Stories in Michigan

The Legacy of the Keweenaw Peninsula

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Aerial view of a rolling green forest in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.

32,000 acres of unfragmented, climate-resilient forests and fresh water are now protected.

Keweenaw Peninsula The Keweenaw Peninsula has globally significant opportunities for nature-based carbon solutions and land and water protection, all contributing to the health of one of the world’s largest freshwater systems, the Great Lakes. © Devin Leonarduzzi/Quincy Aerial, LLC

The remote Keweenaw Peninsula features ancient volcanic rocks, cascading streams, scenic Lake Superior coastlines and lush forests that harbor globally rare plants and wildlife. Since 1982, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has worked with partners to ensure the protection of this dynamic area. With the purchase of 32,000 acres in the Keweenaw, this legacy of conservation is poised to continue.

A broad-winged hawk rests on a tree stump in a green forest.
Keweenaw Peninsula Species Protecting the forests of the Keweenaw Peninsula also means protecting the wildlife that depend on it to survive, including gray wolf, bobcat, black bear, pine marten and migratory songbirds that fill the trees with color in the spring. The area is also a haven for migrating raptors. © Gualberto Becerra/Shutterstock

If you haven’t visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s something to behold. Imagine endless forests, rich in biodiversity and teeming with wildlife. It’s here, nestled along the shore of Lake Superior, you’ll find the Keweenaw Peninsula.

One of the most unfragmented, climate-resilient forested and freshwater areas of the central United States, the Keweenaw provides important habitat for Michigan’s gray wolves, bobcats, black bears, pine martens and migratory songbirds. But this land isn’t just valuable to nature.

For thousands of years, the Keweenaw Peninsula has provided for people. It is part of the historic lands of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, who, for generations, have used it for hunting, fishing, gathering and ceremonial purposes. For the local community, nature-based recreation plays an essential role in both the economy and way of life. 

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In 2022, TNC completed a purchase of more than 32,000 acres in the Keweenaw—an area of land equivalent to more than 23,000 football fields lined neatly end to end. Protecting a piece of land so large and so very significant is not achieved alone. TNC is supporting the efforts of community leaders, the State of Michigan and the many people who love the Keweenaw to develop a lasting, community-based plan and model to care for these lands and waters for future generations.

As our state—and our planet—grapples with rapid climate change and biodiversity loss, we don’t just want to protect areas like the Keweenaw. We have to. Michigan is no stranger to species loss. Wolves nearly disappeared from the state in the 1970s, and other species have struggled to maintain a presence. By protecting the Keweenaw, we also preserve ecosystems, habitats and wildlife corridors that are necessary for biodiversity.

Protecting this area will also allow these forested lands to be managed for optimum carbon storage and climate resilience, all while providing a myriad of ways for people to connect with nature. These forests and fresh water have a big role to play in our future. 

Map of the Keweenaw that outlines newly protected lands and existing protected lands.
Map of Keweenaw This map outlines the existing protected lands and the newly protected lands in the Keweenaw Peninsula as of autumn 2022.

Protecting the Peninsula

TNC’s work to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends is grounded in science and time-tested best practices. Land protection—through purchasing land, establishing conservation easements or assisting partners with their protection efforts—helps us achieve this mission. But land protection is just one strategy among many that TNC employs to benefit people and nature. 

  • Three silhouettes of leafy trees.

    Forest Protection

    Protect and restore forests that provide habitat for diverse wildlife and songbirds and support healthy freshwater systems, from headwater wetlands, lakes and streams to the Great Lakes.

  • An icon of a rising temperature on a thermometer.

    Nature-Based Climate Solutions

    Promote nature-based climate solutions that support healthy forests and sequester and store forest carbon, which is necessary to help meet Michigan’s emission reduction goals and achieve carbon neutrality.

  • Silhouette of three people.

    Partnership

    Partner with the community on projects that balance the needs of people and nature. The Keweenaw Peninsula is fast becoming a regional and national outdoor recreation hub.

