Delta Phi Epsilon Makes a Difference in the Keweenaw

By Nancy Leonard

Beginning the day by hauling lumber into the sanctuary. Photo: Nancy Leonard

Beginning the day by hauling lumber into the sanctuary. Photo: Nancy Leonard

On a sunny but cool and windy Saturday in late October, 26 “Make a Difference Day” volunteers showed up to join five MNA stewards to begin the building of a much-needed boardwalk over 300 feet of wet and sensitive habitat on the trail at Keweenaw Shores No. 1 Nature Sanctuary.  Twenty-two of these volunteers were the young women of Delta Phi Epsilon, a service sorority on the campus of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, accompanied by four young men who, they admitted, had been coerced into joining.

Arriving early and keen to begin the workday, the group’s enthusiasm wavered only slightly upon meeting the stack of lumber they were being asked to conquer.  Fifty-two 3” thick, 8-feet long hemlock planks, weighing on average about 80 pounds, were stacked at the trailhead. Those planks needed to be carried over nearly a quarter of a mile on a rough trail to the boardwalk staging area and then, the same planks were to be ferried over the growing boardwalk as it was established.

Gingerly, each team hoisted a plank, one volunteer in front and another in back, and off they headed into the unknown.  Karena Schmidt, steward of Keweenaw Shores, observed and described the four emotional stages the students seemed to experience as they completed each successive round trip. The first trip was awkward as they struggled with how to manage the heavy plank.  Apples and cookies and water were consumed to restore their energy.  Tips for carrying were shared and the second trip went decidedly better than the first. By the third trip, a profound weariness had crept in but so did their resolve. More apples and cookies were consumed and on the fourth and final trip, the resolve melted into excitement and newfound energy over their collective accomplishment.

Working together to pass planks further down the boardwalk. Photo: Nancy Leonard.

Working together to pass planks further down the boardwalk. Photo: Nancy Leonard.

While the planks were being carried into the boardwalk staging area, a team of MNA volunteers and stewards, Charlie Eshbach, Al Eckhart, and Bill Leonard, positioned and secured the planks, one by one, on stretchers of cedar logs being cut on the spot. Some volunteers became assistants to the builders and others helped to carry and place newly cut cedar stretchers.

After the entire stack of lumber had been moved to the staging area of the boardwalk and some beyond, the MTU volunteers formed a bucket brigade line and passed the remaining planks on down to the end of the built boardwalk assembly. From there, the planks were carried further and placed end-to-end to facilitate the completion of the boardwalk by future volunteers.

Counting the combined weights of the hemlock planks, the cedar 6x6s and cedar logs, the women of Delta Phi Epsilon and their friends carried almost 3 tons of material during the day!

Taking a quick break for a photo! Photo: Nancy Leonard.

Taking a quick break for a photo! Photo: Nancy Leonard.

One of the volunteers was overheard saying “I will forever appreciate any boardwalk I ever see again!” and another remarked, “this is a beautiful spot, I’ll be sure to come back.”

By the end of three hours of hard labor, 190 feet of boardwalk had been completed!  Plus, planks and stretchers were laid in place so regular MNA volunteers and stewards could more easily complete the remaining 110 feet at a future date.

Keweenaw Shores No. 1 Nature Sanctuary is a 36-acre gem located six miles east of Eagle Harbor on highway M-26.  The sanctuary showcases in miniature a number of forest communities moving inland from the spectacular lichen-covered Lake Superior shoreline, crossing through boreal forest, poor conifer and cedar swamps, and finally, hardwood-conifer forest. The new boardwalk will allow for future study of the special plant life growing within the sanctuary and will help preserve the sensitive habitat for those plants.

The wonderful, hardworking group of Delta Phi Epsilon sisters and friends who made a huge difference at Keweenaw Shores No. 1. Photo: Nancy Leonard

The wonderful, hardworking group of Delta Phi Epsilon members and friends who made a huge difference at Keweenaw Shores No. 1. Photo: Nancy Leonard

To see more photos from the day, visit the Michigan Nature Association’s Facebook page.

