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Prevent bear problems by removing all food sources

From the Michigan DNR

As hard to believe as it might be, black bears see a bird feeder as a food source. Bird feeders, garbage cans and barbeque grills all are bear attractants that humans can control.

Bears are more noticeable to people right now, as young bears are establishing their own territories. Bears typically mate in late June to early August, and the mother will kick out her yearlings in order to do so. Those yearling bears now are looking for new, unoccupied territory and will be roaming to find a new home.
“Bears are looking for food and new territory,” said Kevin Swanson, Department of Natural Resources wildlife management specialist with the bear and wolf program. “While we might not think of bird feeders and trash cans as food sources, a hungry bear certainly may.”
Bird seed is especially attractive to bears because of its high fat content and easy access. Once bird feeders are discovered, bears will keep coming back until the seed is gone or the feeders have been removed. Bears are capable of remembering reliable food sources from year to year.
“The majority of complaints we receive about nuisance bears involve a food source, and these issues tend to rise in years when natural food availability is low,” Swanson said. “The easiest thing people can do to avoid creating a problem is to take in their bird feeders and store other attractants, like grills, trash cans and pet food, in a garage or storage shed.”
Bears that are rewarded with food each time they visit a yard can become habituated to man-made food sources. This can create an unsafe situation for the bear and become a nuisance for landowners if a bear continuously visits their yard during the day and repeatedly destroys private property in search of food.
Those who have taken appropriate actions to remove food sources for a period of two to three weeks, but are not seeing results, should contact the nearest DNR office and speak with a wildlife biologist or technician for further assistance.
For more information about Michigan black bears please watch “The Bear Essentials” video at www.michigan.gov/bear.

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Human Health and Insect Surveys


OUT-Nature-niche-Swamp-milkweed-monarchSome people might wonder why the Monarch butterfly is currently proposed for Federal Endangered Species status. Monarch numbers have declined significantly during this new millennium and there are several contributing factors. One concern is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO). GMO crops have been genetically altered to be herbicide resistant so more chemicals can be used on crops, allowing higher yield to support our growing human population.

It is difficult for farmers to purchase seeds that are not genetically modified. The increased use of chemicals in farm fields has eliminated many of the milkweeds that Monarch butterflies require to successfully migrate from Mexico to Michigan.

Lincoln Brower conducted studies in the 1960’s to gain understanding about how Monarchs acquire chemicals from milkweeds that protect them from bird predators. Milkweeds developed chemical protections through natural selection that protected them from most insects trying to feed on them. Most insects cannot feed on milkweeds because of the plant’s poisons. Monarchs, milkweeds bugs, milkweed longhorned beetles and some others have developed the ability to feed on the plant and have developed ways to isolate the poisons without being killed.

Brower fed Monarchs to blue jays and the birds became ill, vomited, and had an irregular heartbeat. The birds learned to not eat Monarchs or other orange insects.

Later other scientists studied cardiac glucocides ingested by monarch’s from the milkweeds to learn how they affect the heart. It was discovered that if a person has an irregular heartbeat, the chemical could be used to help correct the heartbeat. After learning its medical value, the chemical has been manufactured in the laboratory and used to save human lives.

If monarchs were allowed to become extinct before the study, we might never have made the life saving discovery. Many, if not most, medicines first come from studying plants, fungi, and other organisms to understand their role in nature niches. Scientists do not just throw chemicals together and test them to see how they might be useful. They look to the natural world.

Butterfly and other insect surveys conducted by citizen scientists aid in monitoring the abundance and distribution of insects. Similar surveys for birds, mammals, and plants help us understand trends for various species populations. Most species have not been studied for their value to humans. The value of many has been lost to extinction and will never reveal their life saving secrets. What if the chemical in milkweeds and Monarchs was lost before the life saving use was discovered?

The recent local butterfly survey conducted by citizens like you has value for fun and learning about local nature niche relationships. It also is important in tracking population changes. The information can be used to preserve species that save human lives. Some people require a known human use before they are willing to support saving a species from extinction. It is impossible to know the value of each species. It is estimated that between five and fifteen million species live on Earth and possibly 30 million. We have named about 1.5 million so far and, for most of those, we know little about their value for us.

