Use of the Forest

Public use of Saginaw Forest is encouraged. Rules for the public's use include (but are not limited to):

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Entries from Kurt Byers

I received an e-mail from Kurt Byers, the Saginaw Forest caretaker during the summers of 1984 and 1985, together with some photos that he took. This was a really heart-warming thing to see, especially after waking up to 7F (-14C) temperatures this morning. Parts of the e-mail are posted below. As well, I have updated the entries that Kurt had written in his journal from his tenure.
Ah, memories. I noticed the blurb about your UM SNRE Saginaw Forest caretaker blog in the Fall 2010 issue of "Stewards." I was the caretaker at Saginaw Forest the summers of 1984 (between my junior and senior years at SNR) and 1985, after I graduated that spring as a 33-year-old "returning adult student" with a BS in Natural Resources and concentration in the now-defunct Environmental Communication program.

I was the sole student in that program when SNR shut it down in 1985 and released my academic advisor, Rich Block, due to a budget crisis (and perhaps low enrollment in the concentration and a concurrent general move by SNR to phase out its undergraduate programs). But I'm happy to say that academic program launched me on what is now a satisfying 25-year career in environmental communication with the NOAA Sea Grant College Program, starting with Michigan Sea Grant at UM my final semester at SNR, and for the past 22 years with Alaska Sea Grant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Sea Grant bio:

My two summers as caretaker at Saginaw Forest were peaceful and uneventful. There was no caretaker journal then, as far as I know. I did, however, keep a personal journal. Spurred by the blurb in Stewards, I dug up my journal from that time to see what, if anything, I wrote about my stints at Saginaw Forest. (Not much)

I do recall splitting a huge pile of firewood, mowing the lawn, doing check-walks around the lake, wondering about toxins in the lake from the Gelman micro filter company, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the loft. And, somehow, in 1985, I lost my bowling ball out of a small U-Haul trailer I rented when I moved my stuff from my married housing apartment (although I was not married then) by the Medical Center (roach-infested apartments now torn down) to Saginaw Forest.

The most memorable event was when I lost my 12-foot aluminum john boat, when it somehow got loose and floated away in 1985. Then working part-time for Michigan Sea Grant as an editorial assistant, I had recently edited the Master's thesis of Sea Grant-funded UM grad student, Karl Huggins. His thesis described his invention of the Orca EDGE (Electronic Dive Guide) dive computer, which gained him everlasting fame in the scuba diving world.

Assuming my boat had sunk in the deep, cold lake, I easily persuaded Karl to do a search-and-recovery dive to try to find it. Karl and his dive buddy (photos attached) treated it like a training dive, spending a weekend afternoon scuba diving in the lake looking for my boat. No luck. Later, when the lake froze over and the cattails died, I found my boat frozen in the ice deep in the cattails, a place inaccessible to search without a boat in the summer. I tried to hack it out of the ice with an axe. I don't remember if I succeeded or if I had to wait to recover the boat later in the year when the ice thawed.

In any case, I was amazed to read the log entry from January 3, 1986, by caretaker R. Boyle, wherein he noted his discovery of what he speculated to be my boat! I don't recall anyone notifying me of his find and I don't recall knowing R. Boyle. Maybe both of us found it at different times that winter. Epilogue: A quarter century later, the boat is still around, now possessed by my brother-in-law in Grand Rapids!

My then girlfriend and later-to-be-wife, the late Poksyn Yoon (deceased 2008), was a post doc biochemist at UM and lived down Liberty Road about a mile or two from the Saginaw Forest gate. During the summer of 1985 I worked two jobs-two days a week for Michigan Sea Grant on North Campus, and three days a week for a residential accessory (room additions, carports, etc.--that's the company's Ford pickup in the attached photos) company in Livonia. On her way to campus, Poksyn would often leave a lunch for me in a small Igloo cooler on the gate to the Saginaw Forest driveway, and I'd grab it when I left for work in the morning. One morning someone absconded with it, and that was the end of that little ritual.
Karl Huggins: setting up for scuba search

Dr. Poksyn Yoon


Kurt in front of the cabin.


It's amazing to me how much everything is still the same, and amazing how much has changed. For example, the rusted hitch-and-wheels is still on the property, rusting away. The cedar next to the cabin has grown significantly taller and shades the cabin a lot more than in 1985, and I don't recall ever seeing so many turtles in the lake. Too, the woodpiles are quite impressive. I have to admit that, with a gas furnace (perhaps installed since 1985?), I don't chop too much wood (and don't use most of the wood that I chop, either).

I would very much like to thank Kurt for sharing his memories of his time in the cabin in the woods, and encourage any other readers to feel free to send me their own recollections or photographs of times past in Saginaw Forest.

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