Author: Emily Cook, ISN Outreach Specialist
Two expanses of forest, just east of Frankfort in Benzie County, are gradually being restored with the goal of natural communities being returned to their original state. These parcels, acquired by Frankfort/Elberta Public Schools, have seen much change - from original cutover, ongoing farming, and then abandonment. This naturally led to the establishment of a healthy population of woody invasive shrubs like honeysuckle, barberry, and autumn olive. These species are opportunistic in settings such as this (and quickly take over).
Ultimately, another goal is to restore the area for educational use.
Kama Ross, ISN Partner and FAP Forester for Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Leelanau Counties refers to the Forest Stewardship website to explain. "The concept of school forests in Michigan dates back to 1925 with the Negaunee Schools in the Upper Peninsula. The program grew statewide in 1931 when the Municipal Forest Act was passed by the Michigan Legislature, allowing the Department of Conservation (i.e. the Michigan DNR) to take tax reverted properties (those with delinquent property tax payments) and transfer ownership to schools and government organizations. The forests are not just for schools; they are open to public access, providing both educational opportunities and community-wide benefit."
In the meantime, there's a lot of work to do. First, determining the best management practices and subsequent restoration requires diving into published information, historical forest records, and looking at neighboring parcels.
Liana May, Owner of Borealis Consulting, has been working diligently to determine the design and process which she says is, "one of the most challenging parts of the process".
"Though we rely on the best published information, every forested area is different; soils, microclimate, ecological interactions, all vary from site to site; so we have designed what we think will be a successful start to a diverse and climate resilient hardwood stand that provides well for wildlife"
Seeing that design come to life is already well underway. In January of this year, Wildlife and Wetlands Solutions, LLC began the process of removing the woody invasives on site - an impressive endeavor. Now, much of the standing red pine is being logged. Other beneficial trees will be left standing including white pine, black cherry, sugar maple, white spruce, and American beech. Come spring, new seedlings will be planted, some with an emphasis on replacing beech and ash trees affected by insect and disease.
Kama admits she is a bit worried about seedling success with no water source on the property but only time will tell which trees do the best on these sites. Let's all keep our fingers crossed for some spring and summer rain!
Eventually, students from the nearby schools will be able to see the forest regeneration first-hand and maybe even assist with some invasive species removal. Garlic mustard is present and will likely worsen at first due to the shrub removal and subsequent logging. Members of the public may also have the opportunity to assist with bare root seedling planting although those plans are still in development. If you would like to learn more about this project and/or be kept in the loop regarding volunteer opportunities, please contact Kama directly - firstname.lastname@example.org.