PELLSTON — The University of Michigan Biological Station is home to one of Michigan’s hidden gems that gives hikers a breathtaking view of a geological wonder.
During a surprise ceremony, the historic scientific field station officially named the nature trail at Carp Creek Gorge between Douglas and Burt Lakes in honor of a couple whose decades of devotion to land protection in northern Michigan serve as a legacy to inspire the next generation of conservationists.
Alumni of the 10,000-acre research and teaching campus just south of the Mackinac Bridge as well as volunteers known as Bug Camp Stewards fueled a fundraising effort and gathered at UMBS to unveil their gift to former UMBS associate director Mark Paddock for his 95th birthday.
Paddock’s children as well as conservation advocates across the region joined field station staff, alumni and neighbors at the start of the Gorge Trail on Thursday, Nov. 2, to dedicate the Mark and Ruth Paddock Trail at Carp Creek Gorge.
Ruth is Paddock’s wife of 61 years who died in 2013.
“I love it,” Mark Paddock said as tears filled his eyes when he saw the new sign featuring a photo of he and Ruth during one of their dozens of walks together on the trail. “I had no idea. My God. Thank you. I love you all.”
“Mark Paddock has been legendary in his efforts to preserve and protect the land around the field station,” said Dr. Linda Greer, an environmental scientist and impact advisor based in Washington, D.C. and UMBS alumna from the 1970s. “The Gorge is a uniquely beautiful area important for its research value and, equally, community access. Mark started the Bug Camp Stewards, the group of volunteers who built this trail and made it accessible to the public. So naming the trail after him seemed like the perfect way to commemorate his life’s work.”
Paddock served as associate director at UMBS from 1971 to 1991. After retirement, Paddock remained involved with local conservation efforts through board memberships in the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, which he co-founded in 1975, the Little Traverse Conservancy, and the Douglas Lake Improvement Association.
“There is not a more deserving human,” said Kieran Fleming, executive director of the Little Traverse Conservancy and a friend of Paddock’s for 24 years. “When it comes to northern Michigan’s outdoors and natural resources, Mark has been such a constant contributor to the community providing behind-the-scenes leadership. He and Ruth have always been influenced by the outdoors. It’s the base from which Mark has lived his entire life. Naming a nature trail in one of the most incredible places that is dear to his heart makes perfect sense.”
The Mark and Ruth Paddock Trail at Carp Creek Gorge skirts and dips into a ravine more than 100-feet deep. Estimated to have formed 11,000 years ago, the Gorge is an example of an erosional process called sapping — the result of Douglas Lake being 118-feet higher than Burt Lake. Water drains from Douglas Lake by seeping underground for a half mile and then reappearing under the roots of trees as springs in the head of the Gorge.
“I always feel thankful that such a place still exists,” Paddock said. “Every time I go down there, it’s kind of a magical experience for me. The Gorge is a wonderful place. And to have my name attached to it with my lovely wife Ruth is the end of a dream.”
Preserving undeveloped areas and their natural beauty is the guiding principle of Paddock’s life.
Born and raised in Iowa, Paddock went to college at the University of Colorado where he also worked as a summer park ranger.
While in graduate school at Colorado, Mark worked for the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (now INSTAAR) both on the Boulder campus and at its field station, Mountain Research Station. He served as the chief of operations and facilities at the Mountain Research Station.
In 1965 he and his family moved to St. Louis to work at the Missouri Botanical Garden. He co-founded the St. Louis Coalition for the Environment — now the Missouri Coalition for the Environment — and partnered with The Nature Conservancy and others to add additional parcels to the organization’s 1,600-acre Arboretum. Thanks to his vision and collaborative work, in 1972 the U.S. Secretary of the Interior designated the Arboretum a National Environmental Education Landmark.
He next moved to northern Michigan, where he has remained for more than half a century.
“People are very environmentally aware around here, and they want to keep this region special. They question any development that may harm things. And that’s very important to me,” Paddock said. “It’s a combination of the beauty, the natural landscapes, the location where it is in America, the climate — all those things together make it a very, very special place. My wife loved it too. She was an outdoorsy girl. She loved hiking and biking and cross-country skiing.”
During his 20-year tenure at the University of Michigan Biological Station, which he calls the “best inland field station in America,” Paddock helped raise $1.25 million to buy 290 acres of rare, old-growth hardwood on Burt Lake's northwest shore to prevent commercial development on one of only a handful of old-growth forest tracts in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
He also was involved with the Douglas Lake Improvement Association in the acquisition by the University of 40 acres of North Fishtail Bay shoreline formerly known as Camp Knight.
“That was a huge project,” Paddock said. “That purchase meant almost all of North Fishtail Bay is now undeveloped, it’s native. Efforts like this are important for scientists who study land. You don’t want someone to come in and build a house and start cutting down trees. You want it to be as natural as possible without being bothered by human impact.”
For 115 years, students and scientists have lived and worked as a community at UMBS to learn from the place — serving northern Michigan and the world. Together, they help forecast how organisms, populations, communities and ecosystems will function in the future under conditions that humans have never seen before. Students, scientists and staff remain involved in environmental nonprofits.
“Mark is not just a potted plant,” Fleming said. “He not only rolled up his sleeves to make the operations run at the Little Traverse Conservancy and the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, but he was also always involved in the more complicated conversations that guided the paths of the two organizations.”
After Paddock retired from UMBS, alumni and friends created the Mark and Ruth Paddock Habitat Fund, an endowment which continues to grow and fund habitat improvement and land protection.
Eight years ago, he generously donated 50 acres of land to the Biological Station, one of the nation’s largest and longest continuously operating scientific field stations founded in 1909.
“Mark has done so much for so many people and places associated with the Biological Station, but you’ll never hear him talk about himself in that way,” Greer said. “He is obviously doing it all from a deep commitment rather than from any interest in fame or fortune.”
Though Mark Paddock retired from UMBS 32 years ago, he lives only a few miles away and remains engaged with the Biological Station. He is one of the Bug Camp Stewards, a volunteer corps of UMBS friends and neighbors Paddock organized in the late ‘90s to help the station with property management projects.
“We started the group because things like pickup trucks and ATVs and snowmobiles were causing damage at the station,” Paddock said. “We put up miles of fence and maybe 15 or 20 gates and cleared out trails. We reduced the destructive activity on the land by 90%.”
The stewards created a parking lot at the top of the Gorge Trail and built the steps and rails to safely walk down to the springs and Carp Creek.
“It’s a heck of a name for it because it’s too cold for carp,” Paddock joked.
Paddock, who at 95 years old uses a cane to help move around, doesn’t climb down the steps anymore to walk the trail that now bears his name, but he visits the field station office weekly and remains a tremendous source of knowledge and guidance for the leadership.
“I still love to go over there and become part of the place for a little while. I am still essentially part of the station in many ways. It’s part of me. Part of my life. The friends that are developed at the station, even for one short summer, often persist for a lifetime,” Paddock said. “I love the close community of people. That was important to me and my family. The children loved living there in the summertime a great deal. My wife loved it. We’re part of the Biological Station community and we all will be the rest of our lives.”
Watch the video of alumni, staff and friends unveiling the gift and scroll through photos below of Paddock’s more than half a century in northern Michigan.