Insects that live in your yard might be human life saving organisms provided we do not eliminate them with pesticide and herbicide use. You have life saving control that is important for future generations. If we eliminate species, their value disappears with them. Encourage people to live in harmony with nature rather than trying to dominate it.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net, or mail Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319. 616-696-1753.

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Volunteers needed for state park workdays


Residents are invited to get outdoors this summer and join the effort to restore high-quality, unique ecosystems at several Michigan state parks. The Department of Natural Resources today announced the August schedule of DNR volunteer stewardship activities at state parks throughout southwest and southeast Michigan.

Volunteers will pull invasive, non-native weeds from prairies and remove invasive, non-native shrubs like glossy buckthorn, autumn olive, multi-flora rose and others.

Following is a list of workday dates, locations (counties) and times:

Southwest Michigan

Saturday, Aug. 1: Fort Custer Recreation Area (Kalamazoo), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday Aug. 2: Yankee Springs Recreation Area (Barry), 1-4 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 8: Muskegon State Park (Muskegon), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 9: Grand Mere State Park (Berrien), 1-4 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 16: Ludington State Park (Mason), 1-4 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Ionia State Recreation Area (Ionia), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 23: Warren Woods State Park (Berrien), 1-4 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 29: P.J. Hoffmaster State Park (Muskegon), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 30: Saugatuck Dunes State Park (Allegan), 1-4 p.m.

Southeast Michigan

Saturday, Aug. 1: Highland Recreation Area (Oakland), 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 2: Pinckney Recreation Area (Washtenaw), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 2: Island Lake Recreation Area (Livingston), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 5: Waterloo Recreation Area (Washtenaw), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 8: Bald Mountain Recreation Area (Oakland), 9 a.m.-noon

Sunday, Aug. 9: Waterloo Recreation Area (Washtenaw), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 15: Belle Isle Park (Wayne), 9 a.m.-noon

Sunday, Aug. 16: Pinckney Recreation Area (Washtenaw), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Island Lake Recreation Area (Livingston), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 23: Highland Recreation Area (Oakland), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 29: Brighton Recreation Area (Livingston), 10 a.m.-1 p.m.


For more detail on the DNR volunteer steward activities, including meeting locations and activity descriptions, please visit www.michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers and click on the link for the Calendar of Volunteer Stewardship Workdays.
Volunteers should bring work gloves, drinking water and appropriate clothing for outdoor work (including long pants and sturdy, closed-toe shoes). For spotted knapweed pulling, long sleeves also are recommended, as some people are sensitive to the plant. All volunteers are asked to register using the form available on the DNR website or via email.
For more on southwest Michigan workdays, contact Heidi Frei at 517-202-1360 or freih@michigan.gov.

For more information about southeast Michigan workdays, contact Laurel Malvitz-Draper at 517-719-2285 or malvitzl@michigan.gov.

On stewardship workdays, volunteers can enter Michigan state parks without a Recreation Passport.

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Weekly Fishing Tip


A technique for targeting muskellunge in hot weather


OUT-WeeklyFishingTipIn the thick of summer, it can be hard to encourage muskellunge into taking your lure or bait. Already a wary predator, this “fish of 10,000 casts” is very particular and often retreats to deeper water during this time of year. But there is a technique you can implement that will, on occasion, produce outstanding catch results.The idea is to use a large rod, at least eight feet in length, with quite a bit of line and to cast as far as you possibly can. Use the length of the cast to engage in an aggressive retrieve that gives your lure/bait bursts of energy and then slowing the speed every 10 feet or so.
Be patient as you use this technique for an extended period of time, and be encouraged if you obtain several “follows” as a result (those who avidly seek out muskellunge will know what that means!).

Want even more advice for targeting this unique sportfish? Go to www.michigan.gov/dnr and then click on Fishing, and then Michigan Fish and How to Catch them, and then Muskellunge.

This tip was adapted from Michigan Outdoor News.  


