Between the Lines: Saving Arcadia

Mar 31, 2017

Lakeshore in the Arcadia Dunes
Credit jimflix / Flickr

A small community of determined people saves a strip of land and the endangered species living there from the grip of a powerful corporation. That's the story in Heather Shumaker’s Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes, which reads like a suspenseful adventure story.


The book spans 40 years in the lives of people, plants, and animals on a sand dune in western Michigan. The 6,000-acres includes farms growing fruit and other crops, local businesses, summer tourists, and year-round residents. We also meet various land stewards, who go up against Consumers Power to save the land in all of its diversity.

Shumaker has already built a reputation writing about “renegade parenting.” She's a proponent of free and unstructured play. Schumaker is the author of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids, and It’s OK Not to Share: And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Caring and Compassionate Kids.

Credit Wayne State University Press

But writing about conservation and ecology is not a departure for her. Shumaker holds a Bachelor's degree in sociology and anthropology from Swarthmore College and a Master's degree in land resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She's worked for a variety of environmental nonprofits.

“Growing up, I had a family that took us on hikes and camping in national parks,” Shumaker says. “Both my parents were teachers, so we could get out in the summers and really spend some time out there. Nature was in my family blood, and I think that’s what inspires people in general to care about the environment — it’s that love of nature that drives us to protect it.”

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Shumaker moved to Michigan after finishing graduate school. She was lured by the title on a job posting: land protection specialist. She followed the lead to the shoreline of Lake Michigan near Traverse City.

“I just drooled at the title, because that’s what I had gone to school for, to save the world!” Shumaker says. “Up until then, I’d never heard of Arcadia Dunes. Even though I’d grown up in Ohio, I had never been to Michigan before.”

Shumaker helped landowners preserve the coastline in her assigned territory. Through that experience she began to piece together the story of a community working together to preserve their land. In the process, she discovered that Consumers Energy owned a large plat of land in her territory in Benzie and Manistee counties.

Shumaker says the Arcadia Dunes cover three distinctly different types of land: farmland (mostly cherry orchards); forests; and coastal habitat.

“There are some plants and animals that live in this habitat that live nowhere else on earth,” Shumaker says. “It is community, however, that is the theme that runs throughout the book.”

Shumaker introduces the reader to farmers, a lakeside innkeeper, a director of a land trust, and others who give a human face to a conservation story of saving natural treasure along the Great Lakes.

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