Manistee River Trail. Photo by Brielle Jaglowski.

A Love Note to Michigan’s Manistee National Forest

Brielle Jaglowski is a conservation science fellow at National Wildlife Federation

Spending nearly every hour of daylight — catching butterflies, climbing trees, wading through creeks — was the norm for me growing up in southwestern Michigan. It was no secret that I loved being outside. Exploring wooded parks, bogs hidden down winding dirt roads, near-forgotten paths through prairies bursting with wildflowers are some of the places I discovered just a short drive or bike ride outside of my hometown. I was always inspired by the tales of Charles Darwin, and eagerly toted around various field guides in hopes I would identify a new species.

As much as I loved the outdoors, I never grasped the full extent and vital role that America’s public lands played in my own life and the lives of our nation until I had my first experience working in these spaces. As a kid who loved animals, I grew up thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian; I had no idea that I could pursue the path of wildlife biology — like the scientists I revered on Animal Planet — until the summer after my junior year of high school. That summer, I had the time of my life studying woodland jumping mice and other small mammals in Manistee National Forest, which blankets the northwestern Lower Peninsula and has been protected since 1938. I saw my first porcupine in the wild on a trail run, witnessed a black bear mother and two cubs cross the road just a few feet in front of my car, and caught a glimpse of an elusive pine marten high up in a tree. “This is it,” I thought. “This is what I want to do: work in nature and for nature.”

I couldn’t get enough of the timbered hills and gleaming streams I trekked through for our daily research tasks, and spent my free time hiking as well. My favorite trail was the Manistee River Trail, which takes you through grassy fields, over tiny waterfalls, and up pine-covered hills that lead to jaw-dropping, panoramic views of the Manistee River.

I’ve carried this love of national forests with me throughout my work and travels, from exploring the mountainous Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington to the sandstone-laden Coconino National Forest in Arizona. Every new place I venture to carries a trace of familiarity, a sensation that feels like home no matter where I travel.

I’ve spent the past year living back at home in southwestern Michigan during the pandemic, and it was only natural that the call of Manistee National Forest, just a short two hour drive away, drew me back. Returning to the Manistee River Trail, the same dirt paths I had walked seven years ago, felt like the homecoming I so desperately craved amid the chaos of the pandemic. I felt like I was stepping back in time. Yet, the ever-changing landscape and wildlife that inhabit it built upon my older memories and sparked an even greater appreciation for my home state.

National forests give us so much more than we might realize. National forests are one of our most valued resources; these lands provide us with critical drinking water sources, store carbon which helps mitigate the effects of climate change, and act as essential habitat for a myriad of wildlife species. My appreciation for the outdoors as a child evolved into a college education in Environmental Sciences that has set me on a career path aimed at helping these wild spaces and the wildlife that occupy them. I have already learned so much on this journey and my gratitude and appreciation for national forests continuously grows. However, I have also learned that mismanagement of national forests and climate change threaten these precious places that so many turn to for recreation and solace. In order to fortify the health of our forests, we need to give back to them. We need to protect and restore these ever-giving green spaces for future generations.

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So many of our country’s parks and public lands written about in these love notes would not exist but for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), including the Manistee National Forest. This important conservation program was permanently funded when Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act last year. You can learn more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund here.

Would you like to write about public lands that you cherish? Please email Mary Jo Brooks at brooksm@nwf.org for guidelines. You’ll get this cool sticker as a thank you.

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A collection of good news stories about the public lands we cherish, the memories they hold, and with a special emphasis on places that have received money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

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National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

The National Wildlife Federation public lands program advocates for our public lands and waters, wildlife and the right of every American to enjoy them.

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