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144-year bear absence

OUT-NatureNiche-blackbearBy Ranger Steve Mueller


The first sighting of black bear in Indiana occurred this summer in June, after a 144-year absence.  Several sightings of bears also occurred in Western Michigan. Several years ago, a female bear spent the winter near Ada and emerged in the spring with a cub.

Most of the 15,000 bears in Michigan are found in the Upper Peninsula, where extensive suitable habitat is present. In heavily human populated areas, bears are bound to encounter difficulties. All animals require adequate food, water, shelter, and appropriate living space.

Forests are reclaiming areas that were cleared in the late 1800’s. Bears are dispersing, exploring and claiming the developing habitat. Finding water is easy and shelter is not too difficult. Finding adequate food is more difficult. Bears feed on insects, fruit, vegetation, dead mammals, and live mammals when they can catch them.

The arrangement and availability of food, water, and shelter create good or poor living space. When the three are not in appropriate distribution, life becomes a challenge and wildlife does not succeed. It does not matter if the wildlife is an insect, fungi, bird, fish or mammal. Larger animals like black bears require more living space for their nature niche than smaller species.

It might be fun to see a bear where we live but living with bears is a challenge. Bears seek accessible food. Bird feeders concentrate high fat seeds, garbage can be a good food source, and even our gardens and apple orchards are attractive.

I recall a bear in an orchard on the heavily human-populated Old Mission Peninsula, between East and West Grand Traverse Bays, when I was state park ranger in the area. It was not suitable for the bear and the decision was made to move the bear. It was shot with a tranquilizer that was not adequate, so a second was used and the bear dropped dead. Giving the correct dose of anesthesia is tricky business, as is living with bears.

A beekeeper friend kept beehives but has given up the practice because he lives in bear country, in Northern Minnesota. Bears raided his hives and bird feeders. He adjusted to living with bears by eliminating his beehives and restricting bird feeding to when bears are in a deep winter sleep.

At Bryce Canyon National Park, where I was park ranger, a bear learned backpackers have food. Even when packs were hung in trees, the bear raided camps. Most bears run in the presence of people but this bear did not. It entered camps and took packs and food from campers. It destroyed packs and drove campers away. After several reports of the problem, three rangers investigated. The bold bear came toward the rangers and would not be deterred. It was shot and killed. Bears habituated to people become the most dangerous.

Many of us might recall a bear entering a Tennessee campground and killing a 6-year-old girl a decade ago. Over-hunting and habitat loss resulted in disappearance of bears in most regions a century ago. Habitat restoration requires we find ways to live safely with bears. It is important that bears remain fearful of humans. I have been fortunate on several encounters with bears, in wilderness areas, where they ran away when they saw me. Most bears fear humans.

Karen and I encountered a bear with a cub at Grand Tetons National Park. They approached the trail. We stopped and gave them plenty of room. Other people came from the other direction and did not hesitate. They kept walking toward the bears with disregard, despite our warning. Fortunately, the mother bear did not attack to defend its young. The stupid behavior of the people could have caused them injury or death. If that occurred, I am sure the bear would have been killed. Learning to live responsibly with bears requires appropriate human behavior.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Weekly fishing tip 


OUT-ChannelCatfishFishing for channel cats in the summertime 

From the DNR

These warm months can be the perfect time to target channel catfish throughout Michigan. Found nearly statewide, channel cats inhabit both lakes and streams.This species is typically pursued by anglers using live, dead or cut bait, though anglers have long used all manner of bait—cheese, shrimp, liver, spawn—or commercially prepared blood or scent baits. Though occasionally taken on artificial lures by anglers pursuing other species, channel cats are traditionally fished with bait presented on the bottom.
A good tip to remember is channel catfish will fight once they’re hooked. Consider using at least 12-pound test to ensure your line is tough enough to handle their strength.
This tip was adapted from Michigan Outdoor News. 

