Last weekend was a busy one for MUCC’s Wildlife Habitat Program! Between Saturday and Sunday, 12 volunteers helped to restore a 4-acre wildlife opening in the Pigeon River Country State Forest and planted 240 white pine trees in the Muskegon State Game Area. Volunteers were local to the areas and utilize them as their own lands to hunt, camp, hike, look for morel mushrooms, observe the wildlife that thrives there, and pass the experience along to their kids and grandkids as well. The weekend proved to be great opportunities for many of those experiences in the Pigeon River Country State Forest as well as the Muskegon State Game Area.
On Saturday, the Thomsen family took part in clearing encroaching timber to restore a 4-acre wildlife opening in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. Jamie and Nikki Thomsen, their sons Brock and Brady, as well as their niece, Ali Penn, and nephew, Zak Penn made a great team dragging tree trunks and stacking them into large brush piles. The Thomsen’s have volunteered at a few OTG projects before; one of them being in the Pigeon River Country last summer where they cleared a wildlife opening and planted trees along the road to create a sight barrier. Brock and Brady requested that they stop by the site over the weekend and check on their trees; great news- they’re producing buds! The Thomsen family spent the weekend experiencing the “Big Wild” and did not leave disappointed!
As Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Hunter Fodor, serving with the Pigeon River Country DNR, was rounding up a few chainsaws and equipment to bring out to the project site, I was chatting with the volunteers. Jamie Thomsen said that he has been visiting the Pigeon River Country for over 30 years and has yet to see a wild black bear. It turns out this was his lucky weekend! Brady, his youngest son, pointed out a black bear as they were visiting the elk viewing area by inspiration point; how exciting! The kids were all very excited to be going to look for elk later that night and had mentioned it quite a few times as they were building brush piles. They also spotted four nice elk that evening and a few more on Sunday morning. Jamie stated “Lots of great memories made helping you and all the wildlife. Thanks again for letting us help!” I’m glad they had the full experience of the “Big Wild” all in one weekend; after all, that’s what being an outdoorsman/woman is all about.
After a trip back to Lansing and a quick switch of gear from chainsaws to shovels, OTG was headed to the Muskegon State Game Area on Sunday morning. Although it was snowing at one point, it turned out to be a nice, sunny and 50-degree kind of day; perfect for planting trees. The trees for this project were provided by MUCC’s annual tree giveaway that was hosted at Vans Pines Nursery on Saturday. Bill Krepps kindly made himself available to pick up the trees since I was hosting a habitat project in the NW region of the state.
Bill and his grandson, Cody Gillette, along with Duane Buckner and Bethy Williams volunteered to plant 300 white pines over 2 acres of land in the Muskegon SGA. The areas to plant the white pines were chosen by DNR Wildlife Biologist, Nik Kalejs, who joined us for the day. Even on a weekend, I think he enjoyed the opportunity to get out in the field and see the good work that hunters are willing to do on public land. The white pines will provide thermal cover and nesting areas for wildlife including whitetail deer, turkey, cottontail rabbits, woodcock, and others. While we were planting trees, Bill spotted a fawn that was lying in the grass nearby; other fawns will appreciate this cover in a few years!
Although planting 300 trees seems like a daunting task for just a handful of volunteers, Duane brought his own auger bit attached to a drill that made the work very efficient; thanks, Duane! Being local to the area, Bill, Cody, and Duane have all hunted different species of wildlife in the Muskegon SGA. In fact, Bill taught his grandson, Cody, how to hunt there! After the day’s work, it was nice to stand around and share different stories of our experiences on Michigan’s public land; by far one of my favorite aspects of these projects! Don’t miss out on upcoming opportunities to volunteer; see details on the next project on June 4th in the Pigeon River Country with RMEF or RSVP for a different project here!