  • Silhouette of three evergreen trees.

    Sustainable Forest Management

    Demonstrate sustainable forest management practices on TNC’s working forest reserves in Michigan and share that expertise with Keweenaw partners.

A black bear eats berries in an area of dense, green vegetation.
Black Bears in the Keweenaw The black bear is Michigan's sole bear species. While the majority reside in the Upper Peninsula, their numbers are growing in the northern Lower Peninsula. © Wild.NZ/Shutterstock

Pathway to Conservation in the Keweenaw

TNC has been active in the Keweenaw Peninsula for decades. Our efforts are reflected in the three preserves we own and manage on the peninsula:

  • Sunrise hits the bedrock at Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.

    Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor

    The Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor, on the northern shore of the peninsula, is one of our most popular preserves with visitors. Visit the Preserve

  • A scenic landscape shot of the green, hilly Mt. Baldy on a clear day in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.

    Helmut & Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy

    The Helmut & Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy offers spectacular views of the surrounding forests and wetlands. Visit the Preserve

  • Dune and swale wetlands at Bete Grise Preserve in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.

    Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve

    The Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve in the Keweenaw Peninsula features a mile and a half of white sandy beach. Visit the Preserve

However, our impact goes far beyond our preserves. TNC has helped conserve approximately 15 miles of Lake Superior shoreline—practically the entire tip of the peninsula! This includes a collaboration with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a momentous project in the early 2000s, which protected more than 6,200 acres and five miles of the Montreal River. We continue to work with public and private partners on innovative protection solutions. 

The Future of the Keweenaw

The Keweenaw Peninsula has globally significant opportunities for nature-based carbon solutions and land and water protection, all contributing to the health of one of the world’s largest freshwater systems, the Great Lakes. It is also a focal point for issues faced by forests around the world, and by the communities that depend on them—from habitat fragmentation to economic instability.

TNC hopes to continue to support the Keweenaw community as it builds a future around the sustainable use and management of the rivers, lakes and forests of this globally unique landscape and the outdoor recreation and environmental services (like carbon sequestration) that it offers.

The sun sets over Lake Superior in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. Wildflowers and tall grasses grow on top of the hills along the shore.
Keweenaw Peninsula Formed from one-billion-year-old lava flows and the waves of the largest freshwater lake in the world—Lake Superior—the Keweenaw Peninsula is one of the most unfragmented and climate-resilient areas of the central United States. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

TNC has been talking with local leaders and interest groups to listen and learn more about their goals and plans, and to provide support where we can. This includes exploring potential forest protection projects and partnerships that could continue to provide for local sustainable timber and recreational economies.

The Keweenaw Peninsula represents an opportunity for both learning and impact: the solutions we develop together here could be shared with other communities pursuing a resilient, nature-based future, across the Great Lakes and beyond.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a "Conservancy"?

    TNC’s land protection efforts are for conservation purposes that benefit the community. We protect Michigan’s lands and waters for people and nature, which includes public access to TNC-owned lands where feasible.

  • What is a conservation easement?

    Conservation easements are one way to protect land. These legal agreements restrict future development on a property and protect its conservation value in perpetuity. In exchange, the property owner may receive tax benefits. The easement holder—either a unit of government or a qualified conservation organization such as TNC—acquires certain rights and obligations to uphold the easement terms.

  • What is the Keweenaw Forest Project?

    Visit our frequently asked questions to learn about a unique opportunity to purchase approximately 32,600+ acres in the Keweenaw. For more information, sign up for email updates on the project.

  • What is TNC's vision for the Keweenaw?

    TNC’s land protection efforts are for conservation purposes that benefit the community. We protect Michigan’s lands and waters for people and nature, which includes public access to TNC-owned lands where feasible.

    1. Resilient, diverse and connected forests that contribute to climate solutions.
    2. A collaborative, community-centered approach to conservation.
    3. Thriving local economies based on healthy lands and waters.