Helping Hands

If spring finds you ready to soak up the sun, get your hands dirty and make a difference, consider volunteering for a non-profit outlet
Queen Lady Slipper
Photography courtesy of Cornelia Schaible

Winter’s long hibernation has passed at last. If spring finds you ready to soak up the sun, get your hands dirty and make a difference, consider volunteering for a non-profit outlet focused on safeguarding Michigan’s natural resources, such as these:

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. One of four Michigan land conservancies to receive recent national recognition (the others include the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy in Mt. Pleasant, Grand Rapids’ Land Conservancy of West Michigan and the North Oakland Headwaters in Clarkston), this Portage-based group organized by local residents in 1991 offers opportunities that range from outreach, stewardship and land protection to Wednesday Warriors, a subgroup now celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

Last year’s volunteers worked a total of more than 30 days on 18 different preserves and took on 14 invasive species, as well as cleared trails and created signage. Indoor opportunities from staffing events to archiving photographs also promote the group’s long-term goals: protecting and enhancing the diversity, stability and beauty of these preserves and other important natural areas in Southwest Michigan (

Piping Plover
Piping Plover // Photography courtesy Tessier

Parks & Recreation Volunteer Stewards, Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Volunteer stewardship workdays are offered year-round in select Michigan state parks and recreation areas. Activities range from reporting, cutting and pulling invasive plants to collecting native seeds for future propagation, planting and other activities designed to restore high-quality natural areas. Volunteers can also aid state parks through initiatives including the Piping Plover Patrol (especially on weekends at Wilderness and Leelanau State Parks, May through July) and Adopt-a-Forest program (, search “Volunteer”).

Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program and Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch. Love your inland lake? Volunteer through the CLMP, an important branch of the state’s inland lake monitoring program for more than 30 years. Currently more than 220 of Michigan’s more than 10,000 lakes participate in the program, making it one of the oldest and largest in the country.

The group’s Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch solicits volunteers to monitor their lakes for invasive plants such as Eurasian milfoil, curly-leaf pondweed, stem stonewart and hydrilla as well as phragmites, purple loosestrife and zebra and quaaga mussels. Lakefront property owners are encouraged to volunteer close to home to ensure water quality and document changes in their lakes over time. Training is held in the spring at the annual Michigan Lake and Stream Associations Annual Conference (;

— Khristi Sigurdson Zimmeth

Walking on the Wild Side

Having just celebrated their 21st year of operation and now protecting almost 12,000 acres, the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy promotes, “The best way to get to know our landscape is to take a walk in it. This is just one of the many valuable roles SWMLC preserves can offer to help support our region’s quality of life.”

Spring into summer at these suggested nature troves:


Chipman Preserve: Lupine are one of the highlights.
Kesling Nature Preserve: Spring wildflowers fade as the birds arrive.
Topinabee Lake Preserve: Watch ducks, herons, and songbirds paddle, wade, and flit.


Spirit Springs Sanctuary: Enjoy ducklings on the pond and dragonflies in the meadows.
Glenn Allen Island: Take binoculars along the bikeway to count heron nests. Park at Markin Glen Park and walk 10 minutes south along the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail to the William & Lois VanDalson bridge.
Hidden Pond Preserve: Stroll through the prairie and up the hill to find the hidden pond full of pollywogs.


Wau-Ke-Na: Meadows are in bloom. Catch cool breezes from the lakeshore.
Chipman Preserve: Return to the trails in dappled shade of oak savannas while bluebirds and goldfinches sing.
Coon Hollow Preserve: Quietly walk down the trail to the edge of the marsh, listening to the banjo-twang calls of green frogs, and maybe spy a stealthy heron stalking in the cattails.

For more details and directions, visit

— Lisa M. Jensen

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