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DNR reports 2014 deer hunting harvest down across Michigan


Several factors added to decline; wildlife managers working on improvements


Several factors contributed to a lower deer hunting harvest in 2014.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently issued a Michigan Deer Harvest Survey Report on the 2014 hunting seasons indicating that roughly 615,000 hunters statewide harvested a total of roughly 329,000 deer. The harvest represents a drop of 15 percent from 2013.
Wildlife managers report that regional declines in deer harvest were greatest in the Upper Peninsula, where the overall harvest was down by nearly 36 percent.
The DNR said several factors—including back-to-back years of severe winter weather that depleted the deer population in some parts of the state—contributed to the decline.

Snow, snow and more snow

“In the Upper Peninsula, winter started early with more than three feet of snow on the ground in some areas before the Nov. 15 opening of firearm deer season,” said DNR wildlife biologist Brian Frawley. “Though not as severe as the previous season, this marked the third consecutive rough winter for the deer population in the U.P.” Frawley said that much of the region’s drop in deer harvest could be explained by those conditions. The heavy U.P. snowfall, for example, made it challenging—sometimes impossible—for some firearm deer hunters to get to their camps. Given the conditions, many decided not to hunt; others, after experiencing the effects of the two previous winters, decided not to buy licenses.
“When the number of hunters is reduced in a given year, the deer harvest potential naturally is reduced, too,” Frawley said.

 Michigan deer hunters spent 8.8 million days afield last year.

Michigan deer hunters spent 8.8 million days afield last year.

Across all hunting seasons, 84,099 people hunted deer in the U.P. in 2014, down about 19 percent from 2013.
Natural cyclical movement

DNR Director Keith Creagh said that like Michigan’s deer population, the state’s deer harvest numbers have risen and fallen in an ebb-and-flow pattern since the early 1960s.

“The number of deer harvested hit a low in the early 1970s at below 100,000 statewide,” Creagh said. “With mild winters and changing forest conditions, deer populations then rose and hunter harvest climbed to more than 400,000 by the late 1980s.”

After tough back-to-back winters in the mid-1990s, the harvest followed the population steeply downhill, but rebounded again to nearly 600,000 by the end of the decade. Since then, deer harvest has remained below 500,000 since the early 2000s.

Other population indicators

DNR deer program biologist Ashley Autenrieth said U.P. deer-vehicle collisions tallied 2,961, down 22 percent from 2013. Crop damage permit kills were down to 1,664 in 2014 from 1,745 the previous year. “These two factors indicate a drop in the overall deer population,” Autenrieth said. The winter severity index, crop damage permits and deer-vehicle accidents also were down in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Pockets of success

In northern parts of the U.P., firearm deer hunters who did get to their camps and blinds found the snowy conditions had put many deer on southward seasonal migration paths early. Hunters who altered their strategies to follow those paths fared better. Despite the challenging conditions, firearm deer hunters in the U.P. harvested 14,734 antlered bucks, with 41,415 taken in the northern Lower Peninsula and 49,110 in the southern Lower Peninsula.
Across all 2014 deer hunting seasons, nearly a fourth of hunters in the western U.P., and 14.6 percent in the eastern U.P., harvested at least one antlered buck. Statewide, the percentage jumped to 26.9 percent.

Overall deer harvest, hunter satisfaction

Statewide, 41 percent of hunters harvested a deer in 2014, compared to 43 percent in 2013. Roughly 11 percent of deer hunters harvested two or more deer of any type. Less than 4 percent of hunters took two antlered bucks.
About 20 percent of deer hunters harvested an antlerless deer and 27 percent took an antlered buck. “Across Michigan, 39 percent of hunters said they were satisfied with their overall hunting experience, with the highest satisfaction in the Lower Peninsula,” Frawley said. “Those are numbers we want to build on as we work to provide a positive experience for hunters in every part of the state.”

Other population, harvest factors

Michigan deer hunters spent 8.8 million days afield last year. DNR efforts to improve the deer population affected the harvest numbers as well. Those actions include:

To protect more does in the U.P., the Michigan Natural Resources Commission restricted the number of deer management units open to antlerless deer hunting to three areas in the southern part of the region.

Recently, at the urging of hunters, the NRC decided to remove for this fall the ability of hunters in the U.P. to tag antlerless deer during the archery season with a single or combination deer license.

