Thursday, February 7, 2013

Exploration: Saginaw Bay Watershed

Photo by Craig Sterken
In the past year, I moved about 100 miles away, back to my home region in the Saginaw Bay Watershed of Michigan. I found a job here where I could spend a lot more time outdoors, working to protect nature. Ironically, in this area, access to nature is harder to come across than it was in Ann Arbor. While it is a larger city, Ann Arbor has more protected natural areas and more topography. Just a short jog from my house on the west side were three contiguous protected natural areas where you could easily string together a rigorous 3, 4, 5, or even longer (I once did a 16-miler there with several laps).

Of course, here in Bay City (well, in the Great Lakes Bay Region of Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City together) we have epic amounts of wild public land, too. You may have to drive to them, but even just in our area are Tobico Marsh, Midland City Forest, Chippewa Nature Center, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Pine Haven, and the Michigan DNR refuges of Nyanquing Point, Wigwam Bay, Fish Point, and Crow Island. A little further afield, about a 45-minute drive, we have Tuttle Marsh and the entire Huron National Forest with amazing opportunities to lose yourself in wilderness.

Photo by Jeanne Moehler
These places all have trails and open spaces and wildlife. Wildlife, in particular, is one area where this region really comes out on top...the Saginaw Bay Watershed is home to some of the most critical coastal wetlands anywhere in the entire Great Lakes, we are a huge haven for birds. I see otters and Bald Eagles and just about anything you can think of on a regular basis out here, just 5 or 10 or 20 miles from home. It is wild and free and beautiful...and almost anonymous.

That doesn’t even consider the nature preserves held by my organization, the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, or our partners the Little Forks Conservancy in Midland and Chippewa Watershed Conservancy in Mt. Pleasant. Between us we have dozens of open natural lands with trails and access to nature. The SBLC preserves, of which we have 10 around the watershed, provide miles and miles of trails that I can almost guarantee you will have to yourself. Most of them are along rivers or lakes or Bay coastline, so bring your camera for that rare bird shot, you’re likely to see something that will floor you.

Photo by Laura McNeil
The problem is, no one realizes those preserves or all that land is available for them to explore. Nature is something you drive up north for, not something in our region...right? Wrong.

This is an awesome opportunity, and responsibility, for me. In my day job, I am pretty much a “lead cheerleader for nature” in our community, at least I see it that way. We raise money, buy land, provide education and outdoor recreation, protect and restore habitat, and generally steward the beautiful natural areas under our watch. I love waking up to a job that is so worthwhile.

We created the Saginaw Basin Field Guide last year, and this year we are stumping all over Michigan on behalf of nature in our Watershed. I am training for a 50-mile ultramarathon this August, so I have nothing but excuses to go out and run every inch of trail in the region and come back and tell everyone about them. I will be taking pictures and telling stories all summer, exploring our Watershed on foot, and sharing my experiences here at AGHTR and on the SBLC website and e-newsletter.

Photo by John Britt

I hope to inspire our community to get outside. We think about the area as post-industrial. Washed up. Dirty. Urban. I am here to tell people, and show people, that is NOT the case. To build support for what we do here, and for the reason we moved up here, I am going to work (and play) hard to show the community what we have here in our backyard. I and the Conservancy have a new partnership with Runners Performance here in the area to do trail running clinics and SBLC/Runners events, and they are going to help me spread the word, too. The potential, the opportunity, and the responsibility to stand up for nature belongs to all of us.

Photo by Wayne Warner
It may not be the Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but the Saginaw Bay Watershed is a place full of incredible natural discoveries for those who make nature a priority in their life. I am going to find those opportunities and I invite you to come along with me.

1 comment:

ryan jankoska said...

Let's go! Exciting writing! I speak for the entire community. General consensus, is that we are extremely lucky to have you in our community and at the helm of the SBLC, Zak! Run wild!