‘Saving Arcadia’ tells conservation success story

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By IAN WENDROW
Capital News Service
LANSING — For Michiganders, going “Up North” is a common answer to questions about upcoming vacation plans – and for good reason.
That region holds Michigan’s dunes—landforms integral to the state’s history and tourism. They also hold stories of grassroots advocates and volunteers who successfully preserve these pristine landscapes.
Heather Shumaker, the author of “Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes” (Wayne State University Press, $22.99), explores the near 40-year battle between Arcadia Dune conservationists and CMS Energy, the holding company of Consumers Energy, a natural gas and electric public utility.
Located along Lake Michigan’s coastline and almost directly across from Wisconsin’s Green Bay, the Arcadia Dunes’ conservation story begins in 1969. Elaine Putney, an orchard farmer, received a knock on her door from a sharply dressed man. The man, Gerald Derks, was offering to buy land from Benzie County residents on behalf of Viking Land Co., which — as it would later turn out — represented Consumers Power Co.
Consumers quietly acquired several hundred acres of lakefront property in Benzie and neighboring Manistee County, intending to construct a massive water reservoir on the land.
The Putneys were the final holdouts. They faced two unwanted choices: sell their land or have it seized through eminent domain. They chose to sell.
That could have been the end of Arcadia’s dunes, but they remained untouched for several years — a pause that allowed parties across the Arcadia region to organize a defense of these lands.
In the author’s note section at the beginning of the book, Shumaker honors the 5,000 people “who contributed to saving Arcadia.” Shumaker is among that crowd.
Her direct involvement in Arcadia is a story that has much to do with her upbringing.
“I was told as a 6-year-old that you had to hike one mile for every year old you were. That lasted for a number of years,” she said. Growing up in Ohio, most of these hiking trips took place in the Hocking Hills region.
“My parents, particularly my father, got very playful outside. Out in the woods doing lots of balancing on logs or fun games, and it just made the outside a wonderful place to be.”
This early passion for the outdoors drove Shumaker to pursue a master’s degree in land resources and eventually to her new home in Michigan.
After receiving her diploma from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Shumaker came across an opening for a land protection specialist job thr