Beaver Island is like no other place in Michigan, and you’re going to learn all the ways how starting this Saturday on MLive.com.
Our environmental journalists Sheri McWhirter and Garret Ellison arrive Friday and will spend a week reporting on this fascinating place – stuck not only in the middle of northern Lake Michigan, but also in a less-developed era. They’ll be joined on the journalistic trek by MLive videographer Neil Blake.
“It’s my very favorite place in all of the Great Lakes,” said McWhirter, who has lived her life in northern Michigan and has been on Beaver Island several times. “It is arguably the most remote place in Michigan where you can live. Even if you live at the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula you could be to civilization (quicker).”
I’ve been to Beaver Island and will vouch for that. First, it’s a two-hour-plus ferry ride out of Charlevoix, which itself reminds you how large a Great Lake can be. When you dock, it’s not just the lack of big-city amenities that stands out – it’s the palpable sense of remoteness. Forests, fields, dune-grass beaches and nature preserves spread out over 56 square miles and the year-round population checks in at about 600.
Our trio is going to explore the ways that remoteness can protect a biome, and also document how invasive species – human and otherwise – are making their encroachment regardless.
“There’s a particular wildflower that we’re going to be seeing where it was known to grow in two places on the island – and one of those places is now covered by a house,” McWhirter said. “Another is the emerald ash borer has arrived on Beaver Island, later than it did everywhere else in Michigan.”
The journalists will tag along with scientists working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as they release a breed of wasps that prey on the borer. And they are staying at a Central Michigan University biological research camp and will tell stories out of the work researchers are doing on the island – which in fact is a collection of 14 islands, with Beaver as the largest.
“We’re planning to get out with some of the CMU scientists to see what they’re doing with remote underwater vehicles, some of the science around the archipelago,” said Ellison, who is making his first trip to Beaver Island. “And we’re going to get out on a kayak and check out the 42-mile water trail that circles the island.”
One theme of the reporting on research scientists is what is being studied, and done, to keep Beaver Island pristine.
“When it comes to environmental stories, it’s often bad news, like a spill or something,” Ellison said. “But with Beaver Island, we get a chance to write about stuff that’s working, like wetlands monitoring.”
This is the second significant trip in northern Michigan in two years for Ellison and McWhirter. Last summer, they trekked across the Upper Peninsula and did substantive reporting on legacy mining pollution, innovative responses to wolf predation, wildlife love-and-loss stories, and much more. That content was eagerly read by hundreds of thousands of readers, showing an appetite for meaningful stories out of the farther reaches of Michigan.
“We’re kind of camping on this reporting trip – we’re not traveling hundreds of miles in a day like last year,” McWhirter said. But that doesn’t mean they’ll run out of interesting stories to tell.
“The biodiversity out there is magnificent,” she said. “It’s so amazing that it draws scientists in every year to do incredible research. So this is going to be pretty exciting.”
You can follow the reporting of Ellison, McWhirter and Blake on Beaver Island day-by-day by bookmarking this link, which will take you to a collection of all coverage.
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John Hiner is the vice president of content for MLive Media Group. If you have questions you’d like him to answer, or topics to explore, share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.