Upper Peninsula wood boat school gets a gig with U.S. Navy

Students Ben Davant, left, and Mike Podgajski shape the final plank for the pilot gig. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Boat Building School.

Students Ben Davant, left, and Mike Podgajski shape the final plank for the pilot gig. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Boat Building School.

By Howard Meyerson

In the tiny eastern Upper Peninsula town of Cedarville — population, 253 — a small group of students is working on a project for the U.S. Navy. As unlikely as that might sound, it is equally remarkable and true.

They are first-year students at the Great Lakes Boat Building School, a private institution that teaches the essentials of wood boat building to young and older students who want to pursue careers in that field. This is the second time in three years GLBBS students are building something of national significance.

USS CONSTITUTION

This season, they are working on a 32-foot Cornish pilot gig for the USS Constitution, the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy — and oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat in world. The 304-foot, three-masted wooden frigate was launched in 1797. It was named by George Washington himself.

The U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy.

The U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy.Washington himself.

The gig is expected to be completed soon. It will be transported in June to the 23rd annual Wooden Boat Show in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. Then, it will be delivered to the Constitution’s captain and crew in Boston.

“I’ve told the students that it will be seen by millions of people over its lifetime,” said Patrick Mahon, the school’s program director. “This project not only gives the school national exposure, but it also exposes our students to the maritime history of the country. A lot of our students don’t have that connection.”
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A fine day for a paddle

           Today was one of those fun days. The weather cleared and I had the honor to hook up with the enthusiastic and skilled members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association who gathered for a spring outing. They brought out an assortment of wood canoe restorations and newer wooden canoes.  Whoever made the chocolate chip and nut cookies should consider going commercial.

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An official paddler’s greeting.

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The beauty of wood canoes

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WCHA president Ken Kelly gets ready to take one out .

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Dave McDaniel brings one of his early restorations out of storage .

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Nothing like wood.

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Somewhere up north where loons call.

© 2015 Howard Meyerson

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Spring Is Blooming: The Best Places To See Wildflowers In and Around Grand Rapids

Hepaticas like these are among the many spring blooms found at Aman and other Grand Rapids area parks. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Hepaticas like these are among the many spring blooms found at Aman and other Grand Rapids area parks. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Spring is a delightful time to be in the woods, a period when wildflowers bloom brilliantly in Grand Rapids area parks and woods. Hit it right and you may be dazzled by white and lavender hepatica blooming on sunny hillsides, or the brilliance of yellow marsh marigolds along creek banks and wetlands.

“John Ball Park has really amazing wildflowers,” offers Kristin Tindall, a master naturalist at Blandford Nature Center, in Grand Rapids. “I’ve never seen more bloodroot in one place, and there are trout lilies.

“It’s also really hard to beat Aman Park. Virginia bluebells grow there along with trilliums and green dragons, a flower related to the Jack-in-the pulpit.”

Read more via the Experience GR Blog: Spring Is Blooming: The Best Places To See Wildflowers In and Around Grand Rapids.

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Salmon season outlook full of uncertainty

Anglers can anticipate catching salmon again this summer, though the Lake Michigan alewife population remains at an all-time low. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Anglers can anticipate catching salmon again this summer, though the Lake Michigan alewife population remains at an all-time low. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

The 2015 salmon season is just getting underway and what anglers can expect remains uncertain. Lake Michigan fishing typically picks up in May but just where in the lake depends on water temperature. And so far lake waters have been uniformly very cold.

“It’s tough to pinpoint where the chinooks will be when water temperatures are the same around the lake,” said Jay Wesley, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan basin coordinator. “But, fishing for lake trout, coho salmon, steelhead and brown trout has been decent. And I know of one 17-pound (chinook) that has been caught.”

Charter anglers around St. Joseph have had intermittent luck with chinooks so far. One recently called to share that fishing was sporadic — a 30-fish-day with a boat full of clients might be followed by a three-fish-day. Cold blustery weather made for difficult fishing in April.

