AMBER TOWNSHIP — Some might say it was an old-fashion family reunion, and perhaps it was.
Others might say it was friendly block party, where neighbors gathered to break bread, and perhaps it was a bit of that, too.
Either way, the Mason-Lake Conservation District annual meeting and dinner at Our Savior Lutheran Church near Scottville Tuesday evening brought caring and conservation-minded families together for an evening of recognition and appreciation.
And though details were announced a few weeks ago as to who would be honored, things were made official Tuesday evening with plaques, hugs, handshakes and applause as a number of local residents were honored for their work for the Conservation District.
Gary and Betty Dittmer were named Outstanding Conservationists, Meg Cooper was named Volunteer of the Year, and Paul and Maude Bigford were presented with a weather-friendly plaque — a calling card and welcome mat — to be placed on their property after they had been named Michigan Tree Farmer of Year a few months ago.
Dan Zay, who serves as a biologist for the State of Michigan, served as guest speaker. Supported with a slide presentation, he talked about using prescribed, controlled burns to help improve plant growth, and more.
“In 2019, we had 47 people donate a total of 577 hours,” Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) technician Jamie Vanderzanden said in explaining the vital role volunteers play within the district’s many programs.
“Thirty-eight percent donated their time at Tree Sale, 30 percent donated their time at Household Hazardous Waste, 16 percent donated their time with invasive species and 16 percent donated their time in the office and at other events.”
In asking Cooper to stand front and center so she could be presented with the Volunteer of the Year award, Vandnerzanden said “... all our volunteers are amazing, and we couldn’t do it without them, but this year we would like to honor a very special young lady as our Volunteer of the Year — Meg Cooper.
“Meg is a passionate and amazing young lady, with a willingness to learn. She is currently an agriscience student with West Shore Community College (WSCC). Even with a busy school and work schedule, Meg still finds the time to continue volunteering at the Conservation District.
“She has volunteered well over 100 hours, helping with data entry, designing flyers, visiting with farmers and landowners, packing the orders during Tree Sale week, harvesting beach grass, and more,” Vanderzanden said. “We appreciate her enthusiasm and passion.
“Thank you for all of your help, we couldn’t do it without you.”
Cooper, who graduated from Ludington High School in 2019 and who currently is taking higher education classes with both WSCC and Michigan State University, said “... it’s always been a dream of mine to be part of the Conservation District – I think it’s awesome.”
In presenting the Dittmers with the Outstanding Conservationists award, Executive Director Dani McGarry said “... these two together are quite the jewels.”
“We’re very humbled by this (recognition),” said Gary Dittmer.
Tom Bell, the lone candidate to run for the Conservation District’s board of directors post that is being vacated by treasurer Beth Freeby, was selected to serve on the board, along with returning board members Paul Bigford, Deb Del Zoppo, Maddison Tongue and Tom Grabowski.
Bigford, who has served as supervisor in neighboring Sweetwater Township in Lake County the past 40 years, has been chairman of Mason-Lake Conservation District board of directors for the past five years. The board will hold its annual organizational meeting later this month.
In presenting his keynote speech on the use of fire to control vital growth in area grasslands and along the forest’s edge, Zay said, “... we want habitats that will become rich and diverse.”
Zay’s presentation touched on the cultural and historic aspects of using controlled burns to control landscape growth, as well as what safety measures need to be taken.