Almost heaven: Silver Mountain

The Nature Conservancy in Michigan is transferring ownership of a 160-acre parcel on Silver Mountain to the United States Forest Service, a move that preserves an unusual geological formation found only in a remote stretch of the Upper Peninsula.

The Silver Mountain tract is now part of the Ottawa National Forest in the western Upper Peninsula. The remote parcel is home to the largest and best example in Michigan of a volcanic vent plug, “the chimney pipe of an old extinct volcano,” that was exposed by the last glacial event, says Emily Clegg, director of Land and Water Management for the Nature Conservancy in Michigan.

The exposed rock is the dominant feature of Silver Mountain, one of the highest points in all of Michigan, rising about 1,300 feet. 

“Silver Mountain is a cornerstone of outdoor recreation in the Upper Peninsula that is beloved by local residents and visitors alike,” says Darla Lenz, Forest Supervisor of the Ottawa National Forest. “The Nature Conservancy has proven to be a great ally for nature and people in Michigan and across the country and we’re pleased to partner with them once again to help preserve land that is critical for both nature and people.”

 What happened: The Nature Conservancy in Michigan is transferring ownership of a 160-acre parcel on Silver Mountain in the Upper Peninsula to the United States Forest Service. The Nature Conservancy purchased the property in 2019 ensuring the largest and best example in the state of a volcanic vent plug will be protected for conservation and recreation for generations to come. 
 
The Nature Conservancy purchased the property in 2019 on behalf of the forest service and held the property until it secured the funding to add Silver Mountain to the Ottawa National Forest. The property is located near approximately 6,000 acres that the Conservancy helped the forest service acquire and add to the Ottawa National Forest in 1976 and 1977. The Ottawa National Forest encompasses nearly 1 million acres and is a popular recreational area for hiking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, as well as winter sports. The national forest is also home to three designated U.S. wilderness areas: McCormick Wilderness, Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness and Sylvania Wilderness. 

Why it’s important: This parcel was surrounded by U.S. forest service land and adjacent to one of the most unique recreation sites in the Ottawa National Forest:  Silver Mountain Special Interest Area.  The transaction consolidates ownership of the property, bringing the entire Silver Mountain area into public ownership and creating additional recreational opportunities. In addition, there are conservation benefits, including protection of snail species and the potential habitat for three historic rare plants. Federal ownership also provides protection of habitat for a variety of other wildlife species. 
 
Silver Mountain includes part of Silver River, an important cold-water tributary to the Sturgeon River and provides critical habitat for a self-sustaining population of brook trout. Rare plants have historically been found along the rock outcrops that may provide potential habitat for plant re-introduction. A portion of the land includes a section of a scenic rocky cliff and is known hibernaculum for the threatened northern long-eared bat. 
 
“Unique landscapes like Silver Mountain still exist, and it’s important to protect them now for future generations of wildlife and people,” says Helen Taylor, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. “Years from now, people will still enjoy Silver Mountain and fish will still swim in the stream because of our partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.”

Other benefits: Public ownership of the land provides multiple benefits. From a recreation standpoint, the Silver Mountain tract was an extremely valuable parcel to incorporate into the Ottawa National Forest, says Lisa Klaus, a spokesperson for Ottawa National Forest. The parcel was surrounded by U.S. forest land and adjacent to one of the most unique sites in the forest.

Silver Mountain is a popular destination because of its 360- degree views, hiking trails, dispersed camping, and rock climbing. Silver Mountain is within one-eighth of a mile from the North Country Trail, a 4,800-mile footpath that stretches from Vermont to North Dakota and winds through both peninsulas of Michigan.  The land also provides an additional opportunity for targeted conifer forest management because of its connection to other federal forest land.

“Acquisition of these lands will allow us to incorporate additional recreation opportunities into our plans, including additional dispersed campsites.  We will also work with partners to establish connector trails to the North Country Trail and look for opportunities to improve the rock climbing experience,” Klaus says.