Local Second Graders Are Preparing for Their Free Tree!

Each year the Gratiot Conservation District gives the second graders in Gratiot County a free tree seedling. This year the kids are taking their tree planting to a new level by learning about trees, the value and importance of them, and how to plant and care for their tree.

Last Friday the second graders in Mrs. Bontrager’s class at Ashley Elementary School became a living forest. They learned to thin their forest by holding out their ‘branches’ so that they were rooted far enough apart, then received stuffed animals and paper towel rolls and books and magazines to learn about the animals that live in the forest and the reasons why trees are cut down to make the goods we use everyday. They learned about invasive bugs and forest fires and lightning and wind storms that cause us to lose trees.

Ninety second graders in Mrs. Allen, Mrs. Jenkins, and Ms. Woodruff’s classes at Carrie Knause Elementary in St. Louis filled the atrium in the school’s library to become a very large living forest. There weren’t enough stuffed birds and bears and bugs to go around!

These exercises helped the kids to recognize the importance of planting more trees to replace the ones that are lost.

This helped them to understand that trees are a renewable resource and that

when they plant their little tree, they are helping to ensure that we will always have a thriving forest!

Altogether about 575 second graders in Gratiot County got to participate in the Living Forest lesson and almost 1,000 trees were donated to local kids!

-Julie Spencer
Gratiot Conservation District Administrator
301 E. Commerce Dr
Ithaca, MI 48847

Got Wind? Gratiot County Does!

article by Julie Spencer

If you haven’t driven along US-127 lately, take a trip! Be careful to hold on tight to your steering wheel as you travel through Gratiot County. Those wind turbines can cause serious neck pain as you turn this way and that trying to take it all in. They’re everywhere!

My first reaction to the invasion of the wind turbines was that they were overwhelming. Then the practical conservationist in me took over, and I started pondering what it means to our community.

The first time I saw wind turbines like this, I was traveling west along I-80 through Illinois. There were two large turbines near the side of the highway, and we actually stopped to take a photo of them. When I heard there was a wind farm coming to Gratiot County, that was what I was expecting. I was unprepared for what I encountered as I drove east on M-46 towards Saginaw when they were first being installed. Now, they're everywhere, and more are on the way! What we have here is called a utility-scale wind project. There are actually three wind farms in development in Gratiot County: Invenergy, Beebe Wind/Nordex, and Tradewind.

Why Wind?

Wind energy can be a cost-effective renewable energy option. According to Invenergy, one of the companies building these wind farms, “the cost of electricity from a new wind project is often less than or equal to the cost of electricity from traditional power sources.” Although variable and intermittent, wind farms can be backed by more reliable forms of energy to offset those times when the wind just isn’t blowing. Although the up-front cost to build the wind farm is high, the operation and maintenance costs are quite low compared to the cost of traditional energy sources. It is also used as a means of offsetting the volatility of fuel costs. The wind turbine itself takes very little space, and the land surrounding it can be used for farming or other purposes.

How Did this Happen?

For most of us, these wind turbines popped up out of nowhere. Yet, the process to implement this project began several years ago and has gone through many phases. According to Invenergy, the first step is to do a wind assessment. They do a long term study of an area to determine if there is enough consistent wind to warrant using that particular region. They use computerized wind mapping software, online tools, and on-site monitoring devices to record at least a year’s worth of actual wind data. They also do research to take into consideration how the wind farm will affect environmental issues such as wildlife, geology, and air traffic patterns.

Next, they need to find about 10,000 acres of land. This involves contacting landowners in a particular region to determine if there is interest. They also need to work with local community officials and representatives as well as acquire county, state, and federal permits. Gratiot County went out of their way to roll out the red carpet to get this project rolling. They even adopted a special wind ordinace to accompany thier master plan (see below for links to both of these).

The wind company also needs to ensure that there is accessibility to the local power grid. This may involve securing transmission easements and building private transmission lines to an existing substation. They also need to make sure that they have a utility buyer for their services. The job of the local utility company is to provide inexpensive and reliable sources of energy. They must do an assessment of their own to determine if a wind farm is the right choice for them.

