District ranger strengthens ties to Michigan community with friendly competition

Three figures walking toward shore from Lake Michigan.
District Ranger Jake Lubera, escorted by safety team members, runs out of Lake Michigan after his first plunge in the icy waters Jan. 26. Courtesy photo by Ashley Wojtas.

MICHIGAN—Inspired by USDA “neighborhood partnerships” and “United We Serve” campaigns, the Huron-Manistee National Forests embraced their duty to strengthen and nourish local  communities with a friendly competition.

Baldwin/White Cloud District Ranger Jake Lubera challenged his Michigan Department of Natural Resources counterpart to a food drive in December. Whoever collected the most food to donate to their chosen food pantries won bragging rights while the loser was obligated to take three dips into an ice-cold body of water on public land managed by the competition.

Such food drives have helped establish the forests as good neighbors in their communities. During this drive, the district and the department were able to donate a total of 2,690 pounds of food and household goods to two food pantries in Lake and Mason counties thanks to their combined efforts.

“Challenging the DNR is a fun way to foster our relationship with state partners,” said Ranger Lubera. “The icy plunge, in a costume chosen by staff no less, got the office more invested in the drive, and in the end, our community gets stronger and well-fed.”

Donations from the Huron-Manistee have increased in the years since the annual competition started. Unfortunately, Ranger Lubera was not able to best the DNR this year.

Under the watchful eye of two safety officers and donning a homemade Robin Hood costume, Lubera plunged himself into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan in late January, but not before enjoying a potluck lunch with Forest Service and DNR staff. The water may be cold, but the partnerships are warm!

Jake Lubera moves boxes of food and other donations from the back of a pick-up to a rolling cart.
District Ranger Jake Lubera unloads one truck load of donated food and household supplies at a local Michigan food pantry Dec. 18, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo by Briana Graham.