In Highland Township, conserving those resources was an important endeavor, so the Highland Conservancy was created after former township supervisor Triscia Pilchowski made a call to action in 2003. By 2004, the group created a mission statement, established goals and cemented a plan of action to protect the “rural character and natural resources of Highland Township.” By 2005, it was a nonprofit organization.
The Oakland Land Conservancy mentored the group, they also partnered with Highland Township officials, the Oakland County Planning and Economic Development Services, and the Michigan State University Extension service .
The Spinal Column caught up with one of the Conservancy’s board members, Katheryn Krupa, to learn more.
Are you from Michigan originally?
“I’m from Ohio. My parents moved when I was about 14 from Ohio to Michigan and I’ve been here ever since. We moved to West Bloomfield … and then when I got married we moved to Dunham Lake. It’s beautiful because it’s surrounded by a green belt that doesn’t allow the fertilizer to pour into the lake.”
What is your title with the Highland Conservancy?
“I am one of the board members. I was (formerly) the secretary and I am the webmaster.”
So the Highland Conservancy began when former township supervisor Triscia Pilchowski put out a “call to action” more than a decade ago?
“In the beginning there were about 10 of us that answered that call and went to a preliminary meeting to make some plans. We decided on our focus and what our goals would be, then that initial group pared down to the people who were really serious about it. We’ve been going ever since then.”
What is your background? Do you have some sort of degree or training that drew you to the group?
“I am a teacher and I have a minor in science. I have a deep love of animals and the environment that was instilled by my mother, Samantha Ruetenik. She would take us on nature walks and ask us to classify plants and animals and learn about the ecosystem. That was her passion and she passed that on to each one of us five kids. With me being the oldest, I was probably the most influenced by her. She was a union president in Bloomfield Hills but also a very active environmentalist.”
“I’ve been teaching in the Huron Valley School District for the last 17 years. I work at Highland Elementary this year and also at Oxbow Elementary, which is in White Lake. I weave science and environmental issues into my lessons, too. We run an Earth Day poster contest and we sponsor that every year. Huron Valley School students submits different posters based on the theme. Last year it was ‘How you can affect your environment and how animals are important to the ecosystem.’ If you take out an animal, how does it affect the food chain?”
“The students would look at an animal and focus on it and study it. We encouraged them to look at Michigan animals but also look at animals around the world. They could pull a tiger out of the food chain and you would have an explosion of the prey animals. In Michigan, if you take out the wolf (or humans), the top predator, then the deer would take off. We have humans shooting the deer but wolves are still important in the ecosystem. Not only are students learning about the individual animal but the whole environment.”
“At Highland Conservancy we focus on educating students and adults … on how their actions affect the environment. We had an initiative one year where we looked at fertilizer and how it affects lakes. We had seminars where we went around and presented to different lake property owners and groups. We looked at different fertilizers and how they affect each lake’s ecosystem … It’s an educational outreach but it’s also a school outreach.”
“We also adopt a road where we go and pick up litter along the roadsides, and we do a garlic mustard pull every year where we help get rid of invasive plants and those change every year. The big one now is the dog strangling vine and garlic mustard.”
Is there any one main project that you are doing right now?
“The Adventure League is the main thing we did this summer … but most of our work is done in the spring. The Adopt-a-Highway is done three times a year, in the spring, summer and fall.”
“Putting easements on land is another ongoing initiative… We’ll have another meeting in October. We meet in the old Highland library. There’s only about eight of us and we could always use more hands.”
“The mission of the Highland Conservancy is to ‘encourage and facilitate the conservation of land and natural resources to preserve the rural character of Highland Township.’ Our mission reflects our dedication to protecting the horse farms, greenways, natural areas and habitat for wildlife throughout our beautiful township. Some of our current initiatives include:
• Facilitating the development of conservation easements, wildlife corridors and green spaces in Highland
• Educating the public about preserving and protecting Highland’s lake, streams, parks, and natural areas
• Partnering with other conservancies and organizations to protect land and natural resources in Highland Township
• Working with the township to create guidelines and update ordinances to protect land and critical habitats
• Assisting in stewardship of local parks and land held in conservancy.
Krupa is also the editor of the Highland Conservancy e-newsletter and the group's website:
www.highlandconservancy.net. The conservancy meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of most months at the Huron Valley Council for the Arts, 205 W. Livingston Road, across from the Highland Fire Station. Meetings are open to the public.