For the long-term, DNR and hunter efforts continue to improve deer habitat:

A U.P. Habitat Workgroup reconvened in January, focused on improving and conserving critical winter deer habitat, offering technical assistance and incentives to private landowners.

A Mississippi State University multiyear study on the role of predators, winter weather and habitat on white-tailed deer fawn survival in the U.P. is continuing, aided by the DNR and Safari Club International.

Reasons for optimism

Although the overall number of license buyers was down from 10 years ago, an increased number of people younger than 14 years old and people older than 50 bought a hunting license last year. Overall, 12 percent of license buyers were younger than 17 years old.
The DNR continues efforts to meet changing hunter demographics by promoting hunting to younger hunters and female hunters, whose numbers are rising.
Across Michigan, about 57 percent of hunters supported antler point restrictions on buck harvest that were implemented for the U.P. and about 63 percent of the hunters who preferred to hunt in the U.P. supported the antler point restrictions.

The DNR offered all deer hunters the option to voluntarily report information about their deer hunt via the Internet. More than 4,200 hunters responded. Next, a questionnaire was sent to 58,857 randomly selected individuals who had bought a hunting license, but had not reported harvest information online. Respondents who promptly responded became eligible to win a firearm or a bow.
Questionnaires were returned by 29,035 hunters (a 51-percent response rate), providing additional valuable harvest and experience data.

Moving forward, the DNR and the NRC will continue to talk with the public regarding their ideas on more measures that potentially could be taken to further improve deer hunting in Michigan.

For more information on the 2014 deer harvest report, visit www.michigan.gov/deer.

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Enjoy a variety of events at state parks 

Orchard Beach State Park’s survival skills program provides an interactive experience for practicing the art of camouflage.

Orchard Beach State Park’s survival skills program provides an interactive experience for practicing the art of camouflage.

Summer means more time to spend in the sun, and state parks in western Michigan have plenty of events for people to do just that.The Department of Natural Resources recently shared highlights of some of the upcoming July events:

Monday, July 20:
Rec. 101 Survival Skills at Orchard Beach State Park (Manistee County). Meet the staff of Crystalaire Adventures from 1-2:30 p.m. for this introductory class focusing on the skill of camouflage. Please preregister by calling 231-352-7589.

Programs offered by Michigan state parks, such as a hands-on camping and backpacking class, allow participants to learn about the outdoors, practice using maps and work together

Programs offered by Michigan state parks, such as a hands-on camping and backpacking class, allow participants to learn about the outdoors, practice using maps and work together

Wednesday, July 29: Adaptive Paddling Clinic at Interlochen State Park (Grand Traverse County). Experience this fun and interactive adaptive paddling clinic, provided by Lighthouse Rehabilitation Center, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Please preregister by calling 231-263-1350.

Friday, July 31: Rec. 101 & 202: Intro to Camping and Backpacking at Leelanau State Park (Leelanau County). Join the staff of Crystalaire Adventures for a two-part class. From about 1-2:30, a free introductory program will cover camping basics, and afterward (until around 5 p.m.), visitors can learn more advanced backpacking skills during an actual backpacking trip ($35 for advanced class). Please preregister by calling 231-352-7589.

Weekly Programs:

Beach Yoga at Charles Mears State Park (Oceana County).

Tuesdays and Thursdays, now through Labor Day,  starting at 9:30 a.m.

Select Michigan state parks provide active and enjoyable fitness programs such as the beach yoga class, shown here.

Select Michigan state parks provide active and enjoyable fitness programs such as the beach yoga class, shown here.

Great Lakes Beach Yoga at Muskegon State Park, Channel Beach Pavilion (Muskegon County).

Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30-11:30 a.m., July 20 through Labor Day.

Beach Fit Boot Camp at Grand Haven State Park (Ottawa County). Come learn about this new fitness craze that utilizes the sand and the Beach Fit Outdoor Tool at Grand Haven State Park.

Saturdays 9-10:15 a.m. and 1-2:15 p.m. and Sunday 9-10:15 a.m. Now through Labor Day

To make camping reservations at any of these state parks, please visit www.midnrreservations.com or call 1-800-44PARKS (1-800-447-2757).

