Connecting with nature

NMU students design, install interpretative signs for nature preserve

Tory’s Woods Conservation Preserve, a 230-acre Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy preserve located off of M-28 near the Sand River, is pictured. (Photo courtesy of UPLC)

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series about Tory’s Woods Conservation Preserve. The first part of the series, which ran as Nov. 12’s edition of Living Green, provided background information about the preserve, its ecological significance and how it came to be protected through the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy.

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University’s Conservation Crew, an interdisciplinary student organization, has been working with the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy to install interpretative signs made by fellow NMU students in Tory’s Woods Conservation Preserve, a 230-acre UPLC preserve located near the Sand River along M-28 East.

“It’s a good hiking trail, it’s a good walk, but having panels out there that not only tell you where you are, but also help you understand the importance of the historic connection and the ecological significance of the place can help people establish more of a concrete connection, a personal connection to these places,” said UPLC Executive Director Andrea Denham.

The “adoption” of Tory’s Woods and the installation of the signs were some of the first projects the newly-formed NMU Conservation Crew decided to pursue, members said, noting that they’re also working to maintain the trails by activities such as removing downed trees and debris from the trails, and packing the trails down over the winter.

“We reached out to Andrea to see how we could get involved with local environmental organizations and we were really excited about everything the UPLC was doing, so it was even better that she was really enthusiastic about partnering with us,” said Lynnae Branham, co-founder of the NMU Conservation Crew.

Students from Northern Michigan University’s Conservation Crew, an interdisciplinary student organization, have adopted the preserve and have worked to install interpretive signage and maintain the trails. From left, Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy Board Member Grant Petersen, UPLC Executive Director Andrea Denham and NMU Conservation Crew co-founder Nick Potyok stand with a newly-installed interpretive sign at the preserve. (Photo courtesy of UPLC)

The signs the group is installing were designed by NMU students in upper-level outdoor recreation classes taught by Jacquie Medina, associate professor in NMU’s School of Health and Human Performance, as a service learning project in partnership with UPLC.

This was a mutually beneficial experience, Medina and Denham said, as it allowed the students to get real-world experience while providing signs for the nature preserve.

“We’re really fortunate to work with Andrea and the UPLC so that our students could actually have the opportunity to develop professional skills,” Medina said. “Not only are they learning about interpretive signage and how to develop it, they’re actually working with an agency.”

UPLC worked with students on the approach to the interpretative signage, Denham said, noting that rather than using the signs to present solely technical information about the area, the signs take a more thematic approach, centered around “transitions in the natural environment.”

Through this approach, the signs will serve to help those who walk the lands for decades to come, offering users a connection to the land, its history and ecological significance, Medina and Denham said.

“They’re very intentional in the design to help people make that connection with Tory’s Woods,” Medina said. “The signs can enhance their experience, affect their attitudes about Tory’s Woods and even influence their behavior coming back again, thinking about the impact they have on the environment.”

With five of the 11 signs installed Sunday, winter users of the trails will have an opportunity to enjoy the navigational and interpretive benefits of the signs over the winter, Denham said.

Furthermore, conservation crew members look forward to maintaining the preserve’s trails over the winter and installing the remaining signs come spring, they said.

Beyond their work at Tory’s Woods, the NMU Conservation Crew has also worked on environmental conservation projects with UPLC and other agencies throughout the semester, they said. The group has adopted another UPLC property, the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve and worked with the North Country Trail Hikers Chapter, the Noquemanon Trail Network, the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, and other conservation-minded organizations in the local area — and that’s just over the last few months.

The group looks forward to continuing to develop partnerships and projects once the spring thaw hits, members said.

“We’re excited for the summer season, this next season that’s coming up, spring and next fall. We’ll have already established ourselves more, people will be returning and we’ll be able to focus more on the things that we committed to,” said NMU Conservation Crew co-founder Nick Potyok.

For more information on the UPLC, visit For more information on the NMU Conservation Crew, visit

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.