Volunteers Improve Public Hunting Access at Harsen’s Island
The idea for Michigan On-the-Ground to do a volunteer project at Harsen’s Island was hatched at a town hall meeting in March at the Richmond Sportsmen’s Club in Richmond, Michigan. On Saturday, August 17, the project came full circle as 20 volunteers improved public hunting access in one of Michigan’s seven “Wetland Wonders.”
MUCC had organized the town hall meeting in March with State Representative Andrea LaFontaine (R – Columbus Twp.), the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. DNR wildlife biologist Terry McFadden and wildlife technician John Darling attended the meeting, who both work on the Harsen’s Island Wildlife Area, part of the St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area. I talked with them about our Michigan On-the-Ground volunteer habitat improvement partnership with the DNR, which had just completed its first project building rabbitat at the Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area. They said they had another idea for great volunteer project.
Last year, a dedicated but small group from the Harsen’s Island Waterfowl Hunters Association (HIWHA) cleared out overgrown brush, weeds and invasive phragmites in the hunter access channels used by waterfowlers to access the managed hunting units. The brush winds around hunters’ boat props and invasive phragmites can spread and choke out native vegetation. With a larger group, said McFadden, more channels could be cleared and additional hunting areas would be more accessible to hunters.
So we coordinated with McFadden, Darling, and Leonard “Sandy” Sandbank of the HIWHA to host a volunteer workday clearing hunter access channels of overgrown brush. We put the word out through blogs, emails and the DNR newsletter, phone calls and club and board meetings. One of those meetings led to a visit to the Southeastern Michigan Conservation Club in Marine City.
Over a delicious walleye dinner, all I had to do was mention the project and members were saying, “I’ll be there – with equipment!” One member, Rob Carpenter, said he’d been hunting waterfowl on Harsen’s Island for 36 years. On Saturday, Rob showed up with Charlie Becker and Kevin Wilmoth and teamed up with a group from HIWHA to clear canals.
It was a multi-generational effort for father and son Paul and David Berger, who drove all the way from Webberville, near Lansing, to volunteer.
“David and I would like to come (to Harsen’s Island) this fall duck hunting,” said Paul Berger. “I’d never been to Harsen’s Island before – it’s a beautiful area – and we’d like to learn a little more. I thought this would be a great opportunity to see the island and learn from some people who are pretty knowledgeable about the area.”
David Berger, 12, has been duck hunting for two years and Paul, his father, has been duck hunting since he was David’s age. And I can attest that David is already earning his keep as a conservationist, as he was ready with a multi-tool to cut out weeds and grass tangled around my line-trimmer’s head every time I shut the engine off.
Ken Martin, Scoutmaster for Troop 84 in Richmond, also showed up with his wife Brenda and boys Curtis and Jacob. They were also at that town hall meeting, asking many questions of Rep. LaFontaine, including asking if she would attend their upcoming fishing derby. Not only did she show up to their derby, but she showed up on Saturday, too, and ran a line-trimmer for two hours! This wasn’t just a photo op for her, which is a good thing, because all the photos I took throughout the day turned out blurry.
“I came here to help volunteer to help restore and improve wildlife habitat,” she said. We were honored that Rep. LaFontaine showed up, especially since she’s in the midst of a statewide town hall tour to listen to residents’ thoughts about the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, including three stops in the Upper Peninsula this week.
And in another example of how this project went full circle, in 2011 Rep. LaFontaine voted for the very bill that made volunteer projects like these possible. Public Act 65 of 2011, known as the “Volunteer Bill,” allows volunteers to use equipment (like line trimmers) to help the DNR improve wildlife habitat on state game areas by granting them the same civil immunity as state workers.
Waterfowl hunters can thank her and all the other volunteers Saturday for improved public hunting access and unclogged boat props when they hunt at Harsen’s Island this fall. Volunteers on Saturday included Craig Woodhouse, Paul and David Berger, Frank Nadolski, Ken, Brenda, Curtis and Jacob Martin, Rob Carpenter, Charlie Becker, Kevin Wilmoth, Leonard Sandbank, David Malkowski, Ken Ball, Gary Engel and Andrea LaFontaine, in addition to Terry McFadden and John Darling of the DNR, and me from MUCC.
And after the workday was over, wildlife technician John Darling invited all the volunteers back to his house for a backyard barbeque. Ken Martin manned the grill and cooked behemoth cheeseburgers while volunteers recounted the day and talked about duck and goose hunting, hunting access, and the managed hunt drawings at Harsen’s Island.
Michigan On-the-Ground is a public-private partnership between the Wildlife and Fisheries Divisions of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan United Conservation Clubs, with additional financial support from the Consumers Energy Foundation. Michigan On-the-Ground is also part of Outdoor Life’s Open Country initiative to improve public hunting access throughout the United States.