Beavers, geese, oil, and gas -- a study center make

An annual forum, this year devoted to "The Environmental Crisis -- the Ethical Dilemma," will be inaugurated here June 24-28 at Au Sable Trails Environmental Studies Center, a burgeoning accredited institution of environmental studies.

Some 30 scholars and writers from 22 colleges and universities across the nation are scheduled to participate, according to Edwin Squiers, associate professor of biology and director of environmental science at Taylor University, Uplands, Ind.

Dr. Taylor, who also serves as coordinator of advanced studies at Au Sable Trails, said the keynote address will be delivered by Jeremy Rifkin of the Washington, D.C., People's Business Commission, whose book "The Emerging Order" has aroused considerable discussion in Washington circles.

Nestled among lakes and woods in the middle of northern Lower Michigan, Au Sable Trails sits on 145 acres of woods and open areas, with two large ponds and 400-foot frontage on Big Twin Lake.

It was founded 20 years ago as a boys' summer camp with a Christian emphasis.

Its prime movers and shakers were, and still are, Harold Snyder, a former botany teacher at Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Bert Froysland, chairman of the English department at East Grand Rapids High School.

Today, thanks to the vision and energy of its staff and the six-figure income from two oil and gas wells, Au Sable Trails has grown into an environmental study center focused on the needs of small liberal arts colleges of Christian orientation which can't afford to support field stations of their own.

During its early years the camp made a friend in "louie," local resident Louis Kleinschmidt.

When he passed on in 1968, it was discovered he had willed 80 acres of land to Au Sable Trails. Soon thereafter an oil-gas boom developed in the area. Two successful wells were drilled on the property Louie gave to the camp, in 1972 and 1974, the income from which pays the institution's basic costs as well as building an endowment fund.

The center's cluster of buildings, including dormitories, library, and lounge , sits among trees on a crest overlooking "Louie's Pond," on the opposite shore of which stands the commodious cedar home of Dr. Snyder.

"Louie's Pond is a nesting area for Canada geese," Robert Barr, one of two resident directors, explained to a recent visitor. "Snyder started them here 10 years ago with four pairs he obtained from the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. Now there are 94 birds.

"We hope to establish a permanent Michigan flock of Canada geese, similar to the mute swan flock. As long as we provide open water and feed they will stay through the winter," he explained.

Mr. Barr said the other pond supports an active colony of nine beavers.

The rest of the property is a combination of woods and open fields, ideal for environmental studies," Mr. Barr said, adding that there are a number of other spots in the environs where scientists and students can carry out on-the-spot research. One of these is the Kirtland's warbler sanctuary in the nearby Huron-Manistee National Forest, where a controlled burn broke loose in early May , burning 25,000 acres of forest and destroying 38 dwellings.

Soon after founding the summer camp, Harold Snyder went back to college, earned his PhD in conservation from Michigan State University, and joined the faculty of Taylor University.

A curriculum of environmental studies for elementary school pupils from kindergarten through sixth grade was developed in 1977 with the nearby public school districts of Mancelona and Kalkaska.Some 2,000 students from the two systems receive field instruction annually at Au Sable Trails under the direction of Patricia Fagg, a native of Dayton, Ohio, and a graduate of Taylor University.

"Each grade has a different experience revolving around the natural sciences, " Ms. Fagg said. "The units are sequential. From kindergarten to second grade the emphasis is on awareness of the environment.

"Third grade serves as the link between the lower grades and Grades 4, 5, and 6, which collect and analyze data. The fourth-graders concentrate on pond studies, the fifth on winter and how man adapts to it. The sixth conducts a wildlife census on the property."

Concomitant with this, Mr. Barr has supervised the development of a program on winter retreats.

"These began with small weekend retreats for college students drawn from church and youth groups," he said, explaining that "most of the original founders were evangelical in origin.

"These retreats were informal and run on a small scale for several years. But in 1973, when Snyder moved up here permanently, he began bringing conservation classes up each weekend in the fall in groups of 15. He would guide them through pretty intense field and laboratory studies."

Here again the students were drawn from small liberal arts colleges with a Christian emphasis, in the Grand Rapids area, as well as Indiana and Ohio. It is coeducational throughout.

"We've had something going every weekend from Christmas through March, plus several college groups during the week," Mr. Barr said.

Cross-country skiing, which he also instructs, is an important aspect of the retreat program.

The growing emphasis on college work began after Dr. Snyder joined the Taylor University faculty, with more and more college students included in the summer camp program.

"The emphasis in summer became educational as opposed to recreational," Mr. Barr said.

"We are no longer a boys' camp. We are an institution for environmental studies. Last summer was the last summer's traditional boy's camp," the young man said.

"We are accredited by the state as an educational institution licensed under the same umbrella which licenses computer-programming, auto-mechanic, and flight schools," he said.

"This summer we are offering college courses from May 15 through Aug. 25, running the whole gamut from astronomy, aquatic biology, and entomology to conservation, ornithology, and general biology, plus photography, drawing, and a course in fiction writing.

"Because this is a year of transition, credits for these courses will be given by the college to which the professor is attached."

There will be four three-week sessions, with most courses giving three or four credits. Each student will take one course per session. Fees will vary depending on what is charged by the college offering the course, but roughly $60 per hour or $180 per course, plus $150 for housing. This works out to about $ 110 per week.

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