Volunteer Spotlight: Jo Ann Barrett and Joe Devine

Volunteer Spotlight: Jo Ann Barrett and Joe Devine

By Stephanie Gerling, LCWM Volunteer

Pulling invasive weeds. Collecting seeds. Lopping down shrubs. Planting trees. It takes a lot of work to maintain the 1,398 acres of land protected and managed by the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. And none of it could be done without volunteers.  

There are 20 unique nature preserves under the Land Conservancy’s care—everything from oak savannas and pine forests to bogs, grasslands, and more. Volunteers have been at every single one of these preserves, helping the Land Conservancy fulfill their mission to help people protect, enjoy, and care for natural land. 

Two volunteers who are making an incredible impact on the Land Conservancy’s mission are Jo Ann Barrett and Joe Devine. 

“Time is currency, and I love spending it doing restoration and conservation. I will always be doing this.”
– Jo Ann Barrett

Both Jo Ann and Joe volunteer at Second Saturday events, which are volunteer opportunities the Land Conservancy holds on the second Saturday of every month. Volunteers spend their Saturday morning at a pre-designated preserve to remove invasive species, build paths, plant trees—whatever Land Conservancy staff determines is needed to maintain that particular preserve.  

Jo Ann was a long-time caregiver for her father and experienced a disconnect during the COVID pandemic, but she found a connection with nature. Jo Ann and her father shared many moments outside, sitting together in nature breathing in fresh air. Her desire to strengthen this connection brought her to the Land Conservancy of West Michigan after a simple online search: groups to help me become more involved with nature 

“I remember volunteering at a Second Saturday at McDuffee Creek,” said Jo Ann, “We were carrying these 4x4s through the woods to build a path alongside the creek. My dad had trouble walking, and then there I was, helping make a path so people could walk easier along the creek. It felt good to do something that would help people get into the woods.”  

Joe stumbled upon the Land Conservancy completely by chance. In 2021, Joe was in the beginning stages of bird watching and looking for places to go. He found Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve in Rockford, a nature preserve protected by the Land Conservancy and a great place to spot cranes.  

“There is great ecological value in plain sight.”
– Joe Devine

“It was unlike anything I’ve seen before,” said Joe, “Most preserves I’ve been to are forests or woodlands. You just don’t see restored grasslands like that. I thought it was the coolest thing.” 

Now an avid birdwatcher, Joe documents all of the birds he sees as he visits the Land Conservancy’s preserves around West Michigan. He’s spotted indigo buntings, orioles, goldfinches, red tailed hawks, and great blue herons—just to name a few.   

“All of the Second Saturdays I’ve participated in have been memorable,” said Joe, “I really like the ones where we’re cutting down shrubs and getting out there with saws and loppers. You look back and you can see the ecosystem that you let grow and the nature that you opened up. The work you’re doing is visible immediately.” 

Jo Ann shares a similar sentiment about playing an important part in nature preservation. “I’m changing the landscape! This invasive tree isn’t going to be here, this native tree will be planted here. In a hundred years, everything will look different, and I will have had a part of that.” 

Both Jo Ann and Joe have been personally inspired by the Land Conservancy and are bringing the organization’s mission into their own homes and routines.    

Every time Jo Ann attends a Second Saturday event, she shares a ‘groggy selfie’ and a picture of her work gloves on Facebook. Her posts show the gradual wear of her gloves—slowly getting a little dirtier and worn after each passing Second Saturday. So far, Jo Ann has been to seven different Second Saturdays and engages with her friends and family on Facebook after each one.

Jo Ann’s work gloves captured at various Second Saturday Workdays.

“I explain what I’m doing and why it’s important. People ask me questions about it. I’m showing people that it’s okay to get up early on a Saturday, to cut down trees or pull weeds, to get dirty,” said Jo Ann.  

Jo Ann is also finding other ways to support local environmental initiatives. She’s advocated for people to have access to Michigan’s waterline and beaches, and has written letters in support of restoration efforts at Dune Harbor Park in Norton Shores—near where she grew up. 

“I’ve gained such an appreciation for the protection of these spaces. I have nieces and God-children who might need this space someday,” said Jo Ann.  

Joe was inspired to take things into his own hands and directly help the environment in his life by turning his front yard into a micro-prairie. Instead of a green and manicured lawn, Joe’s planting native flowers to welcome pollinators and letting nature take over. 

“I’m so excited about this,” he said, “And I never would’ve done something like this if I hadn’t been introduced to the Land Conservancy and learned about natural ecology and how ecosystems work. I’m learning how to identify different plants. I’m becoming more interested in ecology and the natural world around me.”

Birds Joe has spotted while visiting The Highlands.

On behalf of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, we would like to thank Jo Ann, Joe, and all of our volunteers for the work you’ve done to help us protect and preserve natural spaces. To show our appreciation, we will be having a volunteer celebration on June 27th at Roselle Park with food, drinks, yard games, and award recognition. We hope you will join us!  

Whether you are an expert hiker, a novice horticulturist, or you just love being outside, we welcome you to our next Second Saturday event or other upcoming programs to help us protect, preserve and care for natural land.

  • Thank you Jo Ann and Joe for your dedication to making the world a better place. I applaud you!

    June 10, 2024at7:57 pm
  • Mark Devine

    The two of you as well as all of the volunteers are an inspiration and your work is admirable. Keep up the great work and enjoy the outdoors. Joe, make sure to post pictures of your yard transformation.

    June 18, 2024at5:23 pm

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