2019 Annual Report

With the close of calendar year 2019, Blue Heron Ministries completed its 18th year as a subsidiary ministry of the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes. Five highlights marked the year. For the first time we invited two summer interns to join us. Emily Schmidt stayed on to become a full-time field steward. Secondly, we paid cash for a lakefront property. Thirdly, we added space onto our garage…and paid cash for the work. We initiated our first “ask” for funds to acquire property since 2003 and raised over $51,000 from friends. And the stewardship staff became affectionately known as the “Blue Crew” within the conservation community.

Together we explored, worked in, and taught the wonders of God’s creation within the community. Rustling Grass e-newsletter and Facebook presence continue to inform friends of our theology, our work, and upcoming volunteer events. Scheduled public events included:

  • John Brittenham presented “Cultivating Land Awareness and Stewardship with Students at a K-12 Montessori School” at The Stewardship Network’s annual conference.
  • 17th annual Prairie Planting Party (Brennan Woods Fen) in February instead of last December.
  • Program presentations for the Pleasant Lake Lions Club, Pleasant View Church of Christ, Branch County S&WCD, and Steuben Genealogical Society.
  • Public demonstration prescribed fire at Spangler Grove.
  • John led a workshop on butterfly identification and monitoring strategies.
  • Led Mrs. Clary’s 2nd grade class on a day hike to teach stewardship in area preserves.
  • Initiated and led a bi-monthly Conservation Workshop Series at Pokagon SP.
  • Led volunteer work day at Pigeon River Fish & Wildlife Area. Controlled brush in a decadent oak savanna.
  • Presented the homily for an outdoor wedding at Badger Barrens during the wild blue lupine bloom.
  • Led volunteer work day at Badger Barrens.
  • Led a canoe/kayak trip on the Pigeon River.
  • Led ecology field labs at Grace College.
  • Four (4) October volunteer Seed Collection Tours.
  • 15th annual Thanksgiving breakfast.
  • 18th annual Prairie Planting Party at Clear Lake Nature Preserve. 24 sowers!
Volunteers pull the weedy hairy vetch at Badger Barrens Sanctuary
Volunteers pull the weedy hairy vetch at Badger Barrens Sanctuary

Land Trust
Blue Heron Ministries owns 149 acres of sanctuaries and holds conservation easements on 1,153 acres of private property. In 2019 we:

  • Closed on the Center Lake property (109 acres) after a 6 ½ year delay. Due to a
  • Bicentennial Nature Trust grant and a bargain sale, we spent no money.
    Purchased another half-acre lot on Mirror Lake adjacent to Badger Barrens.
Pale vetchling peavine is doing well in the open oak woods of Mirror Lake
Pale vetchling peavine is doing well in the open oak woods of Mirror Lake

Natural Lands Restoration
The hands-on craft of ecological restoration is the visible and active expression of our faith that relationships between God, humanity, and the rest of creation can be restored and experience substantial healing even in an imperfect world. “Stewardship of creation” is our banner. Contractual work is how we primarily fund the ministry. Blue Heron Ministries actively stewards over 1,900 acres covering over 70 separate projects for private, non-profit, and local governmental landowners. 2019 highlights included:
Controlled woody and herbaceous invasive species and conducted prescribed fires (60 this year!) in rare and declining habitats: fens, sedge meadows, prairies, sand barrens, and oak savannas and woodlands within a geographical triangle from Steuben County to Lake County, IN and Newaygo County, MI.

  • Sowed 118.5 acres of prairie using locally-genetic seed.
  • Helped search for federally-endangered Mitchell’s Satyr Butterflies in a fen in LaGrange County. Found one!
  • Completed the final year of several, large multi-year contracts including: LaGrange
  • County Park’s Pine Knob Park Fen and Savanna Restoration, Michigan Audubon Society’s Shagbark Trails, and Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy’s Clear Lake Nature Preserve.
Shelby performs some internal ignition in a white oak woods at Ferrara Savanna
Shelby performs some internal ignition in a white oak woods at Ferrara Savanna

Conservation Design
We kept up on community and local conservation needs.

  • Consulted with an Elkhart County landowner to perform a wetlands assessment.

For fiscal year January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019 (see attached “Blue Heron Ministries Profit and Loss”), we had a net income of $10,260! Thanks, Dad, for this kind of blessing, too! Year-end account balances:

  • Unrestricted cash on hand (12/31/19): $58,583.30.
  • 12-month Certificate of Deposit (Enforcement Fund): $17,518.71.
  • Escrowed 3-month’s-worth of payroll for entire staff ($62,730.70) and 3-month’s-worth of operating expenses ($7,852.45) in case of future downtime.
  • Gave year-end bonuses to staff and increased field staff wages for 2020.

Guided by Board of Advisors (Tom Smith, Neal Lewis, Peg Zeis, and Beth Williams), organizational staff Nate Simons (exec. director) and Beth Williams (admin. assistant) along with a cohesive Blue Crew (Phil Bieberich, John Brittenham, Peter Bauson, Josh Hall, Gary Wappelhorst, and Shelby Holsinger) worked with a dedicated “family” of volunteers and part-time field crew members to fight fires, apply herbicide, gather seed, and plant prairie. Blue Heron Ministries exists as a unique opportunity for folks to apply the hand’s-on craft of ecological restoration to steward our Lord’s creation within the context of community.

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