Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Forest Service Announce 1,247 Acre Addition to Ottawa National Forest Benefiting the Environment and Outdoor Enthusiasts of Upper Michigan

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced today that 1,247 acres of natural land in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan along the pristine West Branch of the Ontonagon River has been permanently protected for future generations. The land will be managed by the USFS as part of the Ottawa National Forest.

“This is a really special place that is now going to be enjoyed by people for many generations to come,” said Susan Schmidt, Minnesota and Northwoods Director for Trust for Public Land. “Spending time in natural areas is so important for mental and physical health, and for millions of Americans, the U.P. is the one of the best places to connect to nature.”

The newly protected land is in Michigan’s Ontonagon County, five miles south west of Rockford, Michigan. It includes land that flanks the West Branch of the Ontonagon River, which has been designated by the federal government as a Wild and Scenic River because of its beauty and environmental significance. The property includes overlooks and shoreline of Victoria Reservoir. In recent decades, TPL has secured the protection of over 43,000 acres of forest in Ottawa National Forest and along the Ontonagon River, with today’s announcement building upon those past conservation successes.

The area also includes a popular segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail between Norwich Bluff and Lookout Mountain. The North Country Trail is a 4,800-mile hiking trail that passes through eight states – Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

“We’re really excited about this news,” said Andrea Ketchmark, Executive Director of the North Country Trail Association. “This ensures that this pristine section of the North Country Trail will continue to be protected.”

TPL acquired the land in November 2021 from Lyme Timber for its appraised fair market value. On August 16, TPL conveyed the property to the USFS, who will manage it as an addition to the Ottawa National Forest. The USFS purchased the land from TPL using funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation (LWCF), which exists to protect irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the country. Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, along with Representative Jack Bergman were supportive of the Ontonagon River project. They each voted in 2020 to fully-fund the LWCF, making this project and future land conservation projects in the U.P. possible.

“The Ontonagon River is truly a local and national treasure, and now the Forest Service will be able to expand conservation and management of adjacent lands,” said Darla Lenz, Forest Supervisor for the Ottawa National Forest. “From recreation opportunities to water pollution prevention to biodiversity promotion, protecting natural areas like this has important environmental and social benefits.”

Overall, TPL has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to protect nearly 40,000 acres within the Ontonagon River watershed, the area that ultimately drains into the Ontonagon. Protecting this property safeguards the diversity of native ecosystems, improves connectivity between natural lands, protects drinking water, and provides public access for recreational activities.

“There are important benefits here for both the environment and people,” said Schmidt. “People who are fortunate enough to live near protected natural areas and hiking trails like this pristine West Branch of the Ontonagon River can regularly enjoy the recreational benefits, and they can also attract visitors who help support the local economy.”

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Media Contact:

Rebecca Bullis,, 908-329-0321