Superior Watershed Partnership acquires properties

The Eagles Nest Community Forest is a new protected area following the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Conservancy receiving a grant for the project. The grant is part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. (Photo courtesy of the SWP)

MARQUETTE — The Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Conservancy announced Wednesday that it has received $800,000 for the permanent protection of two unique coastal properties along Lake Superior totaling over 3,100 feet of sand beach.

The habitat includes sensitive dune and swale habitat, coastal wetlands and stands of old-growth forest.

Less than 13 percent of Lake Superior coastline is composed of sand beach with even less open to the public, but the two new protected Lake Superior beaches will be open to local residents and tourists.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said SWP Executive Director Carl Lindquist, who noted valuable wildlife habitat will be protected through the projects. “There is development happening adjacent to both of them.”

The grants are part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a cooperative effort between federal, tribal, state and local partners. The Environmental Protection Agency funding administered by the U.S. Forest Service backs local efforts to protect high-quality Great Lakes coastal wetland and forest habitats through the protection and establishment of community forests, which are to benefit the public.

Funding for the GLRI has been in danger of being cut in the past by President Donald Trump’s administration, but funding has been restored for 2019.

Lindquist said the GLRI also receives bipartisan support.

“Anytime someone suggests cutting it, both sides of the aisle support continuing the program,” Lindquist said.

The GLRI, he noted, is a great program for projects such as the two new community forests.

“Every inch of Lake Superior shoreline is a treasure,” said David Ullrich, adviser and former executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative and former deputy regional administrator of the EPA, Great Lakes Region, in a news release.

The SWP earlier this year received a $400,000 GLRI Community Forest grant to acquire the Eagles Nest coastal property in Marquette County, the first community forest in the program that includes Lake Superior coastline.

The Eagles Nest Community Forest is located 7 miles west of Marquette and includes a variety of forest types and coastal wetlands, including 1,130 feet of Lake Superior sand shoreline.

Previously owned by the same family since the 1870s, the SWP acquired the property and is currently developing a management plan. As a regional land conservancy, the SWP will keep this property from proposed subdivision and development in perpetuity.

The community forest will provide multiple educational and recreational opportunities for area residents and visitors year-round, including hiking and cross-country ski trails, nature-watching opportunities, and public access to unique and varied coastal ecosystems.

The SWP’s Great Lakes Conservation Corps, which employs young adults ages 18 to 25, will assist with trail design and construction for public access. Over 30 seasonal GLCC employees will help with environmental protection and restoration projects such as habitat restoration, trail construction, tree planting, wetland restoration, dune restoration, removal of invasives, water quality monitoring and community pollution-prevention projects.

Recently, the SWP was awarded a second $400,000 GLRI Community Forest grant to acquire a high-priority Lake Superior coastal property in Alger County that includes the mouth of the Laughing Whitefish River.

The Laughing Whitefish Community Forest is located about 20 miles west of Munising and is dominated by forested uplands, including old-growth white pine and coastal wetlands. It contains over 1,200 feet of the Laughing Whitefish River and over 2,000 feet of Lake Superior sand beach.

The Laughing Whitefish Community Forest also will preserve important coastal ecosystems, and provide educational and recreational opportunities for area residents and tourists.

Lindquist anticipates the sites will be open to the public early in the summer of 2019.

Community forests are gaining traction in the region, with the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve taking ownership of the Yellow Dog River Community Forest in 2016. The Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy is working to create the Dead River Community Forest in Negaunee Township.

The SWP serves the communities and tribes of the Upper Peninsula with emphasis on protecting and restoring the landscapes and rivers that drain to the surrounding waters of Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron.

As a local land conservancy, the SWP prioritizes the permanent protection of high-quality riparian and coastal habitats of those three Great Lakes watersheds in the U.P.

For more information, visit superiorwatersheds. org.