In October, red leaves floating to the ground are about the only sound at Tyler Forks Community Forest, located thirty minutes south of campus.
The 590-acre forest was purchased by Landmark Conservancy in 2019 and has become an additional outdoor classroom and recreational area for students and the general public. In the last two years, professors and students have been conducting research, clearing trails, and learning at this amazing space.
Landmark Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organization serving 20 counties in western and northwestern Wisconsin, purchased Tyler Forks, located next to the Copper Falls State Park in Mellen, Wisconsin, to not only be used for conservation and research, but for public use as well.
It didn’t take long for Northland to start utilizing the area, said Sarah Norman, Landmark’s community outreach coordinator. In fact, Northland professors Tom Fitz and Jon Martin started taking their classes out to the community forest almost immediately after the purchase was complete.
Northland professors have been partnering with Landmark on the Tyler Forks project since 2017 doing site visits and data collections to learn more about the ecology of the site.
“We’re thrilled about the partnership, it gives Northland students another chance to get out in nature.” Norman said. “Having almost 600 acres as a living laboratory is pretty awesome, and it makes our work gratifying. It’s nice to know that it’s just not for people who want to hike or hunt but for research as well.”
Northland has been utilizing the area in a variety of ways. Tom Fitz, professor of geoscience and previous member of Landmark’s board of directors, and Jon Martin, professor of forestry, have been using the area for their classes, their own research, and public hiking trips.
The diversity of the community forest makes it a great place for geology and forestry students to study soils and forest ecology, Fitz said.
Fitz, who now serves on Landmark’s conservation committee, has also been assisting with trail design and construction in the community forest, and plans to continue in the future.
“I think we’re just at the beginning of a very exciting time in Northland history.” Fitz said.
In 2020, Northland students started conducting their own research projects out in the community forest, projects such as geological observations, a mammal baseline camera trap survey, and an observational and illustrated study of woody plants in winter.
2020 also marked the beginning of Landmark’s partnership with Northland for its Outdoor Orientation, the college’s outdoor orientation program for incoming freshmen and transfer students. This is Landmark’s second year helping with OO.
Evan Coulson, assistant professor of outdoor education, directs the Northland side of the partnership with Landmark on various volunteer forest projects in the Northern Wisconsin region.
Coulson even sees some of his students go from volunteering or interning with Landmark on forest projects to graduating and conducting those projects themselves, one of those projects being Outdoor Orientation.
Landmark has been offering summer internships to lead forest projects since 2016. So far, all their internships have been filled by Northland students and graduates.
“I love that a student from Northland gets to have a leadership role in coordinating and organizing projects from Landmarks side,” Coulson said. “First-year students get to meet someone who is an upperclassman or recent graduate and they can maybe be inspired and see themselves in that position as they progress through Northland.”
Coulson believes Tyler Forks and Landmark provide an opportunity for the students to give back to the land.
“I think it’s just as important for there to be a service ethic, paired with how we develop our sense of place in the region,” Coulson said. “It’s not simply a one-way relationship where we receive benefits from these spaces when we get outdoors together, so I think an ethic of being in service and stewardship to the land really completes that cycle of how we can be in a relationship with the place.”