160 Acres: A Lasting Legacy

160 Acres: A Lasting Legacy

By Cynthia Pryor

The 160-acre tract in Big Bay, Michigan, encompassing the mouth of the Yellow Dog River, is being purchased by the Farwell Family in the memory of Jean Farwell, a long-standing member and supporter of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Inc. We have been working for the last year to effect a purchase agreement with the current owner and we are thrilled that this property will be protected in perpetuity and for public use from ecological damage and the effects of growth and development in the watershed.

The “Yellow Dog Swamp” or SOSAWAGAMEE< (Yellow Water), as it was known by the Ojibway, surrounded and encompassed much of what is now Lake Independence-roughly 3,500 acres of swampy lake. In the early 1930’s, a dam was built on the Yellow Dog River, which elevated the swampy lake into the modern-day Lake Independence. The original Yellow Dog Swamp has been reduced to about 1,600 acres.

The State of Michigan owns 1,048 acres, 160 acres are corporately owned, and the remainder is private. In 1996, large tracts of Yellow Dog River lowlands were purchased by developers and subdivided into small river-frontage parcels and sold. The remaining 160 acres of this development tract are our target acquisition. The tract is located at the mouth of the Yellow Dog River and is a riparian wetland with more than half of the acreage an open riverine marsh with hummocks of mixed upland/lowland forests. It is a thriving habitat for numerous waterfowl, migratory birds, and marsh and riparian flora and fauna-both common and protected. The southern remainder of the property is mixed upland/lowland forests with the Yellow Dog River flowing slowly through it where the river ends just before flowing into Lake Independence. The river travels underground or braids into hundreds of tiny channels of flowing waterways – making its way to Lake Superior River via the Iron River.

Purchase of this parcel will protect nearly one-quarter mile of the Lake Independence shore; over a mile of the Yellow Dog River; the mouth of Johnson Creek; and all associated wetlands, swamp, and riverine forests from home development, road building, and timber production. As the wildness and beauty of this area is treasured by many, this purchase will be an immense boon and asset to the community. Next spring, we will begin the process of making the property accessible to the public with hiking/skiing trails, observation areas, and many wildlife-oriented activities – like fishing!

Contributions to the Jean Farwell Wilderness Fund will offset costs of maintenance on this property and will also be used in the protection of other properties in the Yellow Dog Watershed.

Thank you Jean, I can see your smile.

What do you consider the key to your success?

The ability of our organization to identify a resource that required protection and the timing of a committed member wishing to purchase a property in remembrance of his spouse.

How would you outline the steps in organizing your project to advise another group on a similar project?

1. Extensive research and mapping of a watershed area to identify critical and unique qualities that require protection.

2. Building a good foundation of member contributions and their commitment to the organization’s precepts and projects.

3. Providing solid projects that match our members’ interests and their willingness to assist in such projects.

What have been the effects of this effort on your organization’s work?

Tremendous Leaps and Bounds in member enthusiasm and support. More opportunities for grant funding and land acquisition have emerged.

How has the project affected your community?

Community response has been very positive and our level of respect within the community has risen since this project.

What particular stumbling blocks, challenges, or defeats did you encounter?

Access rights to the property have been challenged and we are currently working with the landowner and his lawyer to come to a viable solution.

How many people-hours were spent on the various aspects of the project?

Research and Mapping-1 year

Land Acquisition-3 board members – 80 people hours

Trail Building/Observation Deck/Farwell Sign at Trailhead – 7 volunteers – 5 days

Jean Farwell Dedication-50+ people – 1 beautiful day on the river!

Access Challenge-1 board member – 40 hours

Administrative Work – 1 staff member – 20 hours

How was public involvement motivated and facilitated?

The public was motivated by the poignancy of the donation and their feeling that our organization was doing something wonderful for the public.

How was public education a component of your program?

Because of the land acquisition, we have had various outings on the land (birding, skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking). This has helped the public understand the property and its ecological benefits to the area.

What was the primary means of communication?

Face-to-face contact, phone, and snail mail were the primary means of communication, although E-mail and fax were used as well.

What resources were available/acquired/tapped into?

Total project cost was $62,500, which we acquired through private financing. We have also set up a Jean Farwell Wilderness Fund, where members can donate money specifically for this property’s maintenance and other land acquisition projects. Previous grants from GLAHNF to improve the effectiveness of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve helped to create an organization able to tackle such important projects.

What level of media exposure were you able to obtain and how did it affect your efforts?

Our local newspaper and a local environmental group each featured an article on the Wilderness Area. We also had a feature story in our newsletter, the Yellow Dog Howl. This newsletter was distributed to our members, environmental groups, government agencies, logging corporations, and to various businesses in the community. This brought a greater recognition level of our organization and our efforts.


Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve
PO Box 414
Big Bay, MI 49808

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.