Land Fred Rydholm worked to acquire and protect gifted to care of Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve

Participants of the inaugural hike of the Mudjekewis Wilderness Area are pictured. (Chauncey Moran photo)

LOOKOUT POINT • By Elizabeth Fust
Mudjekewis is a word derived from the Anishinaabe-mowin for first born, and its origin ties it to creation tradition. This is the name that the Rydholm’s chose for their land in the Yellow Dog Plains that Fred Rydholm accumulated and preserved until his passing in 2009. Now, Mudjekewis is the name the land carries under its new ownership as a legacy gift the Rydholm family bestowed to the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.
“Part of Fred’s legacy that he wanted to pass on after he passed away was to preserve the land in perpetuity, and so our group was the natural fit because we are great in that area and Fred had interacted with our organization many times,” said Emily Whitaker, special programs manager at the preserve.
The Mudjekewis wilderness under the Rydhom’s care has been accumulating for over 50 years. Fred Rydholm was active in the community and well respected for his civic engagement and passion for nature. He was a general science schoolteacher, worked at Bay Cliff Health Camp in the 1930s, and ran the children’s program with his wife June at the Huron Mountain Club. Fred bought his first 40-acre parcel of land in the Yellow Dog Plains in 1949.
Dan Rydholm, one of Fred and June’s two sons, attests to the legacy carried by the wildlife refuge.
“This is the culmination of a lifelong dream of my parents Fred and June. Through Fred’s passion and his energy, and his frugalness accumulating this substantial estate on a teacher’s salary, that this was really the fruition of putting my father and my mother’s vision into reality. It’s something we are very gratified by and we are very grateful to the watershed preserve for stepping in and recognizing that vision and agreeing to be stewards of it for posterity.”
The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve was started in 1995. Their first task was to acquire a 12-acre parcel, a goal that now seems small, given all they have accomplished in the past 10 years. Emily has been there since the beginning. “Looking back, it’s interesting to see where we came from and where we are now. Very modest goals back then, but we were a very small group. It was just a very small handful of grassroots landowners … We’re primarily focused on acquiring parcels that have ecological value, but also recreation is a big concern for us as well, because that’s how humans interact with the environment. If you have somebody who’s been going fishing in a certain area for years, you want them to continue to get out and care about the watershed.”
The watershed is comprised of over 1,500 acres in Marquette and Baraga counties, from the shore of Lake Superior inland. The plains act as a sort of protected land bridge between the McCormick Wilderness and the Huron Mountain Club. The mission of the watershed is to preserve the wilderness and the wildlife that are found there. Part of this preservation mission includes education for the public, and though no modern trail system runs through the preserve, hikers can follow two tracks, attend events put on by the YDWP, or reach out to them for guided hikes.
Preservation and education have been the mission of the watershed all along, but not long after the preserve was formed, the group became very active in the mining issue when there was the potential for a mine to open in the watershed.

A map shows the Mudjekewis Wilderness Area. (Graphic by Emily Whittaker)

“We fought it on all sides. We were part of a lot of litigation that went all the way up to the Michigan Supreme Court. Ultimately, the mine was built and so now our focus with that issue is as watchdogs.” Now the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve monitors the water quality and plant biota for any effects from the mining.
Another step forward for the preserve came in 2012 when it finalized the project that is now the Yellow Dog River Community Forest.
“That was by far our biggest project to that date, where we purchased 688 acres and needed to raise $2 million dollars to do it. That was a very big project. We are still a small organization, a handful of staff now at this point,” Emily said.
That handful of staff are not alone in their mission. The YDWP and the Rydholm family were working side by side, neighbors and compatriots preserving wilderness and wildlife, before they became partners. Long before the preserve was started, Fred Rydholm was actively working as a naturalist to preserve the Yellow Dog Plains and to encourage respect for wilderness and wildlife through example and storytelling. Now, that is a story Dan is happy to tell.
“[Fred] was always a naturalist as well as a historian. He always believed in preservation of the wilderness, that’s what he stood for … One of the central themes of his life and teaching was that wilderness is sacred, and not just wilderness, but the wildlife itself is sacred. He always tried to foster and engender this sense of sanctity for the woods and the living creatures that were in the woods. If he were on a hike, for example, and they saw a garter snake slithering away he would capture the garter snake and quickly demonstrate that once the garter snake was aware of the fact that you meant no harm it became quite tame. He would allow the other kids to handle it and they soon learned that something that their initial instinct was to fear was actually something that could be befriended, in a sense.”
A hike was held as the inaugural event to commemorate the Mudjekewis becoming part of the YDWP. This protected wilderness is home to many animals and plants, some of them species of concern, including a spruce grouse known as the “fool hen.” This fool hen is a species of special concern due to their social nature which makes them a target for hunters. In the preserve, the fool hen has the freedom to be social with guests who respect that this is the home of the wildlife, and as such, hunting and trapping are no longer allowed in the preserve. In return, visitors are treated to these special interactions with nature.
This protected home of the wildlife is also still a home for the Rydholms. Fred built the first cabin there in 1950 and his children continue to maintain a life estate in those cabins.
“Ultimately, the cabins will go to the Yellow Dog Watershed as the conclusion of the gift, but during the lifetime of my family the cabins will remain private,” Dan said. “It was always a concern of my father’s how the cabins would survive the harsh winters. And this past winter especially was a nail biter because we received record amounts of snow … I would like to give a shout-out to members of the Yellow Dog Watershed who sacrificed to go up there midwinter. They were up there in March actually when the snow was at its peak, and they removed many tons of snow from the roofs of those cabins. I’m convinced that they saved the cabins … I think the land and the property is in very good hands, because now rather than my mother and my family, we’ve expanded our family to include members of the Yellow Dog Watershed who are going to share in the stewardship of the property.”
The cabins may one day find themselves as temporary home to others who appreciate the wilderness; Whittaker shared some ideas for their future use, saying, “In the future, there is interest in doing an artist-in-residence program … they’re really picturesque next to ponds and the Rydholm family is definitely interested in the art field as well.”
Fred Rydholm was known as a charismatic storyteller and the wilderness and history of the U.P. were the inspiration of his tales.
“He wrote a two-volume book called Superior Heartland that goes through and documents a lot of the history about the Yellow Dog Plains and then the area in general,” Whittaker said., “So, he was really important, basically as the preserver of our history around that area because not many folks were doing that.”
Now, the Rydholm name will be remembered in the history of the U.P. for, among other attributes, their care for the land that now falls to the Yellow Dog Watershed Partnership under the mythic name tied to the Anishinaabe creation story, Mudjekewis.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.