Negwegon: Hidden gem protected by Friends group

Situated between northeastern Michigan’s Alcona and Alpena counties, Negwegon State Park is home to more than 4,000 acres of deciduous forest and 10 miles of Lake Huron shoreline. Like most state parks, Negwegon lures hikers, beachgoers, campers, hunters, and birdwatchers. 

Negwegon, however, is far different than many state parks. To enter Negwegon requires a three-mile drive on a two-track road. There is no park staff on hand; the park is maintained by park employees who work out of the Harrisville state park office.

. There are no full-service hookups for 21st century camping; no paved roads; and little signage for visitors.

None of that means that wild and almost primitive Negwegon is unappreciated or uncared for. The Friends of Negwegon State Park, a nonprofit formed more than a decade ago, keeps an eye on the park, appreciated by locals for its undeveloped landscape.

What is Friends of Negwegon State Park: Friends of Negwegon State Park is a 501(c)3 voluntary association that began in September 2009. Sue Keller, president of Friends of Negwegon State Park, says the group’s goal is preservation. “Friends of Negwegon’s primary purpose is to preserve the land in its current and evolving wild and natural state. It aims to keep it wild, natural, and free from human development,” Keller says.

Larger parks tend to get more attention. “Most people like to keep Negwegon a secret,” she says. Friends of Negwegon State Park’s mission is straightforward: stewardship, education, and research. The organization works with local DNR to preserve, promote, and protect the park’s natural characteristics. DNR does promote the park as a Dark Sky Preserve, for walk-in campsites and for birding.

What kind of work is being done by Friends: “We educate visitors and the public about the park's rare threatened and endangered assets and help to show the value of wild land and a shoreline like Negwegon,” Keller says.

Negwegon’s landscape features ridges, meadows, and forest, and a mile of undeveloped sandy beach along Lake Huron. Keller describes the park as a low dune and swale system of wetlands.

“Just looking at Negwegon you may say most of the land is just a ‘swamp,’ but oh how important the ‘swamp’ is,” she says. “This land system in Negwegon is the least understood and valued and that makes our work very important. Land features that are not valued are likely not protected and saved.” This is why Friends of Negwegon State Park’s work is so important, she says.

Ocean shorelines are the primary locations for the dune and swale complex, but the Great Lakes house the only freshwater dune and swale complex in the world. “The small dune and swale complex in Negwegon supports wildlife and acts as a filter, making them equally as important as the larger systems on Lake Michigan,” Keller explains. “I’ve learned so much about the Great Lakes water system during my years serving Friends of Negwegon State Park.”

Friends promote education of Negwegon shoreline and wetlands through various avenues.

Their partnership with Huron Pines, a nonprofit group that works to maintain high-quality ecosystems in the Great Lakes, works to educate visitors about threatened and endangered species along the Lake Huron shoreline. Huron Pines researches invasive species within the park. The group spent two years inventorying crayfish burrows for eggs of Hine's emerald dragonflies — an endangered species due to habitat loss and contamination. By promoting this kind of research, Friends helps to protect species adversely affecting the Negwegon ecosystem. The nonprofit group hopes this kind of research and education helps to increase a sense of value of the Great Lake shoreline for visitors.

Friends was crucial in Negwegon being named a Dark Sky Preserve in 2016, one of only six sites statewide. Dark Sky Preserve Parks eliminate light pollution by restricting artificial light use in order to promote astronomy and stargazing year round. Light pollution restricts most of us from watching and understanding the vastness of the night sky. Keller says the organization works to educate people and towns about lighting methods to protect the natural starry sky.

What has been the impact: “I think the biggest impact of our work is the educational portion,” Keller says. “I’m proud of our partnership with Huron Pines. I’m proud of the Dark Sky Preserve. What is at Negwegon that is valuable is in an undeveloped park for people to enjoy. People love that park.”

The Friends’ goal is to continue their mission to secure the preservation of the park for generations ahead — plants, animals, and people alike. The organization established a permanently endowed fund -- the Negwegon State Park Friends Endowment Fund, held by the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan. The group has participated in the annual Giving Tuesday Northeast Michigan campaign to raise money for the endowment fund. The community foundation also has awarded Friends grants for various projects, including Dark Sky Nights and the Bay to Beacon race and a journaling program to get people out into nature and explore Negwegon.

“Negwegon State Park is truly one of the most beautiful, untouched, pristine places in Michigan, and its “Friends” group is doing incredible work by promoting the Park and drawing visitors to enjoy it, while at the same time preserving the Park in its most natural, wild state,” says Christine Hitch, marketing communications director and affiliate director for the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan. “Not that long ago it seemed that Negwegon was a well-kept local secret, but now it has clearly become a more popular destination where for the most part, visitors seem to have a real appreciation for the Park’s uniqueness and share a desire to preserve that, too.”

Says Keller: “We don’t have a lot of wild land that is accessible for everyone. Negwegon must be preserved for the next generation.”