Have you ever been to Hessel, Michigan?
Hessel, Michigan is an unincorporated village in the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula. Known for its great fishing, antique boat show, and annual Aldo Leopold Festival, its “up North” character and location near the Les Cheneaux Islands makes it a wonderful spot for summer travelers.
A key feature of the village is the Hessel School House, an historic building constructed in 1937 to serve as a two-room school for area children. The school closed in 1958 and was used for other purposes until 2015, when extensive restoration funded largely by local donors prepared the building for its current use as a community center and the home of the Avery Arts and Nature Learning Center (ANLC). The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2019.
The mission of the ANLC is to cultivate a strong land ethic and greater public understanding of the value of the UP’s unique and vibrant natural resources. ANLC co-hosts the annual Aldo Leopold Festival, which honors one of America’s most influential naturalists with paddling excursions, nature and wildlife tours, and other activities in the woods and water around Hessel. ANLC also sponsors the Avery Nature Conservation Program, partnering with writers, scientists, artists, educators, business people, and the public to offer events that increase awareness of the beauty of the region’s natural environment and the importance of conservation.
ANLC partners with people in other regional organizations to plan and implement the nature-based events. Partners include the Little Traverse Conservancy, the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, the Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, and others. Topics vary widely and may include nature-themed education (e.g. birding, plant identification, wildlife, nature photography, general ecology, and climate change) or focus on potential threats to the natural environment, such as invasive species.
ANLC is one of the only organizations in the eastern UP that offers year-round nature programming. According to Paul Gingras, ANLC’s Director, most organizations in the Les Cheneaux Islands area emphasize recreational activities and focus on the summer population, in part because the UP’s seasonal population and tourism-based economy results in more residents in the warm summer months than in the winter. ANLC fills a critical need by serving the local population year-round as well as summer residents and visitors to cultivate a broad-based, educated public that will advance conservation and promote strong ecosystems in the region.
Americana awarded a grant to ANLC in November 2019 to enable ANLC to provide weekly nature-based events throughout 2020 while expanding public engagement and program participation. We look forward to learning how ANLC’s work inspires the eastern UP’s residents and visitors to connect with nature, explore the region’s unique features, and deepen their commitment to conservation. You can find more information about ANLC and the Hessel School House at https://www.hesselschoolhouse.net/.