Marguerite Gahagan Nature Preserve joined the ARWRC as a partner organization in the fall of 2007.
The Marguerite Gahagan Nature Preserve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization originally established under the jurisdiction of the Roscommon Metropolitan Recreational Authority in 1997. It resulted from a gift of land by the estate of Marguerite Gahagan, founder of the NorthWood's Call, an environmental newspaper she created more than 50 years ago. MGNP has an elected board of directors, a constitution and formal by-laws. Its mission is to protect and maintain a balanced habitat that supports a wide variety of plants and animals and to engender awareness in our community of the value of protecting habitats.
Today, MGNP Inc. manages the property and conducts fundraising activities on behalf of the preserve, while RMRA continues to own the property as a municipal authority under the auspices of Higgins Township and the Village of Roscommon. Following establishment of the preserve, the board of directors and volunteers restored Ms. Gahagan’s home, converted it to an interpretive center and adopted a strategic plan. MGNP received a grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Non-Game Wildlife Fund to finance the construction of trails, a boardwalk, interpretive signs and an introductory kiosk. Other grants received from the Roscommon County Community Foundation, the Youth Advisory Council and the Kirtland Community College Foundation, as well as gifts from private citizens and substantial volunteer efforts by preserve members, have allowed the preserve to convert an attached garage into an environmental education classroom. A dedicated Preserve member then built us a large new garage as a gift.
As part of its strategic plan, MGNP developed an educational program committed to working with area schools to provide outdoor education activities for students and programming for the community at large. A part-time education director was hired in the fall of 2000 and a vigorous educational program has been established serving every school-age child residing in the upper AuSable River watershed.
Watershed Water Quality Monitoring Start-up Project.
In the fall of 2006, the MGNP board of directors became aware of a program that encompassed the entire Great Lakes watershed and that was directed at establishing volunteer based watershed water quality monitoring programs. In Michigan, it is called the Michigan Clean Water Corps or MiCorps. An opportunity existed to seek a grant from MiCorps to begin a program to monitor the health of our watershed. The board then explored the feasibility of having our little preserve act as the fiscal agent and submit a proposal for a start-up grant. We quickly learned, that while there was no shortage of intense interest in the quality of the watershed, no one else was ready to go after the money and develop a program. No sooner had the board given the go-ahead for the project, than a small group of partner organizations and a steering committee was formed. Our partners for the start-up project were to be: the Au Sable River Center in Roscommon, Kirtland Community College, and the Anglers of the Au Sable. The steering committee consisted of Bob Hess, a retired DNR wildlife biologist, Brian Hutchins, retired director of the Forest Fire Experiment Station in Roscommon, Jim Tucker, a retired elementary school teacher and member of the Au Sable River Center, Denise Kemp, biology instructor at Kirtland Community College, Tom Dale, education director for Marguerite Gahagan Nature Preserve, Irene Borak, free lance journalist and professional entomologist and Rusty Gates.
Our principle goals for the watershed monitoring effort are to help ensure, both for the short term and long term, the good health of the river, by establishing ecological benchmarks and to enlist a large cadre of friends of the river as volunteers. At the outset, we were very surprised to find that the Au Sable River had very little water quality or habitat data on record. In 1974, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources published the results of a three-year investigation on the health of the Au Sable River watershed, but the study has not been repeated. In 2002-2004 the Griffith Foundation funded a baseline storm water sampling effort on the main branch that resulted in the City of Grayling making significant storm-runoff improvements, but the study was not extended to other branches and has not been continued on the main branch. Making judgments regarding the impacts of some clearly evident encroachments along the river is impossible without baseline data. The list of encroachments and threats to the watershed is enormous, including: road/stream crossings, adjacent RV trails, recreational canoeing, unregulated junk-yards, horse trail crossings, foot-traffic, adjacent oil and gas wells, adjacent petroleum refining substations, storm water run-off, adjacent septic tanks and drain fields, fords, sedimentation, lawn treatments, pesticide applications, construction run-offs, dams, both natural and man-made and yes, even fly fishermen. The Au Sable River desperately needs water quality benchmarks and an on-going monitoring program.
In order to proceed with program development, we needed to establish a broad community of interest, recruit a cadre of volunteers, and raise some local money. While the start-up proposal had no match requirement, the full proposal had a 25% local match minimum. As it turned out, the local match issue has never been a problem. Every river-based organization that we were able to contact was more than willing to provide support for the project. One organization in particular seems critical to any long-term efforts to protect the resource. We are very fortunate that the Au Sable River Watershed Restoration Committee (ARWRC) brings together 30 partner organizations has joined as a partner to our upper Au- Sable River watershed monitoring program. Marguerite Gahagan Nature Preserve has joined the Committee and now has a member serving on the executive board.
In the fall of 2008, the steering committee grew to 12 members, including Karen, Demers, Houghton Lake Middle School teacher, Alan Diodore, North Branch Association board member and Anglers of the AuSable vice president, Patrick Ertel, Huron Pines program manager, Bob Andrus, President of ARWRC, and Mark Hendricks, president of the Headwaters Chapter of TU. Many others are quite active and we welcome every AuSable River lover to join our ranks. We have now submitted a full grant proposal with an ambitious 2 year plan that, when funded, begins with volunteer training near the end of May and sampling early in June of 2008. The project administrator will be Irene Borak.