2012 Guarding Program

Volunteer for the Guarding Program.

Black River Sturgeon Guard – Camping on the river

By Ann Feldhauser
Volunteer Coordinator, Sturgeon Guarding Program

The evening campfire lit a small area surrounding our campsite. The whip-poor-will began his nightly vespers, calling out over the Black River valley. Far off in the distance, coyotes sang a rousing chorus.

Staring into the crackling fire, we could also hear the gurgling of the Black River as it rushed around logs and rocks below our campsite. Some evenings there would be the occasional splash, generated by an anxious sturgeon seeking its spawning ground. It was always a very sensual, relaxing time of the day, as my husband and I sat guard over the mighty sturgeon of the Black River. Mark and I were often fairly silent on those evenings, sitting side by side, letting the night sounds conduct the conversation.

Each spring, Brenda Archambo and the Black Lake sturgeon summon us from our lakeside home south of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula to Sites B and C on the banks above the Black River in northeastern Lower Peninsula, where we meet the first run of sturgeon entering the river to spawn. This usually occurs in late April, as the weather mellows, leaves begin to bud out and birds of all kinds flock back to Michigan to carry on their own spring rituals. Last year, we saw 24 bird species, and watched chickadees and nuthatches carving out tree nesting cavities within a few feet of our campfire ring.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and perfect camping weather. We may stay up to two weeks there, camping, living comfortably in proximity to the River, the sturgeon and those who come to see this amazing fish.

Our role as sturgeon guards is simple enough. Each day we greet the volunteers who have signed up to come help us patrol the river, keeping watch over the spawning fish. We also meet with the biologists, who come to the river every day, don wetsuits and waders, grab nets and computer chips, then search the river for sturgeon to capture, tag, and catalog. They update us on how many fish have been tagged or seen and what the action plan for the day might be. As the word spreads that the fish are in the river, more and more of those curious to see such an amazing thing as a sturgeon find their way into Sites B and C, where we greet and update them on the most recent sturgeon news.

Families, senior citizens, horseback riders and spring turkey hunters are among those who come to witness it for themselves. They are all keenly interested in seeing and hearing about the sturgeon, and one of our roles is to provide them with accurate information. Educating the public about sturgeon is a key element in the future survival of the species, so we ensure that each visitor is greeted individually and their questions answered to the best of our ability.

Along the way, we make new friends. Now with two years on the river behind us, we know many volunteers by name. They bring us baked goods, update us on news and events, tell stories, and graciously invite us to participate in local happenings. We share an initial common interest in protecting the sturgeon, but it soon becomes much more. Out of that bond forged by a fish, many more are made, and our lives are forever changed. Now, we look forward to seeing our friends again come spring and share in the camaraderie that comes with doing something right for the resource.

Mark and I see great benefit from being on the river for an extended period of time, so we are encouraging others to set up camp there anytime during the month of May and gain similar experiences. It is a satisfying way to give back to the resource as well as build a new element into your lives. If you have a small camper and a generator, there are lots of great places to set up camp. The same goes for tenting. It’s free, easy, and relaxing, but most important, it’s your presence on the river, 24/7, that will deter illegal activity directed at the vulnerable spawning sturgeon. Come and set up for two or three days, or longer as your schedule permits. Talk with the volunteers and sightseers, meet the biologists and MDNRE Conservation Officers who will be your frequent companions, make new friends and gain new insights.

We ask those who might be interested to contact us directly so we can answer any questions about camping on the Black River as part of the Sturgeon Patrol. We have found that staying on the river for an extended time is a rewarding experience, one that we would like to share with others.

So, please, come and camp along the Black River. Relax by your campfire, listen to the night sounds and witness the spectacular run of sturgeon in the Black River first hand. There is no experience like it anywhere else in Michigan, and it’s something that will benefit you and the sturgeon forever.

For more information and a camping chat, contact Mark and Ann Feldhauser at 906-346-9511 or 906-201-2484.

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