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Littering poses threat to Nordhouse Dunes ecosystem

Bronte Cook/Interlochen Public Radio

The Huron-Manistee national forest covers nearly one million acres of land in northern Michigan - including the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area, one of the most popular wilderness recreation sites in the region.

Nate Peeters, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service, says trails at the Nordhouse Dunes are really busy during the summer months; and while people are encouraged to use the wilderness as a resource, this presents unique problems. 

According to Peters, littering is one of the biggest human-based problems in the area.

"We'll go down to the landings and see people have left glass bottles, shattered glass bottles," he says. "We clean it up as quickly as we can, but we can't be everywhere at once." 

The dunes are a fragile ecosystem, and are home to endangered species like the piping plover and the Pitcher's Thistle. 

Credit Bronte Cook/Interlochen Public Radio
Campers and hikers park their cars on the street leading up to the Nurnberg Trailhead.

There are a number of rules to help keep the dunes intact. For example, dogs must be kept on leashes under six feet long, people must camp 400 feet away from Lake Michigan and visitors are not allowed to drag coolers on wheels. 

Peters says things that seem little actually make a huge difference.

"Most people want to do the right thing," he says. "By teaching them how to care for the environment, we're creating stewards to help maintain this resource."

He says this will help make the dunes a better place - for both the ecosystem and the visitors. 

"Our hope is that people will start thinking a bit outside their own experience and realize how their actions can impact the experiences of other users and the sensitive ecosystems that we cherish."

This story was featured on Points North. You can find the full episode here.

Bronte Cook is a rising third year student at Ithaca College pursuing a B.A. in journalism with a minor in women and gender studies. There, she is a recipient of the Park Scholar Award, a competitive scholarship presented to individuals with a passion for media, leadership and community service.