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