Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Collective efforts help clean up Round Island Wilderness

On Round Island Wilderness, Julia Hall (USFS), Ryan O’Neil (Arnold Freight), Ryan Akers (Michigan State Police) and Kyle McGregor (Michigan DNR) move trash from the Arnold Freight vessel to the larger MDNR landing craft. USDA Forest Service photo.

MICHIGAN – On September 12, 2018, a dedicated group of partners came together near St. Ignace, Michigan, to haul trash from Round Island Wilderness in Hiawatha National Forest. Partners included USDA Forest Service staff, Michigan state police trooper Ryan Akers, four MDNR Mackinac Island state park commission employees, Arnold Freight Incorporated staff and volunteers Peter and Sean Hubel, who work at bike shops on Mackinac Island.

The project began in August 2017, when brothers Peter and Sean Hubel and Michigan state police Trooper Ryan Akers were kayaking and noticed an abandoned camp on Round Island. Being dedicated to the “Leave No Trace” ethic, they were dismayed that visitors would just leave trash, discarded equipment and other abandoned property on public land. The wide array of abandoned property included tarps, old tents, rotting beds, chairs, dishes, empty food containers and even a rusty old washing machine.

They could have just forgotten about the mess, but instead they connected with Kyle McGregor and MDNR officer Justin Wright to see if they could come up with a solution.  Shortly thereafter, their effort quickly gained momentum as the group identified the resources that would be needed to haul the trash away. In August 2018, the Hubels and Akers returned to the island to prepare for the work day by documenting the locations of the dumpsites on National Forest lands. 

Clean up of trash on Round Island has been an ongoing challenge for Forest Service managers, so Hiawatha’s East Zone recreation program manager, Kari Vanderheuel, was very appreciative of the partners and their enthusiasm.

“Trooper Akers contacted me in May to propose a joint effort to remove some of the larger dumpsites, and I was thrilled by their offer assistance,” Vanderheuel stated.

She explained that with a small staff and a small boat, it is challenging for the Forest Service to remove trash from the island, let alone the volume of trash found.

“However with the assistance of volunteers and with the added vessels from Arnold Freight and Michigan DNR, the prospect of cleaning up more trash on Round Island became realistic,” said Vanderheuel.

The Hiawatha rented a dumpster for the project and teamwork filled that dumpster with Round Island trash. USDA Forest Service photo.

Arnold Freight contributed its 906 Freight Express vessel, and Michigan DNR contributed a large LCM (landing craft) vessel. Each vessel came with a captain and a deckhand as well. The Arnold Freight vehicle was used to collect trash at various dump locations around the island. When full, the trash was transferred to the larger LCM, docked near the Round Island Lighthouse.

On the morning of the cleanup, five Forest Service staff rendezvoused with the volunteers and partners near the Round Island Lighthouse. For the rest of the day, the project team collected trash and attempted to repair the visual impacts at the sites.

“Round Island is a congressionally designated Wilderness area, and we wanted the landscape to look natural and untrammeled. We removed makeshift fire rings and shelters,” explained Vanderheuel.

Designated a Forest Service-managed wilderness by the United States Congress in 1987, Round Island Wilderness is situated in the Straits of Mackinac adjacent to bustling Mackinac Island within view of the much-travelled Mackinac Bridge. Despite its high-profile location, Round Island itself is a remote place. While it’s pretty to look at – including the presence of the historic Round Island Light House -- the island is dominated by lowland and wetland habitat.

At the end of the trash clean-up day, the LCM hauled the trash to a dumpster the Forest Service had rented near the marina.

“It felt so good to see all that trash in a dumpster where it belongs,” commented Vanderheuel.

Vanderheuel expressed her appreciation to the team of volunteers and partners, noting that when we come together with others we accomplish more than if we were all working separately.

“We are truly thankful for the enthusiasm and dedication of these individuals, and we look forward to working together in the future,” she said.

Interested in getting involved? There are lots of volunteer opportunities available on the Hiawatha.