This past weekend, a total of 44 volunteers participated in Tyler Sands’ Eagle Scout Project with MUCC’s Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program at the Gourdneck State Game Area. Over the past year, between school and life’s frequent roadblocks, Tyler has been coordinating with his Boy Scout Troop 253 of Vicksburg, MI and the council as well as with Mark Mills-the areas DNR Wildlife Biologist, and me to plan and get approval for his project. Tyler recruited an incredible turnout including his fellow Boy Scouts, a local Girl Scout Troop, several MUCC volunteers, and even State Senator Margaret O’Brien representing the 20th State Senate District (Kalamazoo County). The group built over 50 brush piles for rabbit habitat on a 12.5-acre field with forest edges.
It was an overcast, 28-degree day; a nice change of pace from the below zero wind-chill and freezing rain that occurred the week prior. The ground was frozen and sturdy enough to easily access the site. After all of the Boy Scouts had arrived shortly after 9 AM, Tyler gave an overview of the project tasks and explained the purpose of building the brush piles in this location. “The trees that were cut will allow regeneration as there will be more sunlight reaching the forest ground in those areas while the brush piles will provide a place for the areas rabbits to live and escape from predators” Tyler explained to the group as he showed them the example brush pile he had built before the project. He then designated four small crews to cover various areas of the field and a sawyer crew to fell more trees as the group gets started on what was felled during the prep-day.
Volunteer Bill Dawson took the lead of the sawyer crew and was able to drive the equipment to the far end of the field. Bill was accompanied by his wife, Denise Dawson, and frequent volunteers Steve Waksmundzki, Sam Hudnutt, Mike Sands, as well as the area’s DNR Wildlife Technician- Nate DeVries. This crew did a great job getting enough trees on the ground and sectioned to keep 40 hard-working volunteers busy until the end of the project. Along with experienced volunteers, there were several new volunteers interested in getting involved in their local area. Kevin Crowley and his son made great use of a Saturday morning and look forward to future opportunities. The group was also honored to have State Senator Margaret O’Brien along with her husband, Nick O’Brien, at the project. Margaret has attended many of the local Eagle Scout Ceremonies and jumped at the opportunity to attend Tyler’s project since she had some rare, but valuable, free-time.
Also a first at one of MUCC’s On the Ground projects, a local Girl Scout group led by Tyler’s mom-Tamara Sands volunteered, and they set the bar high!The Girl Scouts arrived at 11 AM bright-eyed and eager to get their hands dirty. I walked up to greet them with my chaps on and chainsaw in hand. One of the girls excitedly asked, “How do I get your job?!” I thought it was a great question. As we all walked over to Tyler’s sample brush pile, questions about my job, and others like it, started flowing. It was a great feeling to be able to inspire young minds and share just a few of my experiences in the field of natural resources and conservation. It simply starts with an interest. This particular group is already on the right track by taking opportunities to volunteer for events like this one. They are eager to coordinate another project planting spruce trees to provide thermal cover in the same field this spring.
This group was rewarded with a particularly satisfying lunch from Barrett’s Smokehouse located less than 4 miles from the site; not all project locations have this convenience! Volunteers, DNR staff, and Scouts enjoyed conversation and stories between bites of steaming pulled pork sandwiches and gourmet potato salad. The Area’s DNR Wildlife Biologist, Mark Mills, congratulated Tyler on a job well done. There have been a few other Eagle Scout Projects partnered with MUCC’s Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program and I will be open to future opportunities as they have all been very successful events!
MUCC’s On The Ground Program is supported by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division