A beautiful stretch of Lake Huron shoreline that is critical for migratory bird migration as well as tourism is now owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for an interim period.

Plans are underway to transfer the environmentally prized property to the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a local nonprofit group dedicated to supporting Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s preservation, research, education outreach, and sustainable recreational programs. The property transfer will include a conservation easement to be held by Huron Pines, a local conservation organization.

Just outside of Alpena and part of North Point Peninsula, the property provides access to “Shipwreck Alley,” a treacherous stretch of Lake Huron that has claimed more than 200 vessels. Nearly 100 shipwrecks have been discovered within the sanctuary. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (TBNMS) is a marine protected area dedicated to preserving these shipwrecks in Lake Huron.

TBNMS is the only sanctuary in the Great Lakes. The shoreline features some of the region’s most important coastal wetlands, fisheries breeding habitat, wildlife, and rare plants.

“Protection of the North Point Peninsula is an opportunity to blend a mix of conservation, recreation, economic, and historic values into one project,” says Helen Taylor, state director of Michigan for TNC. “This is a stunning property with four miles of shoreline, outstanding coastal habitat, and forest, located in the center of one of the most fascinating historical and cultural landmarks in the state. Too often people think these values are in competition, but they don’t have to be, and through this project, we have found a way to preserve an extraordinary place for people, history, and nature.

What excites me is the opportunity for the Friends of Thunder Bay and their partners to expand programming to school children, so they can learn about the importance of this area, too. It’s important that everyone knows and understands that these natural features define us, provide us with quality of life, and can help stimulate the economic health of the region.”

TNC scientists have looked at North Point for years because of its incredible ecological value. The peninsula provides important stopover habitat for thousands of birds that migrate through the Great Lakes each spring and fall. Its coastal areas provide essential breeding habitat for native fish populations. Two federally listed plant species have been found in the area: dwarf lake iris and Pitcher’s thistle, as well as rare plants such as the ram’s head and calypso orchids. Additionally, 200 acres of the property provides habitat for the federally endangered Hines emerald dragonfly.

“The Friends of Thunder Bay is ecstatic about TNC’s purchase of this spectacular property. This is an incredible opportunity to work with TNC, the sanctuary, Huron Pines, and other key community partners who share a mutual dedication to ensuring this unique stretch of shore-lined property is carefully managed for environmental, educational, historical and recreational purposes in perpetuity,” says Friends Board President Chuck Wiesen.

“As planning and implementation of the project evolves, people will be able to kayak, paddle, or even snorkel from the coastline out to shipwrecks that are part of an underwater museum of historically significant shipwrecks recognized around the world,” says Sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray. “Very few places can offer such hands-on, immersive ways to experience the magnificence of the Great Lakes and their rich history. It’s an extraordinary cultural and educational opportunity.”

Education is a key part of TBNMS’ mission. Each year students of all ages visit the sanctuary’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center or explore Lake Huron and Shipwreck Ally aboard the Lady Michigan, the Friends’ glass-bottomed boat. Opening North Point to the public will provide them with additional access that previously proved challenging.

“We’re thrilled and deeply grateful that TNC’s purchase will give more students, visitors, and the community the opportunity to experience,” Wiesen says. “It’s difficult to imagine how this could have been possible without the expertise, tenacity, and resourcefulness of TNC, and the trust and respect its partners have for the organization and its mission.”

“Turning this vision into reality requires close cooperation among local, state, and federal government units and agencies, as well as private organizations,” Taylor says. “The Nature Conservancy is working in collaboration with other public and private partners to ensure that the North Point Peninsula is protected and remains a natural, cultural, recreational, aesthetic and economic asset for the Alpena community—and a profound legacy for future generations in Michigan.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, the Conservancy works to create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to the world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. Learn more online here.

Press Release Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

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Photo(s) by Dietrich Ludwig