Anglers are likely to find this year’s catch about the same as last, according to Wesley. Michigan sport and charter anglers caught 125,000 chinooks in 2014 and in 2013. Both years were down from 2012 when anglers caught 275,000 chinooks.

Of course, there are fewer chinooks in Lake Michigan these days. Fewer are now stocked by all the Lake Michigan states, and a 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report indicates fewer wild (untagged) salmon showed up in the 2014 catch, particularly up north, where they have been plentiful. Continue reading

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Trout size limit reduced on Type 4 Michigan streams, tightened on coaster streams

This 13-inch coaster brook trout was found in one of the experimental rivers while conducting surveys. Photo: Troy Zorn, Michigan DNR.

This 13-inch coaster brook trout was found in one of the experimental rivers while conducting surveys. Photo: Troy Zorn, Michigan DNR.

By Howard Meyerson

Trout anglers headed out for the 2015 fishing season can now keep 7-inch brook trout  caught on any of Michigan’s Type 4 trout streams. The Natural Resources Commission approved a new regulation in April reducing the minimum brook trout size limit from eight inches to seven inches on those waters.

“The change was more of a housekeeping regulation for simplification,” said Troy Zorn, a research biologist at the DNR’s Marquette Fisheries Research Station. “These Type 4 streams are often the lower reaches of rivers that are too warm for trout. They are primarily streams with Great Lakes runs of fish, and brook trout and brown trout fishing is a minor component.”

The change affects 130 Type 4 streams where the brook trout MSL will now be consistent with Type 1 streams, the majority of trout waters in Michigan.

It was one of several changes approved by the commission for trout waters. The NRC also gave the nod to more restrictive brook trout regulations for nine Upper Peninsula streams where efforts are underway to restore coaster brook trout populations.  It approved establishing “adfluvial brook trout restoration areas” on these Marquette, Houghton and Baraga county rivers: Big Garlic, Big Huron, Little Huron, Pilgrim, Ravine, Silver and Slate. The Portage/Torch Lake system in Houghton County is also included. Continue reading

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State senators seek to get tougher on poachers

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan legislators want to raise fines to prevent poaching. Photo: Michigan Outdoor News.

Michigan legislators want to raise fines to prevent poaching. Photo: Michigan Outdoor News.

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Two Michigan senators want to send a tough message to poachers and wild animal traffickers in Michigan. They recently introduced legislation calling for tougher penalties and higher restitution paid to the state when a person is convicted of illegally killing, buying, selling, or possessing game or protected wildlife species.

“We looked at what we did with trophy buck legislation (in 2013) which raised fines to discourage poaching and found it was successful,” said state Sen. Phil Pavalov, R-St. Clair Township. “We want to send a message that we are serious about protecting wildlife.”

Pavalov’s bill, SB 244, calls for the following fines for each illegal animal:

  • Elk: $5,000, with additional fines for antlered elk;
  • Moose: $5,000, with additional fines for antlered moose;
  • Bears: $3,500;
  • Eagles: $1,500;
  • Waterfowl: $500;
  • Hawks: $1,500;
  • Wild turkeys: $1,000;
  • Owls: $1,000

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Climate Change: Shifting Climate, Shifting Birds

Blue Grosbeak's like this one are typically southern birds, but they are showing up more frequently in Michigan. Photo: Dan Pancamo

Blue Grosbeak’s like this one are typically southern birds, but they are showing up more frequently in Michigan. Photo: Dan Pancamo

By Howard Meyerson

Adam Byrne had the good fortune last year to observe a nesting pair of Blue Grosbeaks. He wasn’t in Tennessee, Florida or other southern state where they commonly sing their songs. He found them in Kalamazoo County—once a rarity, but not anymore. The stocky birds with silver beaks increasingly make appearances in Michigan, in places like Kalamazoo, Allegan County, and the Upper Peninsula.