For more information about these events, visit the online calendar of events at www.michigan.gov/gogetoutdoors, or call the park directly.

Many of these events are free to attend, but camping prices will apply for overnight guests and a Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry to each of these state parks.

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Allegan Butterfly Count


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Conditions were excellent for the Allegan State Game Area Butterfly Count. Clear skies with temperatures between 70 and 81 degrees F provide butterflies with good flying weather. Butterfly emergence for many species is later than expected due to this year’s weather conditions. People joined with the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) to learn identification and to enjoy wild areas. We carpooled and even encountered other people looking for butterflies. What joy!

The Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest, Rogue River State Game Area Count, Grand River Count in Ottawa County, and the Muskegon State Game Area Count held by WMBA will occur during July. The Allegan count was held on July 5, and species sighted are listed in Table 1. The results from the Rogue River SGA Count will be published in a nature niche column, but visit the WMBA Web Site for results from all our counts. A $5 membership sent to our treasurer will keep you connected for club activities (address on web site) www.graud.org/wmba.html.

2105 Allegan SGA Butterlfy Count No.


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 2

Spicebush Swallowtail 1

Whites & Sulphurs

Cabbage White 7

Clouded Sulphur 6

Blues and Hairstreaks

American Copper 2

Bog Copper 6

Coral Hairstreak 18

Edward’s Hairstreak 693

Banded Hairstreak 25

Striped Hairstreak 2

Summer Azure 2

Brushfooted Butterflies

American Snout 1

Great Spangled Fritillary 17

Aphrodite Fritillary 21

Pearl Crescent 2

Gray Comma 3

Mourning Cloak 1

Red Admiral 53

Red-spotted Purple 2

Hackberry Emperor 6

Tawny Emperor 2

Eyed Brown 1

Appalachian Brown 1


European Skipper 8

Northern Broken Dash 5

Delaware Skipper 3

Mulberry Wing 1

Broad-winged Skipper 1

Dion 1

Black Dash 1

Dun Skipper 2

Total Adult Individuals 896

Early Life Stages

Spicebush Swallowtail larva on Sassafras 1

Edward’s Hairstreak eggs oak 5

Karner Blue larva 4

Monarch larva on milkweed 1

Total Species 30

Allegan SGA Butterfly Count

Time 0900 – 1715 hrs (1 party)

AM 100% sunshine

PM 100% sunshine

70 – 81 F

Wind stilll to light breeze for short period in early afternoon

Total Party hours 8.0 hrs

Total Party Miles on foot 3.3 miles

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319, or call 616-696-1753.

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Explorer guides educate, entertain at state parks

 Veteran Explorer Guide Mike Latus enthralls campers with his fireside storytelling at Warren Dunes State Park.

Veteran Explorer Guide Mike Latus enthralls campers with his fireside storytelling at Warren Dunes State Park.

From the Michigan DNR

As the sun sets over Lake Michigan, Mike Latus holds court on the sand of Warren Dunes State Park. He’s an animated one-man show, walking in circles around a small fire pit, talking about voyageurs and Indians, legends and myths, planets and ghosts, while a crowd of more than a hundred—mostly youngsters, but adults, too—listen, some amused, others enthralled.

To Latus, it is a typical weekend night, when the fireside story hour regularly draws a big crowd

Several hours earlier, he’d led a group of 30 on a hike through the woods, pointing out medicinal plants or unusual trees, answering numerous questions. As soon as his fireside chat is finished, he’s setting up telescopes for visitors to explore the night sky for his regular “Sky Watch” program.

Explorer Guide Devin Burke entertains campers at a Meteors & S’Mores program (built around the Perseid meteor showers) at Young State Park. 

Explorer Guide Devin Burke entertains campers at a Meteors & S’Mores program (built around the Perseid meteor showers) at Young State Park.

