Muskegon Conservation Club
Serving Michigan and the Muskegon area since 1941
The following history was compiled by Archie Lumbert, past Recording Secretary and editor of The Sportsman. Archie is currently retired and travels the country and beyond.
HISTORY OF THE MUSKEGON CONSERVATION CLUB
For a more detailed history file in a PDF form please click here
When the Jesuit Missionary, Father Jacques Marquette, visited Muskegon by canoe in 1675, he found the area very different than it is today.
Visible for many miles during his approach, towering over the landscape, the first European saw a majestic 200 foot tall sand dune. Pigeon Hill was named for the passenger pigeons which often visited in flocks of up to one million birds. Thick forests of four hundred year old white pines towered over a serene landscape teeming with life. Amongst the woods scurried beaver, mink, otter, porcupine, moose, timber wolves, coyotes, bobcats, caribou, wolverines, elk, panther, and badger. The crystal clear waters of the river and lake were rife with many species of fish. Lake trout and whitefish were very important in the diets of Native Americans. Brook, brown, and rainbow trout as well as sturgeon were plentiful. The fertile river delta stretched much farther into the distance than the eye could see.
However, this pristine wilderness began to change with the arrival of the very next white man.
Trappers began harvesting the fur-bearing animals for their pelts. Many more were hunted, starved, or poisoned, and driven from the area. Steel saws lay waste to thousands of square miles of timberland. The forests were clear cut, and the tree tops were burned, destroying the habitat of small game and birds. The river and its tributaries were re-routed and dammed, changing the ecological balance, blocking the spawning routes and causing the decline of many native species of fish. Herbicides and pesticides poisoned many of the game birds, which were already threatened by over-hunting and loss of habitat and food. Passenger pigeons, which had been the most plentiful bird species on the planet, were hunted to extinction. Their magnificent roosting area was sold by the city, to be hauled away by the highest bidder. The railroads and giant ships carried off millions of cubic yards of the fragile dune for use in the molds that forged the instruments of civilization. Around the shores of Muskegon Lake and on the river's banks, hundreds of acres of wetlands were filled with sawdust, sand, ash and slag. Countless undocumented oil, salt and gas wells were drilled, depleted and abandoned without being properly capped. Toxic chemicals and heavy metals were dumped and seeped into the lake from numerous sources.
Muskegon, which had been named "River of Marshes" by the native inhabitants, had become a virtual sewer for America's industries. "Muskegon Conservation" was little more than a clearly misunderstood oxymoron.
Since the early days of our club, the grim picture that was just described has been brightening. Though much of the damage cannot be undone, concerned individuals have begun to slow the momentum, and in many cases reverse it.
Laws have been enacted which limit the amount of pollutants that can be released into the air, water and soil. Cleanup of the most toxic areas has begun, and is ongoing. Industries that caused most of the damage have given way to more modern technologies, moved offshore, or been forced to change their procedures. Tougher game laws are being universally enforced. Restrictions on filling, dredging and altering of the uplands, floodplain, wetlands and bottomlands are stricter than ever before. Scientists are studying the fisheries and remaining woodland creatures, formulating and instituting plans to help them to survive. The lake water is becoming clearer and can once again be safely used for recreation. Recently, club members have spotted bald eagles and cormorants fishing in the immediate vicinity.
What catalyst slowed the destruction and began the restoration of the land? Conservationists. People like you and me, who wanted to preserve our natural resources; individuals and groups of concerned citizens that took the time to crusade to stop the senseless contamination and unregulated spoiling of their local ecology.
In February 1941, a group of over a hundred Muskegon area sportsmen, having become concerned about the disappearing game from the area, formed a sportsmen's club for the preservation and propagation of game and fish. Their goal was to improve outdoor activities. Naming the organization "Muskegon Conservation Club," they elected Officers and a Board of Directors and adopted their Constitution and By-Laws.
At first the club members planted and sold Christmas trees and raised and released pheasants into the wild. They joined with other clubs to lobby the lawmakers to help promote sensible game management and environmental regulations. Membership burgeoned to over 3500 individuals.
In May of 1951, through letter writing and public outcry, the club was instrumental in preventing a huge corporation from moving onto the former Pigeon Hill site. The chemical company settled in nearby White Lake, which our club also opposed. This turned out to be an unfortunate turn of events for our northern neighbors whose cleanup will take hundreds of years.
