Preserve Steward Annette Byers takes care of Minnie Skwarek Nature Preserve
Annette Byers signed on to be the Preserve Steward of Minnie Skwarek Nature Preserve in 2018. She learned of the opportunity while she was completing a master naturalist training with Michigan State University Extension. A lifelong learner, Annette relished the opportunity to continue expanding her knowledge of plants while logging her required volunteer hours for the program.
“It was a good way to keep learning, and I do learn a lot every time I volunteer,” Annette said.
Annette has felt a connection to the natural world since childhood. She grew up on a dairy farm in Isabella County in central Michigan. She and her seven siblings were allowed to roam freely in the rural environment, exploring the area’s woods and streams.
“I’m nostalgic for those days, because that was a nice time,” she said.
Annette is grateful that there are publicly accessible natural areas to explore where she lives now, in Ottawa County. She considers her work as the Preserve Steward at Minnie Skwarek Nature Preserve an important way to support nature.
“I’m really happy to be a part of the Land Conservancy and do my little part in helping to monitor the preserve,” Annette said.
Annette’s responsibilities as Preserve Steward include visiting the preserve at least once per quarter to pick up trash, remove obstructions from the trail, monitor for misuse of the land, and help remove invasive species.
Annette enjoys visiting the preserve in every season. She particularly appreciates seeing the skunk cabbage emerge as the first harbinger of spring. Undeterred by deep snow and freezing temperatures, she also likes to help remove invasive shrubs that are only accessible in the winter, when the preserve’s damp soil is frozen solid. Every visit invites the opportunity to observe signs of life thriving in the preserve—and not just plants and animals.
“There are a lot of subdivisions around the area. Kids go out and build teepees and wooden structures.” Annette acknowledges that too many such structures could disturb habitat, “but I love to see that they’re out there using the space—that they’re enjoying it and they’re out in nature. That’s one of my favorite things, making it nice and accessible for people who might not have access to nature,” she said.
If it weren’t for the community of people who have worked together to protect Minnie Skwarek Nature Preserve, there would be one less place for kids to forge the connection to nature that Annette values from her own childhood.
“The thing I really like about Minnie Skwarek is that I think if it wasn’t set aside, it would be developed,” Annette said. “We have to set aside places like that.”
Annette also volunteers at the Land Conservancy’s monthly Second Saturday Workdays and enjoys spending time in the other preserves protected by LCWM. She hopes to one day visit them all, and she is particularly excited to see the new Upriver Nature Preserve in Newaygo County. We are grateful to Annette for her service as a Preserve Steward and for all of the ways she helps keep nature nearby.
Image: Annette Byers.