Fifteen sightings have been confirmed since 2010. Only eight were reported in the decade prior, according to Byrne, Michigan’s Bird Records Committee secretary. Blue Grosbeaks are among the growing list of southern species that people are seeing with some regularity in Michigan, including Chuck-will’s Widows and Summer Tanagers.

“We are seeing (southern) species in higher numbers and more frequently,” affirms Byrne. “They used to be rare, migratory overshoots. Chuck-will’s-Widows have been reported annually since 2005. There are 15 records in the past ten years. Prior to 2005 there were only three confirmed and only one since the 1980s. One shows up in Jackson County every year. It was an incredibly hard bird for anyone to hope to see in the state, and now we have them and can rely on them coming back.”

Shifting Climate, Shifting Species

Scientists studying the effects of climate change suggest Michigan’s long-established mix of breeding birds will shift over time as climate conditions change across North America, affecting what food and habitat is available in different regions. Common southern birds are expected to breed more frequently in Michigan, while some common to Michigan will move north and out of state. Continue reading

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Bill Field: Visionary Founder of Michigan’s First Paved Rail-Trail

Bill Field rode the trail regulrly with family and friends. Pictured on an early morning ride to Mears are (left to right) Marlene Schihl, Bill Field, Bob Field (brother) and Bob' wife Emma. Photo courtesy of Marjorie Peterson.

Bill Field rode the trail regularly with family and friends. Pictured on an early morning ride to Mears are (left to right) Marlene Schihl, Bill Field, Bob Field (brother) and Bob’ wife Emma. Photo courtesy of Marjorie Peterson.

Note: Bill Field was a remarkable man. I had the good fortune to work with him many years ago when I was still a cub journalist. This is the story of  his challenge to save an abandoned rail corridor so it could be developed into a public trail.  –HM–

By Howard Meyerson

Ross Field is reminded of his father almost every day. His office in the Shelby train station sits next to the William Field Memorial Hart-Montague State Park Trail – the popular 22-mile rail-trail named after his father. Hundreds of cyclists annually ride the old railroad corridor. He may see them when they roll by his office, or when they stop at the Brown Bear, a local eatery known for its burgers.

The trail wouldn’t exist if not for the late-Bill Field, who purchased the abandoned Chesapeake & Ohio rail corridor for $175,000 in 1984 so it could be preserved. He then donated it to the state in 1987 so a public recreation trail could be built. Field could have sold the land for a half-million dollars, or more, according to son, Ross. But he chose only to recoup his investment by selling off lease lands along its route.

It was an unprecedented move by a native son, a produce harvester from Shelby that many call a visionary, though others once called him a fool.

“Very few in politics here in Oceana County wanted to touch that thing,” Ross recalls of the bitter dispute that divided the community and railed on for years about the prospective trail. His father, a county commissioner, had attempted in 1982 to gain approval for its purchase by Oceana County. The county parks and recreation commission supported the idea, but it got only wavering support from the county board of commissioners who eventually rejected the notion as too costly and complicated. Farmers along the trail feared cyclists and other prospective users. They worried about vandalism, crop losses, indecent behavior – and worse. Other private individuals along the trail also hoped to buy a piece for themselves.

“Putting a bicycle trail through the countryside on the old railroad tracks was like trying to sell something to Martians, Ross explains. “Very few understood what it could become. Many were on the fence. Politicians were afraid of not getting reelected. A lot of farmers were against it.”

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Dexter’s Mill Creek: Trout fishers have a new place to go

Dexter angler Lauren Kingsley enjoys a day fishing Mill Creek for trout. Photo: (Dirk Fishbach.

Dexter angler Lauren Kingsley enjoys a day fishing Mill Creek for trout. Photo: Dirk Fishbach.

By Howard Meyerson

Trout fishing opened on designated trout streams Saturday and anglers were out celebrating on iconic trout waters, such as the Pere Marquette, AuSable and Big Manistee rivers. But a group of Ann Arbor area anglers plans to wait until May to celebrate the creation of the state’s newest trout-fishing stream.

