October 15, 2018|By Greg Yankee| Partnerships
In the heyday of Michigan's lumbering era, an open field that looked down on the Tittabawassee River north of Midland served as a winter staging ground for massive stacks of newly cut timber. Each spring, once the river’s ice melted away, the logs would be rolled from this property into the water to float downriver to sawmills.

These days, that same overlook serves a different purpose. It’s known as the Averill Preserve, and people come from all over the Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan to enjoy its natural beauty. The Little Forks Conservancyin Midland, Michigan, owns the 74 acres of fields, forest, and trails that comprise the Preserve, keeping it open for public use while also protecting it from development.

10 15 18 WIN3 figure fig14Averill Preserve. Photo by The Little Forks Conservancy. 

Little Forks’ mission is to permanently protect and improve natural environments in mid-Michigan by leading and inspiring actions that conserve vital habitats and waterways for the benefit of our entire community. Our passion is connecting people with the natural world, and Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN) has been instrumental over the years to help us achieve our vision. 

With WIN’s help, we recently upgraded the Preserve to add a new river viewing area, a 1,000-foot trail into nature, a play space for kids, restrooms, and other enhancements. Taken together, these upgrades make the Preserve much more accessible, especially for people with disabilities, and more fulfilling for anyone who wants to reconnect with nature.

10 15 18 kildee overlookGreg Yankee (right) addresses a group at Averill Preserve’s new river viewing area. Photo by Katy Kildee of Midland Daily News.

10 15 18 ribbon cuttingCutting the ribbon to celebrate the completion of the new concrete viewing area, which provides an exceptional view of the Tittabawassee River for all visitors. Photo by The Little Forks Conservancy.

Averill Preserve is just one example of the kind of project made possible by WIN. The organization is a community-based, voluntary initiative that connects people, resources, organizations, and programs that promote a sustainable community. It was founded 20 years ago by The Conservation Fund and The Dow Chemical Company to keep the expansive Saginaw Bay Watershed and its tributaries healthy and accessible.

As executive director of Little Forks, I continually work with WIN and have experienced first-hand its unique, powerful approach.

WIN is not simply a funding organization. It convenes experts, collaborates with conservation organizations, leverages funding and best practices, and implements for environmental, economic and community gain. Business people, farmers, conservationists, tourism specialists, city planners, government representatives, and community members contribute to its success by providing expertise and a broad range of viewpoints. It’s a comprehensive, holistic process that considers more than simply nature. Community development and economic prosperity are at the forefront of decision-making.

WIN provided critical constructive feedback as Little Forks planned the development of the Averill Preserve. A retrofit drain recommended by WIN was so innovative it won a design award. WIN also provided funding at several important junctures. The group is often the first to contribute funds for a project, serving as a catalyst for other funders and a launch point for many projects. I don’t know of another organization of its kind in the country.

10 15 18 drain bridgeOnlookers stand on the bridge at the L&B drain site. With help from WIN, The Little Forks Conservancy reconstructed the drain to control erosion into the river. Photo by The Little Forks Conservancy.

Little Forks views the work of conservation as a gift of wilderness, beauty and recreation to our community. When a small child crosses the path of a turtle at the riverbed or a disabled senior sees a bald eagle swoop by while on a hike, we know our work is accomplishing its mission. 

We owe WIN a debt of gratitude for helping make our mission possible. Happy 20thanniversary! The Little Forks Conservancy looks forward to 20 more years of impactful collaboration. 

Learn more about the enhancements underway at the Averill Preserve in this video featuring Greg Yankee.

10 15 18 Find out more squareMake sure to read our entire WIN blog series:
Part I: Meaningful Conservation from Saginaw Bay WIN by Neil Hawkins, Corporate Vice President of Sustainability for The Dow Chemical Company
Part II: Strength in Partnership: A Simple Idea That Benefits An Entire Region by Larry Selzer, President and CEO of The Conservation Fund