sigh of wind. Branches of the highest trees intertwine in a bizarre decades-long fist-fight, each trying to claim a few extra inches of the sky. And above it all tower the supercanopy white pines, far beyond the reach of any prospective competition. Bald eagles perch in the lofty branches of these natural skyscrapers, often choosing to raise their young up here, in eyries so large a grown human could comfortably nap inside. Welcome to the Upper Peninsula.

I’m the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s summer Stewardship Monitor, and my objective when I’m out in the woods is fairly straightforward: conduct annual stewardship monitoring visits to each of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s 65 conservation properties. Stewardship monitoring is a legal requirement for our conservation easements, preserves, and reserves, and requires UPLC staff or volunteers to visit a property and ensure that its stewards (i.e. landowners) are adhering to the terms of the conservation easement or management plan. The practical translation is that I walk the boundaries and through the center of each property, checking for out-of-place disturbances caused by humans (for example ATV use or littering) or natural events (such as trees felled by wind storms).

Lacking wings, my only option for traversing the landscape is good old-fashioned bushwhacking. Even when the U.P. gets (relatively) balmy, I suit up in head-to-toe “northwoods armor”: sturdy boots, long pants tucked fashionably into tall socks, long sleeves to guard my skin from the sharp fingers of spruce, and a helmet of mosquito netting to keep those pesky needle-faced insects at bay. This isn’t exactly the Amazon, but bushwhacking just a quarter mile can take twenty minutes if the undergrowth is thick, and there might be some scrambling and bog-hopping required!

It’s time for a full disclaimer: stewardship monitoring can be a sweaty and unglamorous job. But it is always rewarding, meditative, and freeing. It’s by far one of the favorite work tasks for UPLC staff, because we get to see firsthand how our efforts to protect ecosystems are paying off (not to mention we all jump at any chance to “play in the woods”).

Even though I’m out here to work, my stress levels plummet the second my boot hits the soft undergrowth of an Upper Peninsula forest. The repetition and exertion of cross-country hiking quiet my mind. My gaze drifts among the gentle visual chaos of the forest, where there are no straight lines or right angles anywhere to be found. The gentle crunch of twigs and birdsong drifting down from the branches fill my ears, while my nose drinks in the scent of rich humus. It’s so easy to get distracted when my attention is split between ogling the beauty of the forest, looking for anything that’s out of place, and choosing the most sturdy-looking place for my next footfall. I’m often glad I’m alone in the woods, so no one else can count the number of times I trip over roots or rocks or – let’s be honest – air. (If a Jill falls in the forest and there’s no one around to see it, did it even really happen? Not if I don’t tell anyone.)

Even though I’ve spent endless summers in the Upper Peninsula, I routinely stumble across things I’ve never seen before. Healthy forests often have thick carpets of deadwood lying thick on the ground, and close inspection might reveal dozens of fungi colonies that have gathered for a feast. A fallen aspen might be riddled with the meticulously ordered holes mined by a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a native woodpecker whose name sounds like an insult straight out of a Monty Python movie. Snow-white Indian Pipe, a parasitic chlorophyll-free plant, clings to the hillside above a floating bog covered in fuzzy Labrador tea. And the endless march of time brings new discoveries every week: one week I’ll be walking through a carpet of minuscule spring beauties, the next the lady’s slippers orchids will unfurl.

So, yes, I’m out here to work, and to conduct an annual task that is critical to the continued conservation of our protected lands. But that doesn’t mean I can’t thoroughly bask in the beauty of the Upper Peninsula while I’m at it.

If you’re interested in experiencing some of these properties for yourself, check out our Interactive Map. Most of our Reserve and Preserve properties are open to the public for recreational day use including hiking, nature photography, and snowshoeing.

Photos and words by Jill Sekely, 11/06/2018.

Things are happening with our proposed Dead River Community Forest project!

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

Promo videos, Field Trip, Grant Update, and more!


Promo Videos

Videographer Deke Ludwig, a staff member funded by of Heart of the Lakes, has put together a few short teaser videos from the footage shot late this summer, and we’re thrilled to be able to share three of them with you today. Our other piece of big news is that two of these films will be presented on the big screen at the 2018 Fresh Coast Film Festival!!! This documentary film festival, which celebrates the great outdoors in the Great Lakes region, is happening in Marquette on October 18-21.

The latest video–released today!– features 14 year-old kayaker Alyssa LeTorneau talking about her roots, and the importance of protecting land for future residents of Marquette. Check it out!


The first video we released features high-spirited Jeremiah Johnston, trail builder for the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN). Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy has paired with NTN to create multi-use trails on the Dead River properties. Ride along with him in this beautiful teaser promo, “Building a Sense of Place.” The lineup to view this video during the Fresh Coast Film Festival can be found here.

Our second video features our very own Chris Burnett, who has spear-headed this project from the beginning.  Experience his great enthusiasm as he talks about the Dead River Community Forest and what its protection would mean for residents and visitors of the Upper Peninsula. The Fresh Coast lineup to view this short film can be found here.

Upcoming hiking trip on October 8

On Monday, October 8, we’ll be headed out to the “Bridges” portion of the Dead River Community Forest project to experience peak fall colors! Come learn about the project with UPLC staff and enjoy a hike over the old bridge, up to the new 510 bridge, and through the proposed DRCF. Meet us at the UPLC office at 5 P.M. to carpool/caravan to the pocket park on the North side of the old CR 510 Bridge, or you can meet us at the property at 5:30 P.M. We’re also aiming to catch a beautiful sunset, so don’t forget your cameras.

Update on Community Forest Program Grant

Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy applied for a Community Forest Program grant in early summer 2018, to obtain funding to help us purchase the Dead River parcels. Competition was fierce for this year’s grant with 34 applicants, and regrettably the Dead River Community Forest project was not chosen for the grant award. However, grant administrators told UPLC that our application was strong – we placed in the top 50% of applicants – and encouraged us to apply to the same grant program in 2019, so we’re hard at work improving our proposal for re-submission next year!

While this was a setback, we are still going full-steam-ahead with our plans to secure these beautiful parcels. This also means we’ll need all the help we can get to make our dream of protecting these parcels a reality, and that’s where you come in! We need partners, and plans, and proven community support for this project. When the full film is complete, we will begin hosting community input sessions and will pull together a steering committee this fall to help us move forward on the project. In the meantime–you guessed it–the most immediate thing you can do to help move this project forward is to donate to the project here.