Students Make a Difference at MNA’s Estivant Pines

By Nancy Leonard
MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer

On a crisp late fall morning in the Keweenaw, Ted and Alice Soldan, stewards of the Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, made their way north with a pick-up load of lumber, newly-sawn at their own mill.  By 10:30 am, most of the young student volunteers had arrived to meet Ted and Alice at the Pines and were chomping at the bit for the project to begin.  Nineteen young people, mostly MTU students from the service fraternity Delta Upsilon, and one from the Rotary group, Rotaract, came to spend their Saturday in service for “Make a Difference Day”.

group of students

MTU students

The Estivant Pine Nature Sanctuary serves as the flagship sanctuary for the Keweenaw.  Even though it is tucked almost at the end of this remote northern peninsula, it is the largest by far, and the most visited.  Ancient giant white pines are scattered throughout and are easily seen from a well-maintained trail system.

Before the work begins, Alice posed the group in front of the MNA sign for a portrait.  Ted, in the meantime, organized the long support board timbers and the bundles of boardwalk steps into work site groups.  The goal for the day:  haul in the lumber for various boardwalk projects.

man smiling

A student smiles while carrying lumber to the site.

Ted and Alice have hauled in lumber for years.  By the looks on their faces, it was obvious that they were totally pleased that younger bodies would bear the load this time.

Ted shared with the group an overview of the project at hand and explains why and how the boardwalks are built.  Then he directed the hauling to work sites, the most distant site being more than a mile from the trailhead.  In no time, the lumber was hoisted by the volunteers and hauled up the trail.

students carrying wood through forest

Students carry the wood to the sites within the sanctuary.

I followed along behind the group that has chosen the longest route, the one to work site four. Along the way, Ted pointed out a special tree, told a story and shared a quote from the likes of Edward Abbey.

Having finally arrived at the work site, the students were instructed as to how to stack the lumber and then how to camouflage it.  And rather than just turning back, Ted led the group on the rest of the trail loop.  At the Bertha D. Memorial Grove, the group was encouraged to sit a bit and relish being in the presence of giant pines. Ted shared more stories and more quotes; he obviously loves this place and the students picked up on it.

students sit among trees

Students take a break and admire the giants that surround them.

By early afternoon, all the lumber has been hauled in, old lumber hauled out and deadfalls cut up and moved off trail.

As Ted says, “We walked out of the Pines …. leaving things much better than they were.” That, I would say, is called making a difference.