Prepping the land for installation of the wind turbines includes building access roads, clearing the land and excavating the turbine sites. They then install formworks and pour the concrete for each foundation. Once all the components of the turbines have been moved onsite, the construction begins. A very large crane is used to put up the tower and all the moving parts. Next, an electrical network is installed and connected to the utility grid. Once a project is operational, a team of operation and maintenance technicians are hired.

As the Administrator of the Gratiot Conservation District, I am very interested in learning more about this innovative project and I plan to work hard to educate the public as well. I'm planning to host some informal, locally-led educational meetings in the near future. If you have any questions and/or comments you'd like me to include in these meetings, please respond or email me at julie.spencer@macd.org -Julie

Julie Spencer is the District Administrator for the Gratiot Conservation District. She can be reached at 301 E. Commerce Drive, Ithaca, MI 48847 or by phone at 989-875-3050. Email: julie.spencer@macd.org

Did you know that the Gratiot Conservation District is not government-funded? We rely on our generous supporters through our fundraisers, donors, grantors and corporate sponsors. For more information on how you can help us out, please see our webpage "Support the Gratiot Conservation District" or mail a donation to Gratiot Conservation District 301 E. Commerce Dr, Ithaca, MI 48847.

For more information about Gratiot County wind developments, see the following links:
Gratiot County's Adopted Wind Ordinance
Gratiot Regional Excellence and Transformation (GREAT) Plan
Greater Gratiot Development
Wind Resource LLC
Invenergy Key Documents for Gratiot County Wind Energy Zoning Ordinance Development

Introducing Your New District Administrator

Julie Spencer has recently been chosen as the new Administrator of the Gratiot Conservation District. When you walk in to the District office to purchase a Gratiot County Plat Book or order your trees for spring planting, you’ll see a new face behind the counter. Julie Spencer lives in Shepherd with her husband and three children. She studied Geography at Central Michigan University with concentrations in Cartography, Remote Sensing & GIS, Environmental Analysis & Land Use Planning, and Earth Science. Her Master’s degree is in Geographic Information Sciences, and her graduate research was titled GIS Approach to Identifying Areas for Preservation in the Chippewa River Watershed. For the past few years Julie has been working as a freelance editorial consultant for a non-profit organization out of Lansing called EduGuide doing writing, editing, search engine optimization (SEO), data entry, and answering an advice column on their website. She also has a real estate license and has worked with both Century 21 Lee-Mac in Alma and Century 21 Bowerman/Peake in Mt. Pleasant. Her passions include politics, reading, creative writing, spirituality, education issues, cooking, home canning, food storage, emergency preparedness, and anything related to the Twilight Saga! We hope you’ll stop by the office and give her a warm welcome to the District.

Meetings of the Gratiot Conservation District Board of Directors

Meetings of the Gratiot Conservation District Board of Directors are the at the USDA Service Center at 301 S. Commerce Drive in Ithaca on the third Wednesday of each month at 8:00 a.m.

2012 Meeting Dates:
January 18
February 15
March 21
April 11 (Note: this is the second Wednesday due to the Annual Tree Sale on April 18-20)
May 16
June 20
July 18
August 15
September 19
October 17
November 21
December 19

For more information, please call the Gratiot Conservation District at 989-875-3050

About the Gratiot Conservation District

After the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s ravished the land and national attention was focused on the devastating effects of soil erosion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established conservation districts as units of local government to preserve and manage America’s natural resources. Thanks to the ongoing conservation partnership between local landowners and conservation districts, our land is in far different shape than it was in the 1930’s.

The Gratiot Soil Conservation District was organized April 28, 1952, as the 64th conservation district in the State of Michigan. It is governed by five local directors who are elected for four-year terms at annual meetings.

Since 1953, the Gratiot Conservation District has held an annual tree sale. The profits from the tree sale help to support the District’s programs. Since 1990, the District has planned and managed the publishing of Gratiot County Plat Books. These books are published approximately every three years and are a very useful county resource.

In 1993 the District obtained 90 acres of land located in Seville Township, which was then leased to Gratiot/Isabella RESD. This property has been transformed into a learning center called the Forest Hill Nature Area. This nature center provides an outdoor learning experience for approximately 2,000 school children each year.

It is the District’s goal to meet the conservation challenges of our community and provide service to all landowners.