Notes From The Field
More than a century ago, when Filibert Roth led his students—hefting spades and armloads of saplings—into Saginaw Forest, he instilled a tradition of field-based learning that remains vibrant at SEAS today. Throughout the decades, students have navigated the land, forests, lakes, and rivers—first as students of nature, and then, as stewards of the environment.
Over time, the “field” has broadened in scope. From the midwestern heartland of Michigan to far flung regions around the globe, from sustainable landscape design in Detroit to a negotiating table in D.C., SEAS students and alumni bring their energy, expertise, and hands-on approach to solve real-world problems.
A tract of 80 acres on Liberty Road, about three miles west of Ann Arbor, was accepted as a gift from Regent Arthur Hill of Saginaw.
Saginaw Forest was the site of the first annual Campfire, beginning a tradition which continues to this day. Portions of the land formerly used for farming had poor soil condition, so students and faculty improved the soil and planted trees, continuing that work until 1937.
Containing several tree species, Third Sister Lake, and surrounding wetlands, Saginaw Forest lends itself well to the study of forest and sustainable ecosystem management, and serves as a setting for research on diverse topics, including woody plants, forest ecology, freshwater ecology, and soil properties and processes.
Camp Filibert Roth
U-M’s first forestry camp is established at an abandoned logging camp eight miles west and south of Munising in Alger County, Michigan.
The camp moves to a beautiful new site in Iron County. The buildings consisted of a cookhouse, three bunkhouses, a shop, two garages, a large barn, one cottage, and a small office. The cookhouse was used with little alteration. One bunkhouse was converted into a classroom, and the other two were used as dormitories. The two garages were remodeled, the smaller one being used as an instrument room and the larger a meeting space the students called the “Michigan Union.” During the first year, a central washroom was constructed which included an elevated tank into which the students pumped lake water by hand, thus affording “running water.” There were also a small stove and a system of pipes to provide both hot and cold water for washing. Kitchen and drinking water came from a shallow well. The construction of improvements continued throughout the 1940s, and the camp remained in use until 1987.
University of Michigan Biological Station
The U-M Biostation was established on land acquired from lumber barons after virtually all the trees had been cleared. Student and faculty researchers studied a landscape ravaged by catastrophic logging and subsequent fires, allowing them to learn firsthand how land exploitation impacted the natural environment.
The Biostation’s 10,000-acre property has since been reforested via natural processes. But new environmental challenges have emerged, climate change and invasive species foremost among them. Today, Biostation students engage in and learn about biology and environmental science by studying directly in the field and by developing relationships with some of the world’s most respected experts.
SEAS students often recall Orientation at the Biostation as one of their most cherished memories. As they get to know their new classmates—many who become lifelong friends—on the wooded shores of Douglas Lake, they share three days of hiking, studying, and learning about the environment. Alumni describe it as the “perfect introduction” to SEAS.
Field fact: SEAS faculty and staff manage six nature areas totaling 1,761 acres.