Autumn joined The Nature Conservancy in 2022 as a Conservation Fellow supported by the DTE Foundation. Her fellowship supports the work of TNC Michigan and the science team with research, writing and data analysis.
Currently she is contributing to the research and report development for Michigan the Beautiful, image analysis of reef habitat with sustainable fisheries, and the data analysis of practice adoption for cover crops and conservation tillage in Michigan.
Autumn earned her B.A. in public policy in 2022 from the University of Illinois at Chicago with specializations in environmental and social policy and minors in sociology and civic analytics. She is passionate about the ways in which communities and environments interact. She spent the summer of 2021 interning with Food & Water Watch on Chicago’s Water-for-All Coalition campaigning for water access and affordability within the city.
Outside of work, her interests include reading, exploring new places, learning new recipes and hanging out with her partner and her cat, Gru.
Day in the Life: A Summer with TNC
Follow me through my first summer with The Nature Conservancy as a fellow connecting our work across and beyond Michigan.
As a conservation fellow with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), I have the opportunity to participate in a lot of projects over my two-year term. From reef monitoring to a field trip to a fen, my first summer with TNC was filled with excitement. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like.
Connecting with Cohorts
In June, I had the opportunity to connect with my fellowship cohort at the Environmental Justice Conference hosted in Detroit by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. Our fellowships are hosted across four environmental nonprofits in Michigan and are funded by the DTE Energy Foundation to provide opportunities to gain experience to early conservation professionals. On top of discussing the pressing issues and ideas from conference sessions, it was great to connect with our group and talk about the ways we are navigating being an early career professional in the environmental sector.
Similarly, in July, I had the opportunity to travel to Indianapolis to collaborate with a cohort of colleagues across TNC’s Midwest Division to develop recommendations on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at TNC. Beyond the incredible work we completed, visiting TNC’s Indianapolis office was super neat to see their various sustainable infrastructure, including a green roof!
Field Work on Lake Michigan
August started out busy with field work! I joined our sustainable fisheries team—made up of TNC fisheries folks across Lake Michigan and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)—in Saugatuck for reef research. Our reef team is interested in understanding the quality of reefs in Lake Michigan, for suitable fish spawning habitat, and this summer we were looking at the Saugatuck and Ganges reefs.
Our first day on the boat, we headed to specific coordinates to use a GoPro camera attached to a frame to take pictures of the lake floor and get an idea of where we will be heading for dives. The other days, I watched as divers took sample bags and quadrats into the lake to grab cobble samples and take pictures and measurements of certain features on the lake floor.
I wasn’t diving in the water since you have to be trained and certified, something my colleagues did in July, but I helped take measurements of the samples divers brought us. That consisted of measuring the dimensions of the cobble, counting any mussels attached to the rock, and scraping the rock to collect surficial material in a sample bag. We do this to understand the complex reef habitat in various parts of Lake Michigan and collect images and data for ongoing analysis of spawning reefs.
Women in Science Across Continents
I also had an incredible opportunity to attend a dinner hosted by TNC, Inforum and the African Center for Aquatic Research Education (ACARE) in Grand Rapids. ACARE has an African Women in Science program that advances the capacity of women in science focused on the African Great Lakes, which hold about 25% of the world’s surface fresh water. The cohort visited the North American Great Lakes while attending a fisheries conference.
Over an evening, I learned so much about some of the similarities and differences in the North American and African Great Lakes and the amazing research these women are working on. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity and the perspective gained from that evening. And a side note–a tornado went through Grand Rapids during this dinner, but we had a fun time discussing the differences in extreme weather events in the Midwest versus Africa.
Visit to the Fen
At the end of August, our science team “cross pollinated” with our restoration crew at TNC’s Grand River Fen Preserve. We hiked and learned about the history of the land, the restoration work the crew has done, and the features of fens and prairies. My favorite part of the day was making our way through the prairie and collecting the seeds of yarrow, bottle brush grass, bee balm (sild bergamot), and gray-headed coneflower so they can be stored and dispersed in the fall.
Connecting Work in the Saginaw Bay
September is still a part of summer, and early in the month I got to spend some time in the Saginaw Bay watershed/region. The first outing was with our Saginaw Bay Monitoring Consortium, a group of partners across Michigan focused on coordinating water quality monitoring for the Bay and its tributaries. We tagged along as students from Saginaw Valley State University took water samples. It was really incredible to connect the work we are doing with the place it’s happening.
That same week, TNC had a cross pollination event connecting staff who work on fisheries, soil health and regenerative agriculture, and climate action. We met at the Shiawassee River near Owosso and discussed the ways our work intersects. Then we hopped in the river! Many of us pulled on waders and attempted various river sampling methods using a seine or a net. My favorite part was searching for mussels using an aquascope, although I only found shells.
