Jeff Corwin helps celebrate River Raisin Trail openingWritten by Betsy Woodruff | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s not every day that a world-famous TV star comes to Monroe. So when Jeff Corwin, host of Animal Planet’s “The Jeff Corwin Experience,” comes June 25, it’s because something important is happening: the official opening of the River Raisin Heritage Trail.
The trail has immense ecological and historic significance, according to Bill Braunlich, the president of the Monroe County Historical Society. It connects Sterling State Park, the Ford Marsh area of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park and downtown Monroe.
Braunlich said that he thinks it is the only trail connecting a state park with a national battlefield.
The trail goes through a coastal wetlands environment that draws a number of rare species.
It attracted Corwin’s interest because of the bald eagles that live near it. The area has undergone a tremendous resurgence of bald eagles, Braunlich said, thanks to the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, Congress’s ban on DDT and better protection of coastal wetlands environments. Twenty years ago, nobody would see bald eagles in that area. But today, there are more than 100 nesting pairs in the trail’s vicinity.
“It’s not unusual to talk to someone and say, ‘Oh my god, I saw bald eagles today,’” he said.
Corwin said citizens of Monroe should be proud of the role the area plays in bald eagle conservation.
“You do it for all of us,” he said.
Braunlich said one of the purposes of the trail is to educate people about the coastal wetlands through which it runs.
“A big part is reclaiming this environment so that the species that originally thrived here can thrive once again,” he said. “The trail really brings it all together. That’s what’s so exciting about it.”
Joe Verkennes, director of marketing for Monroe County Community College (MCCC) — to which the trail will run at some point in the future — said hikers on the trail will feel like they have left civilization and gone back in time.
“I was just amazed when I went on it the first time,” he said.
Hikers may see blue herons and the American lotus, which only grows in clean waterways.
Braunlich said hikers can reach a point where they no longer see any buildings or hear the sounds of the freeway. They can experience what the area was like 200 years ago when only 16,000 people lived in the state of Michigan, he said.
“It really represents a reclamation of our coastal wetlands and Lake Erie,” Braunlich said.
By linking the River Raisin National Battlefield to downtown Monroe and Sterling State Park, the trail improves access to the important site.
The battlefield was the site of the Massacre of the River Raisin, a devastating slaughter of American forces by the British in the War of 1812. Braunlich said it was one of the bloodiest battles of the war and gave rise to the cry, “Remember the Raisin!” which rallied American forces all across the Michigan territory. At that point during the war, the prospects for American victory in the Michigan theater and Great Lakes looked poor.
But the defeat at the River Raisin battlefield spurred Americans to fight harder against the British.
“What happened there was a psychological turning point,” Braunlich said. “It served as a galvanic moment; it was the 9-11 moment of the War of 1812.”
Verkennes said that linking the battlefield with the state park has great significance for the area.
“It’s all coming together, this tie between history and environmental reclamation,” he said.
Two Days of Festivities
The trail’s dedication celebration will span two days, June 25 and 26. The ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will unveil a huge sign made by local artisans, is at 3 p.m. June 25 at the corner of East Elm and Detroit Avenues. It will be free and open to everyone. Corwin will be present as a special guest.
That afternoon, there will be a living history encampment showing what life was like during the War of 1812. Reenactors from the LaCroix Company will give demonstrations of artillery firing, marching, drilling, medicine, and cooking from 3-5 p.m. This is also open to all at no cost.
That evening at 7 p.m., Corwin will give a multimedia presentation at MCCC on the importance of protecting endangered species. He will also sign copies of his new book, “100 Heartbeats.” Tickets are $16 each or $30 for VIP seating. They can be purchased at www.monroeccc.edu/theater or by calling (734) 384-4272.
The next day, June 26, will be full of activities that celebrate the trail, including a 5-mile Race for the Trail, kayaking trips, small group tours of the trail led by experts on its ecological significance, a 2-mile Tails on the Trail dog walk, family bike ride, ghost tours, and a photography exhibition. Several of these events cost $10 or more; for more information, visit http://www.rrtrail.com/calendar.html.
Jeff Corwin talks oil spill
Jeff Corwin, internationally known for hosting “The Jeff Corwin Experience” on Animal Planet, will come to Monroe on June 25 for the dedication of the River Raisin Heritage Trail and to give a multimedia presentation.
Corwin said this area of the country has deep ecological significance, both to the rare species that live here and to species that pass through.
“The ecosystems within your community — the great stretches of prairie that you have out there and wetland habitat and agricultural habitat — is a living link that sustains our great bird species that go from north to south and south to north in a crucial flyway,” he said.
Bald eagles, which are visible from the River Raisin trail, famously escaped extinction. Their presence in this area — especially around the River Raisin trail — attracted Corwin to the project.
“We almost lost this species of bird, but incredibly today, it shines as a wonderful example of how we can make a difference and we can change the course of history,” he said. “We can turn back the clock of time; this species was in a heartbeat of extinction and today there are 10,000 pairs of bald eagles throughout the lower 48.”
Corwin said he hopes his lecture (tickets are $16; www.monroeccc.edu/theater) will inspire attendees to participate in efforts to protect endangered species.
He said the gulf oil spill was a wake-up call to him. Some species which had barely escaped extinction may disappear because of it.
“All this work may literally have been washed down a greasy toilet,” he said.
After his presentation, Corwin will sign copies of his newest book, “100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species.”
He said that the planet is experiencing an extinction crisis only matched by the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago after an asteroid crashing into Earth.
“But now the asteroid is really us,” he said.
A species becomes extinct about every 20 minutes, according to Corwin, and humans are responsible for the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and habitat destruction that has led to this.
“Halfway through the century, you will likely see half the wildlife on earth is gone if we continue on this concourse,” he said.
Corwin has hope for the survival of endangered species, though. He said several species that had been officially declared extinct have made comebacks, especially in the United States.
“It’s not too late,” he said. “If it was too late, I’d be in the Caribbean having a margarita.”
Instead, Corwin advocates better habitat preservation, more responsible use of natural resources and reduced reliance on fossil fuels.
Individuals play an important role in protecting the environment, he said.
“The most dangerous thing to conservation is the sense of powerlessness, the idea that you do not have power. You do. As an individual, you exercise that power, whether it’s becoming a conservation scientist or how you behave as a consumer or who you vote for,” he said.