Latus is an Explorer Guide, one of an army of Department of Natural Resources employees who educate and entertain visitors at 43 state parks in Michigan. Latus, a high school math and science teacher the rest of the year, has enjoyed his summer job for 21 years. The other program members consider him a rock star, for his longevity, enthusiasm and ability to wow a crowd.

“This is my summer vacation, it’s my hobby, and I Iive close enough to the park that I’m out here every weekend, even during the winter,” he said. “It’s teaching and being outdoors and connecting with people who are trying to connect to nature.”

Latus is aware of his status among Explore Guides. “I think I’ve gotten a reputation because I just don’t quit,” he said. He puts on 11 scheduled presentations a week, but will rearrange his schedule for church, Scout and school groups or whoever may be coming to the park but can’t make a scheduled event. He presents some programs regularly, others intermittently.

“Certain programs are just made for Warren Dunes,” Latus said. “You’ve got to do dune hikes; you’ve got to do beach hikes. And people have come to depend on the storytelling. We do Sky Watch every Friday and Saturday night and we always get a crowd for that.”
Explorer program coordinator Karen Gourlay says the Explorer Guides are seasonal naturalists. “They work in state parks all over Michigan,” she said. “Their job is to connect the visitors to the resources available in the park. They create their own programs, market their own programs and present their own programs. They’re a very creative bunch of employees. I’m always excited to see the programs they develop and their ability to get the visitors excited about natural resources and the parks.”
Many of the Explorer Guides are college students—often natural resources or education majors—who are working summer jobs as they explore potential careers, but they needn’t be.
“Mostly I’m looking for people who are enthusiastic and willing to learn and teach what they learn to others,” Gourlay said. “Having enthusiasm for outdoors is important. The youngest person I’ve had working for me was fresh out of high school. The oldest was 70 years old.”

Explorer Guides attend a weeklong training session at the beginning of the summer, where they learn about the job and share experiences with each other. A full day is devoted to fishing, but employees also learn additional program-creating techniques.
“Hook, Line and Sinker is a huge part of the program,” Gourlay said. “They may know a lot about fishing, but they may not know how to teach fishing.”
Other than that, guides are free to develop their own programs. “They’re individualized,” Gourlay said. “They figure out the cool factor—what it is that brings people to those parks—and go with that.”

Michelle Schepke, the Explorer Guide at North Higgins Lake State Park, conducts a regular fishing program at nearby Marl Lake every Friday evening. And Saturday afternoon she leads a tour through the CCC Museum. The rest of the week, Schepke, in her second season, presents programs on archery, canoeing, kayaking or any number of subjects.
“I love teaching and I love working with children and families,” said Schepke, a preschool teacher. “I love to see their faces light up when they learn something new or exciting. I always try to have some nature programs—a turtle program or a frog program with a live animal—something unique that will draw people in.

“I love it.”

So does Shelby Brown, in her third year of running programs at Metamora-Hadley State Recreation Area. A student at Central Michigan University, Brown said she started out by presenting well-established programs, but has since developed her own unique presentation. “Last week I did a Michigander program. I researched a bunch of cool Michigan facts and set it up trivia style,” she said. “People seemed to like that. And I do a program on hoppers—frogs, rabbits, white-tailed deer—animals that hop. It’s a great summer job. I like being outside all day and I’m a people person so I’m with other people all the time. And everyone who comes to my programs is genuinely interested. It’s not like school;  they want to be here. It’s awesome.”

Always popular with state park visitors, the Explorer program is becoming even more of a draw. Originally designed to cater to park visitors, the programs are increasingly being regularly attended by local residents. The DNR has expanded outreach to local community centers and libraries to publicize the programs.

“That’s a huge component now of what we do,” Gourlay said.

To help meet demand, Explorer Guides sometimes make presentations at other nearby parks. And some park supervisors send one of their summer workers to the training so they’ll know how to present occasional programs.
For a list of state parks with Explorer programs and scheduled events, visit www.michigan.gov/stateparks.

The DNR is always looking to expand outreach opportunities and will be hiring more guides next year. The job is perfect for educators or naturalists, but those are not requirements, Gourlay said.

“You can’t be afraid of bugs,” she said. “Or you can be, but you just can’t show it.”

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