Meetings for the club in the early days were held at a local car dealership, among other locations. Muskegon Conservation Club's first clubhouse was on Memorial Drive, near the State Park. In July, 1945 the club bought the 27 acre lakefront property known as the Gow Dock on the northern shore of Muskegon Lake, from the county and cities of Muskegon and North Muskegon. Club members built a pavilion close to the entrance, where many of these recipes have been tested. Later, a kitchen and clubhouse and finally a bathhouse and laundry were added.
Shore facilities have evolved from a few docks with a wooden sea-wall into a modern 120 slip marina featuring shore power and water at each dock, pump out and dump station, with ample parking and room for onshore recreation adjacent to the slips. Dock rentals and lifting fees are the club's primary source of revenue. Recent improvements include a public boat launch, fire-pits, ice machine, lifting well with travel lift and gin pole, fish cleaning station, primitive campground, screened pavilion, modern playground, and nature trail. The lighted flagpole, proudly flying our "Stars & Stripes," is also a much welcomed aid to navigation.
The Club's ongoing activities are varied:
The Free Fishing Derby, during the state's free fishing weekend each spring, gives many children their first chance for hands-on recreation in the outdoors.
Providing Tracks Magazines to hundreds of elementary aged children enhances environmental education
The Sportsmen for Youth Program, hosts the Youth Day Event annually at Hoffmaster State Park. This day-long, fun event educates children about activities, and exposes them to organizations that specialize in the great outdoors.
Members organize and provide a free Hunter Safety Program, which develops good habits in the young sportsmen, and enlightens them to the benefits of sound ecology.
Our awarding of Scholarships to local high school students who submit conservation essays, assures our support of the next generation's adherence to the principles of environmental guardianship.
Yearly sponsoring of an Adopted Family helps to enrich the Christmas Holidays for them and us.
Vessel Inspections by the United States Power Squadron, classes by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, and free docking for Muskegon County Sheriff's Marine Patrol, promotes safe and responsible boating.
MCC participates in, and supports the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) which lobbies for environmental causes at the state level.
The Women's Action Conservation Organization (Yes, it spells WACO) was formed with a mission to foster fellowship and camaraderie through hospitality, social gatherings, and projects to enhance the beauty, conservation, and utilization of the Club's resources.
The semi-annual Adopt-a-Highway program cleans up two miles of US 31.
Club members established, and we support the Muskegon Environmental Research and Education Society (MERES), which operates the nearby Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.
Annual Social Events, including a Soup Supper, Independence Picnic, Christmas Party, and Parade Float keep club members connected year round.
MCC also hosts many dances, karaoke nights, ice cream socials, movie nights, raft-ups, impromptu potluck dinners, and evenings by the campfire throughout the season.
Participation in the Standing Committees that help to organize and administer the club's resources is encouraged: the Membership Committee; Shore Committee; Board of Buildings and Properties Trustees; the Governmental Review Committee; Education Committee; and Audit Committee. Other groups that enhance and oversee the club's activities have included committees for Nominations, Elections, Campground, Playground, Travel Lift, the Women's Auxiliary, and many other loosely knit groups of volunteers who have worked to accomplish various projects throughout the years and helped to foster the spirit of conservation and evolve the Muskegon Conservation Club into the wonderful club we have today.
Monthly General Membership and Board of Director's Meetings showcase the various projects as well as conducting the business of the organization. All the club's events, projects and activities are announced in, and reported on by The Muskegon Sportsman, MCC's monthly newsletter.
Much work remains. Environmental issues continue to need advocates. Invasive species; global warming; acid rain; air and water pollution; soil conservation; our depleting natural resources; urban sprawl; safe disposal of toxic and nuclear wastes; and many other topics are currently emerging, and countless new matters that haven't yet been realized need constant addressing in the appropriate forums. The club's dual problem of declining membership rolls and increasing operating costs alongside stricter regulations will indeed make our battle to fund and execute conservation projects even more challenging. We must be arduous.
The Muskegon Conservation Club is a volunteer organization. Most every thing that is accomplished here is done by dedicated members who unselfishly donate their time and special skills to get the jobs finished. This site and the club's cookbook are dedicated to all of those people who have given their time and energy for the first 65 years to make this club what it presently is. Copies are available from members.
Considering Muskegon Conservation Club's history of recruiting dedicated volunteers that were willing to invest their time and energy to lead our club to what we've become...we are confident the future will bring new members that will conquer the challenges ahead.