Visit to Marquette
Last but certainly not least, I finally made it to the Upper Peninsula! I’ve only lived in Michigan about a year, so I had not yet made it north and was finally able to for a workshop with our U.P. staff and the DNR. One of the evenings, we had the opportunity to hike at TNC’s beautiful Echo Lake Nature Preserve, and once you reach the lake, it is so serene. Along the hike, my colleagues taught me about various plants and trees, and I witnessed birding in action. This year, I’m also on a mission to see all the Great Lakes, and this gave me the perfect opportunity to see Lake Superior from Marquette.
It's been an exciting summer, and I am grateful that my fellowship with TNC has taken me all over the place—for what feels like nonstop learning. As we move into the fall, I marvel at all that happened during the summer and the insight and perspective it has given me on just a fraction of our work.
Michigan the Beautiful: The Value of Conserving Nature for Recreation
Michigan is home to a variety of nature-based activities all year long. From hiking, fishing, skiing and birding, let’s explore how outdoor recreation plays a big part in our individual lives and provides value to the Michigan economy.
Many recognize the beautiful state of Michigan as one full of year-round opportunities for a range of nature-based recreational activities. In the summer, people looking to be outdoors in our Great Lakes state go hiking, biking, camping, fishing, boating and birding, to name a few. In winter, Michiganders switch to enjoying the outdoors with skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and other unique winter activities.
Michigan residents truly value this access to nature for recreation, with 86% of Michiganders involved in trail or other land activities, 80% participating in water activities, 40% in snow activities and 52% in wildlife viewing activities.1 Hunting is also a popular Michigan outdoor activity, and about 6.7% of Michigan residents have paid hunting licenses, according to 2020 data.2 Tourism to outdoor destinations in Michigan has grown, especially because of the pandemic.3 One of the greatest features of the state, to tourists and residents alike, is the variety of nature-based recreation options that offer something for everyone.
What is the value of outdoor recreation?
Being in nature and participating in outdoor recreation is known to have many benefits for individuals’ physical and mental well-being, such as reduced stress and anxiety and improved cognitive abilities.4 Arguably, access to nature and nature-based recreation is highly valued by residents and tourists alike, but to what extent does our participation in outdoor recreation define Michigan, and what is the economic value?
Thinking of nature as having an economic value may feel strange. How do you put a dollar amount on recreation? Michiganders and visitors truly value the nature-based activities our state has to offer, and it adds up to the outdoor recreation industry being important to Michigan’s economy. Each nature-based activity, like skiing, boating or birding, is essentially its own sub-industry with the associated costs of participation supporting it. Some of these contributing costs are park passes, transportation, gear or various taxes and fees, and they vary based on activity or sub-industry.
What does it add up to? In 2021 the outdoor recreation industry added $10.8 billion in value to the Michigan economy, a 15.4% increase from 2020,5 and it doesn’t stop there. The projected net economic value in Michigan from 2023 to 2027 for outdoor recreation is approximately $165 billion.1 The contribution of various forms of outdoor recreation to the economy ranks Michigan among the top compared to other states, with the state being 5th for boating, 6th for recreational vehicle use, and 8th for hunting, shooting and trapping.6
Besides the economic value, this impacts the lives of Michiganders as well. The outdoor recreation industry includes almost 110,000 jobs and encompasses a wide range of occupations.5 This is just one more way to look at the value of nature-based activities and recognize that outdoor recreation is more than just fun; it supports people and the economy across the state.
Protecting What We Love
In Michigan, conservation work by organizations like The Nature Conservancy does more than just preserve habitats and biodiversity, although that certainly is a big part of it! Conservation of the state’s natural areas not only protects nature, but also provides opportunities for people to get out and experience the outdoors. By conserving the lands and waters of our state, we continue to support biodiversity, habitat, human well-being, outdoor activity and the state’s economy.
Michigan offers more than 8,000,000 acres of publicly accessible lands, 12,000 miles of state-designated trails and four of the Great Lakes at our fingertips. The Nature Conservancy in Michigan also maintains more than 35 preserves and reserves across the state, many of which are open to the public year-round. So, if you want to help protect nature, continue doing what you love and get outside!
Keep Exploring Michigan
Connect with Nature at a Local Preserve
Explore all the ways you can engage with the natural world at a TNC nature preserve in Michigan.
Top Michigan Outdoor Activities
Explore this guide to find the best outdoor activities to add to your Michigan bucket list—no matter what the season.
Hunting at TNC Properties in Michigan
We allow hunting at some TNC preserves in Michigan as a tool to reduce the damage deer cause and protect biodiversity. Learn which preserves allow hunting and how to get a permit.
A Walk Through Michigan’s Wildflowers
Explore this guide for the best places to view Michigan’s diverse plant life and learn about the role each plays in their respective habitats.