The Ann Arbor chapter of Trout Unlimited is holding its inaugural Dexter Trout Fest from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 30 in Dexter. You might have heard of the National Trout Festival in Kalkaska, which celebrated its 79th anniversary this weekend.

The five-day event is held near many of Michigan’s best trout waters. Now, there will be a trout festival in Dexter — and with good reason.

Why Mill Creek?

Ann Arbor TU has partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in a six-year effort to build a trout fishery in Mill Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, which runs through Dexter.

It is, perhaps, a surprising location to consider a trout fishery. Most southern Michigan streams are too warm. But AATU members discovered the creek has all the right conditions for trout.

“It’s going to be our first official annual trout festival,” said Bill Phillips, the TU chapter’s lead for the Mill Creek trout project. “It’s going to be called the ‘Art and Rhythms of Trout Fishing.’ There will be games for kids and young adults and fly-tying demos and casting demonstrations.”

Better yet, there will be good-sized trout in the creek. The experimental fishery there is a remarkable development, and anglers who know of it are catching nice brown trout there.

“A lot of people are becoming aware of it and are enjoying the fishing,” said Jeff Braunscheidel, senior fisheries biologist with the DNR’s Lake Erie Management Unit. “For this initial experiment, we are not stocking to establish a population, but we are looking to establish a fishery.”

The DNR agreed, he said, to annually stock Mill Creek with Gilchrist Creek brown trout for six years beginning this spring. It will get 2,200 trout each year from 5.5 to 7 inches long. The agency also planted 1,500 trout in 2014. Ann Arbor TU also will plant 500 trout annually. That’s above and beyond the 14,800 the chapter has planted since 2011. Continue reading

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Birding trails and festivals abound for Michigan bird-watchers

Looking for spring migrants, a bird-watcher stops to see a bird singing in the forest. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Looking for spring migrants, a bird-watcher stops to see a bird singing in the forest. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Peggy Ridgway is no laggard when it comes to organizing bird-watching events. The 73-year-old retired Oscoda school teacher founded the Tawas Point Birding Festival that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The popular Lake Huron shoreline event, May 14-17, draws hundreds of bird-watchers from as far away as California.

They arrive annually in East Tawas with their binoculars and field guides, hoping to view Sunrise Coast Birding Trail 17536316-largespring migrant birds as they wing their way up Michigan’s northeast shoreline, headed for summer nesting grounds. Festival goers spotted and recorded 188 bird species in 2014.

“We’ve had people from 17 states and five countries over nine years,” said Ridgway, past president of Michigan Audubon Society and a member of the AuSable Valley Audubon chapter.

Ridgway’s Audubon chapter is one of three, including Thunder Bay Audubon Society and Straits Area Audubon Society, that have been working for 15 months to develop the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail, a 28-stop, 145-mile, bird-watching trail stretching from Oscoda north to Mackinac City.

The route incorporates the best birding spots on the Sunrise Coast and makes them readily accessible to those traveling by vehicle and bicycle.

Formal dedications for the new trail will be held at 10 a.m. May 2 at Duck Park in Alpena and at 1 p.m. May 2 at Shoreline Park in Oscoda and Mill Creek Historical Park in Mackinac City.

The Audubon chapters received financial help from Consumers Energy and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments. The funding paid for site signs and the development of a four-color map showing the route and birding locations. A copy can be downloaded from the trail website. 

Maps also will be available at area Chamber of Commerce offices and visitor bureaus.

The Sunrise Coast and Saginaw Bay birding trails are two of five that can be found in Michigan. Others include the Beaver Island Birding Trail and Sleeping Bear Birding Trail which opened last year — and the 150-mile Superior Birding Trail in the Upper Peninsula. Details on each can be found on Michigan Audubon’s “Go Birding” page and on the Michigan DNR’s website. Continue reading

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