Stepping Stones Towards Success

Click here for photos and details on the Wildcat Falls Community Forest project

The Wildcat Falls project seeks to accomplish the discrete goal of a conservation acquisition of the Wildcat Falls parcel, in order to create a community forest and manage for public enjoyment and education and long-term health of forests and aquatic habitats. As such, we envision the success of this project as two-fold: First, the acquisition of the parcel and successful implementation of the community forest, and secondly, the engagement of local and regional communities around this project and land conservation in general

Our goal for 2018-2019 is to focus on community and regional fundraising efforts to establish a basis and a record of community support for this project. This effort has been met with tremendous enthusiasm thus far and we believe it will continue to gain momentum. We anticipate being able to complete acquisition of the Wildcat Falls parcel and meet our stated objectives by yearend 2020. With our extensive due diligence, engaged community outreach, and support early on in the project, we feel very confident and excited about carrying this project to a successful completion. Our current fundraising efforts are focused on two fronts: the USFS Community Forest Program, and conservation organizations both locally and nationally. We will continue our efforts to reach out to more conservation organizations in the region, such as lake associations, birding groups, fish and wildlife, hiking, skiing, and native plant and mycological groups. Please contact us if you, or someone you know, can help us achieve our goal.

In total, Northwoods Alliance has played a significant role in protecting well over 5,000 acres of critical habitat. After ten years of successful work in land conservation advocacy, the Northwood Alliance has now added a new conservation strategy--to acquire properties under fee simple ownership or conservation easement. Today, our primary focus is the conservation of land and water in the border lakes region and the Lake Superior watershed. The subject of this application, the Wildcat Falls project, naturally extends from the NWA goals. This project showcases the strength of using sustainable forest management to protect unique habitats and will enrich nearby communities by providing a place for people to recreate and connect to the natural world. Support for this property will result in a permanent and publicly beneficial conservation acquisition creating it as a community forest; a quiet place for us and future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

Background of the Project

The proposed Wildcat Falls Community Forest is a unique and very scenic 160-acre project where visitors can enjoy a diverse forest that includes classified old-growth, stream and pond habitats with a waterfall, seep springs, vernal pools, and rock outcrops. The property is situated at the far southern edge of Ontonagon County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Originally part of the Ottawa National Forest, this parcel was part of a larger land trade initiated in 2007 and completed in 2016, which allowed the Forest Service to add 421 acres of land adjoining the Ottawa National Forest. While this was a beneficial trade for the larger scope of the FS program, the trade process brought intense opposition from a segment of the community as this highly scenic and diverse Ottawa parcel, herein referred to as ‘Wildcat Falls’, was considered a special place by generations of local residents and seasonal visitors.

While the land trade process introduced some conflict, there were two prominent positive outcomes from this process. First and foremost, the outpouring of comments and actions in opposition to the land trade should highlight the value of this unique parcel to the community. Especially since 2010, there has been unified and diligent community engagement and support that eventually culminated in this Wildcat Falls Community Forest proposal. Second, during the land trade process an environmental assessment (EA) and other resource surveys were conducted to appraise the ecological and community values of the property. These assessments document the tremendous diversity of undisturbed habitats on the property, and have further inspired the community in their desire to protect this special place.

The primary goals for the Wildcat Falls project are 1) to ensure perpetual public access to Wildcat Falls and the special features around it and promote rewarding non-motorized recreation; 2) permanently protect and responsibly manage the broad range of habitats on the property, which will ensure that the diverse aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna continue to thrive; and 3) establish a model of a community-managed forestland, providing an opportunity for community members to directly engage in the management of a forestland and recreational area.

Community Benefits and Engagement

The Community Forest concept provides a working example of sustainable use of forest resources, while providing permanent protection of the forest’s natural features and habitats. In this way, the Wildcat Falls property will provide a unique type of conserved land in this region and will complement the immense value of the Ottawa National Forest. As a community forest, the Wildcat Falls property will cultivate direct engagement and a sense of stewardship from the community and will provide an example of a conservation strategy for lands at risk of development. By engaging the local community in these efforts, the community forest concept also fosters public awareness, appreciation, and respect for conserved lands. In addition, a Wildcat Falls Community Forest would support the primary economic drivers of the local economy; tourism and forestry.

In our efforts to engage the local community in protecting the Wildcat Falls property, we have partnered with a number of local and regional organizations. Our current list of partners includes: Copper Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Conserve School, Friends of Sylvania Wilderness, Jack Parker Associates (geologists), Keweenaw Land Trust, Northwoods Native Plant Society, Partners in Forestry Cooperative, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, and the Wilderness Society