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Island Park habitat restoration underway; ‘quiet recreation’ urged

News Photos by Darby Hinkley Above, Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board Chairman Terry Gougeon points at the sign welcoming visitors to Island Park. He is pointing to the portion of the sign that reminds people there is no biking or sledding allowed on the island.

ALPENA — It’s a place for “quiet recreation.” It’s not a place for biking or partying in the warmer months, nor is it a place for sledding in the winter.

Island Park, formerly known as Sportsman’s Island, is part of the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary. As such, it is dedicated to preserving habitats for native plants and animals to thrive.

Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board Chairman Terry Gougeon took this reporter on a tour of the island on a recent sunny day.

“We have set up 450 feet of snow fencing to delineate an area that we wanted to keep people from traversing,” Gougeon said.

He said that would stop water flow as well.

Here is a sign explaining that because of habitat restoration in progress, visitors are urged to stay out of the area blocked off by the barriers.

“It’s basically a big sand dune here, and if we can halt erosion and get some plant growth coming, we can preserve the sand,” he noted.

Gougeon explained the history of the island, stating that the name was changed from Sportsman’s Island to Island Park back in 1985, when ownership changed hands.

“It was purchased from the (Alpena) Sportsman’s Club with monies from the Michigan Land Trust Fund, with the stipulation that it would be used for education and quiet recreation,” Gougeon said.

Check out a video below of Terry Gougeon talking about the importance of Island Park. On mobile? Turn your device horizontally for the best viewing experience. Story continues below video.

Above, two kayakers are seen from Island Park paddling in the Thunder Bay River in the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, where quiet recreation is encouraged. In the foreground the barrier is visible to deter visitors from disturbing the habitat restoration areas of the island.

The island went from a loud recreation area with a clubhouse and motorized vehicles allowed, to an area dedicated to wildlife preservation.

“At that time, things changed drastically,” he noted. “There used to be a lot of activities on the island with the Sportsman’s Club. Even cars were allowed to drive up to the top. So that was eliminated.”

Motor vehicles, bicycles and sledding are now prohibited on the island.

“We encourage people and like them to stay on the designated paths,” he said as he pointed to the Island Park Welcome sign at the entrance to the island right over the covered bridge.

“Please protect fragile natural areas and indigenous growth,” the sign reads. “Stay on designated trails. No bikes allowed. Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.”

Hiking, birdwatching, fishing, dog-walking, and taking photographs are all activities that are encouraged on the island.

“It’s mostly trying to change the mindset of the locals, you know, because they grew up with Sportsman’s park,” he stated.

He said there used to be a clubhouse with tennis courts and shuffleboard, so the island used to be a hub of human activity.

“People would have bonfires on the island, things like that,” he recalled of many years ago.

Now, the focus is on preserving the natural habitat and just enjoying nature, and coexisting with the plants and animals who call the island home.

“We want people to come out here, but it’s for quiet recreation,” he explained. “Just going for a quiet walk, birdwatching, looking for animals, trees, plants.”

He said preserving the island will allow it to remain beautiful for many years.

“We would like the island to be here for a lot of generations to come,” he said. “And keep it as wooded as possible, because it is home for the animals, birds, insects.”

Some of the animals you may see on the island include deer, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, snapping turtles, painted turtles and a variety of colorful birds, including the American Red Start, a warbler, Gougeon said.

The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board is funded through the City of Alpena.

He said the fencing will probably remain for up to five years as the board monitors the plant growth.

“We’ve been photographing to see how the vegetation develops,” Gougeon said.

The mulch and landscaping along the trails was done by DPI workers on a work day last year, Gougeon said.

“So we have this marked, and we appreciate that there hasn’t been any damage to it,” he said of the fencing. “People have observed our signage and stayed out of the area. It’s been up about a year now, almost.”

He added that MSU students have put up insect traps around the island, and in case anyone comes across them to let them be, as they are part of a research study. The traps are white and look similar to takeout boxes.

Overall, Gougeon and the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board encourage visitors to enjoy the island by peacefully communing with nature and all it has to offer.

Darby Hinkley is Lifestyles editor. Reach her at 989-358-5691 or dhinkley@thealpenanews.com.

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