Were you out on CR 510 to look at the brilliant fall colors this year? Next time you explore Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, stand on the Old 510 bridge and look upstream at the south riverbank: much of what you see is now a nature preserve, forever protected for the sake of future leaf-peepers, photographers and hikers.

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The Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy (UPLC), with the help of the Nature Conservancy, several foundations, local businesses and hundreds of individuals, raised more than $250,000 over the last four years to purchase two properties known collectively as the Dead River Community Forest. One piece is near the dramatic 510 bridges, and the other is just north of UPLC’s existing Vielmetti-Peters Reserve. While UPLC still has about $50,000 left to raise to complete infrastructure as well as provide public recreation and educational opportunities, the organization is thrilled to announce that they have closed on the land purchase as of October 5, 2022. The Dead River Community Forest is now 186 acres of protected, healthy forest habitat that contains 3.5 miles of river frontage and dramatic landscapes and scenery.

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Photo by UPLC

With continued financial and volunteer support, future plans for the Community Forest include around five miles of multiuse trails and an outdoor classroom in partnership with local educational institutions. Until UPLC has fully completed the necessary infrastructure, they thank visitors for respectfully refraining from accessing the properties until construction is complete.

UPLC Executive Director Andrea Denham explains: “By abstaining from visiting the property, you are honoring the sensitive wildlife habitat, protecting clean water from sedimentation and slopes from erosion, as well as preventing the accidental creation of confusing social trails. Future trails will be designed to provide access and protect sensitive plants, animals and soils. Even a small handful of individuals wandering can have long-lasting impacts that will be difficult and expensive for us to repair.”

UPLC intends to host guided tours of the property in the near future. When asked about the timetable for trail building, Denham says: “We hope to begin building trails next summer. Please consider including the DRCF infrastructure in your financial and volunteer plans!”

Photo by Allison Jarrell

What is the Dead River Community Forest?

The Dead River Community Forest is in Negaunee Township and contains 186.5 acres of healthy forestland, just on the edge of the expanding commercial area. The property includes nearly three miles of riverfront, rare vegetation and many native wildlife species. This collaborative project is called the Dead River Community Forest because the main focus is to directly engage and involve the community in every aspect of the acquisition, planning and management of this unique area. The project aims to enhance the local economy and promote a collective focus on protecting nature in order to preserve the quality of life in Marquette County for future generations of residents and visitors.

The six main goals of the Dead River Community Forest are:

1) To permanently preserve the ecological values of the two properties.
2) To provide recreational opportunities that meet the needs of the community.
3) To actively engage the public in the land protection and management processes.
4) To provide opportunities for the public to establish an emotional connection with the property, which will spur a sense of communal responsibility.
5) To expand environmental education opportunities for students and landowners to experience hands-on learning about the sustainable management of U.P. forests.
6) To initiate a climate change mitigation- and restoration-focused forest management plan.

Photo by Allison Jarrell

The two portions of land that have been acquired are currently referred to as the “Bridges” and the “Bayous” – naming opportunities may exist in the future via sponsorship. These parcels were slated for housing development on the edges of town, in an area that is rapidly filling with parking lots and big-box stores. UPLC has been working with many groups of neighbors and other organizations for years to plan the Dead River Community Forest. They plant to continue communicating and collaborating with the community and a variety of local and regional organizations regarding community-desired uses and best management practices for this area.

Ensuring the community resources at the Dead River Community Forest are protected in this way honors local history and ways of life, while ensuring economic longevity for the community. UPLC believes that having an accessible natural area within a short distance of town is an amazing asset to the folks who live, work, learn and visit the greater Marquette area, and such an asset is a distinctive part of the lifestyle that life in the Upper Peninsula provides. Furthermore, a portion of the forest will be actively and sustainably managed for timber and other forest products, honoring and ensuring the continuation of traditional income sources for this area.

About UPLC
The Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to protect “Land Today for Life Tomorrow” across the U.P. by means of permanent, legal protection of lands and waters for the benefit of the community. For more information about UPLC, visit uplandconservancy.org or contact UPLC at uplc@uplandconservany.org. 

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Photo(s) by UPLC