The unremitting dismal news about climate change, our government’s denial of it, proposed elimination of Great Lakes funding and more can get you down. But wait.
Award-winning author Heather Shumaker has written a book with good news about one of the most important land protection campaigns by a nonprofit organization in Michigan’s history. Saving Arcadia chronicles the successful effort by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy to save precious Lake Michigan dunes and working farmland. At times it reads like a suspense novel, as years of hard work seem about to collapse. This makes the denouement all the sweeter.
As a reviewer for Booklist says, “Formidably and accessibly tackling a very complex story, this will appeal to people who love wild places and want to see them preserved.”
I recently shipped questions Heather’s way and received thoughtful responses.
When and from what inspiration did you decide to write this book?
I began this book ten years ago at the suggestion of Glen Chown, director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Glen and I had worked together for years doing land conservation work and he knew I was switching gears to become a writer. “You want to write a book? Write about Arcadia Dunes!” he said. “The drama, the adventure, the inspiration, our mistakes, our successes.” He was right – saving Arcadia was a story worth telling, and ultimately it’s a balm for our collective environmental souls because it’s an inspiration. We all need good news. Saving Arcadia is that rare thing – a good news environmental story.
What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?
Writing about real living people was the most challenging. As a writer you’re always wondering what impact the final story will have on people’s feelings – both the reader’s feelings and the real-life people depicted in the book. That’s a dance. It also made it hard to know when to end the book. Life kept going on, people’s lives kept changing, and the land itself was always changing with more habitat restoration and more stories. As a storyteller, you have to decide when to end the book.
Do you think the story has national significance and if so, how?
Land is always local, but ideas are universal. Saving Arcadia tells a David and Goliath story about one landscape in the Great Lakes, but its resonance extends to any natural area. It explores ideas about what’s needed for effective land conservation in the 21st century, how land conservation is changing to landscape-level thinking, and how it can include multiple partners and economic considerations. It also carries stories of heart and hope and shows the power of sheer determination in the face of all odds. It’s good to be reminded what a community can do. Particularly in these times when environmental programs are under attack, we need this dose of hope and remember that strong allies can be found all around. The story is more nationally significant now than ever before.