Endangered butterflies, climate change, and robofish: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around Michigan and the globe related to conservation and nature. Check out some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

Two Prairie Butterflies Gain Endangered Species Act Protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Dakotas (Center for Biological Diversity): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday a settlement to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals across the country. Among these are the Poweshiek skipperling butterfly, which survives in small numbers in Michigan.

Autumn anomaly: Deepest Great Lakes’ levels rising (Detroit Free Press): The brutal winter of 2012-2013 is still impacting the Great Lakes this fall, contributing to rising water levels in Lake Superior and connected Lakes Michigan and Huron. In the fall, the Great Lakes typically have a slow decline in water levels. Lake Superior’s depths, however, rose almost a half-inch from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, and Lakes Michigan and Huron rose almost two full inches.

How climate change is transforming winter birds (Conservation Magazine): Data analyzed from the Project FeederWatch citizen science project as well as other bird survey and climate data indicate that bird species that prefer warmer weather are advancing north. Between 1989 and 2011, the average temperature index of species present at surveyed cites crept upward, meaning warm-adapted birds became more prominent.

University spawns robofish to monitor Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): For about 10 years, Michigan State University engineering professor Dr. Xiaobo Tan has been working on a robotic fish that can be used to monitor water quality.

MNA to recognize volunteers and conservationists at October 17 ceremony

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Don’t miss out on MNA’s annual Volunteer and Donor Recognition Dinner on Oct. 17 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.

Guests will enjoy a delicious meal, jazz music and the presentation of awards to hard-working, dedicated individuals who do so much to protect Michigan’s natural heritage.

Tickets are $30. You can purchase tickets online through the MNA website or by contacting Danielle Cooke at or 866-223-2231.

The following awards will be presented during the celebration:

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Climate change, fall colors, and oil transportation: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment from around Michigan and the United States. Catch up on some of what happened this week in environmental news!

Protestors at the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. | Dominique Mosbergen/The Huffington Post

Americans Are Getting More Worried About Climate Change, According to New Polls (Huffington Post): Results from two nationwide polls indicate that Americans are getting increasingly worried about climate change and its impacts. One poll found that nearly half of Americans believe global warming is causing a serious impact now, while 60 percent said protecting the environment should be a priority “even at the risk of curbing economic growth.”

Photo: NASA (click to enlarge)

Photo: NASA (click to enlarge)

Fall Color in the Great Lakes (NASA Earth Observatory): See fall color from space! NASA’s Terra satellite captured images of fall color around the Great Lakes on September 26 and New England on September 27. The brown and orange shades on the map are most pronounced in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and northern Wisconsin. The progression of fall color will move from north to south across North America from mid-September to mid-November.

Scientists Trace Extreme Heat in Australia to Climate Change (The New York Times): Five groups of researchers from around the world have concluded that the heat wave that hit Australia in 2013 was almost certainly a direct consequence of greenhouse gasses released by human activity. The research observed the heat across Australia through all 12 months of 2013 and relied on computer analysis of what the climate would have been like in the absence of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Air near chemical plant remains polluted long after it closed (Great Lakes Echo): A recent Indiana University study finds that people living within six miles of the former site of Velsicol Chemical Co. in St. Louis, Mich. “are still being subject to relatively high levels of HBB, PBBs, and DDTs in the air they breathe.” The plant, which closed nearly 40 years ago, was designated a Superfund site by federal regulators in 1982. Cleanup of the site and the nearby Pine River have cost millions of dollars and continue today.

New report: oil transportation poses risks to Great Lakes Region (WKAR): This week, the Great Lakes Commission released a draft report exploring the safety of how oil is transportated. Increased oil production in North Dakota and Western Canada has turned the Great Lakes region into a transportation corridor for crude oil, but several oil spills have raised questions about how safe oil transportation is.