by Nia Becker, Clare Conservation District, Michigan
Earlier this year, Sally Hightower won the award for 2018 Michigan Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year. She is now a Regional Finalist for the Midwest region and is still in the running against seven other Tree Farms in the country for the national award. The American Tree Farm System is a national program sponsored by the American Forest Foundation to promote the sustainable management of family forest land. Tree Farm is the oldest and largest forest conservation, certification and advocacy program in the United States. Sally’s property will be visited in early May by judges from the American Forest Foundation.
Venture out to Butman Township in Gladwin County and you may come across the Twisted Oak Tree Farm. It is a prime example for stewardship in the area, and owners Sally Hightower and Linda Caldwell work hard to keep the land in the best condition it can be. It's a place where you can find rare pink or yellow lady slipper flowers, catch trout on the river, or even just close your eyes and enjoy the sounds of nature. Sally and Linda have worked with many conservation groups to keep the property in pristine condition, starting with The American Tree Farm System in 1981. In addition, the property is under an easement with Little Forks Conservancy, enrolled in MAEAP Forest Wetlands Habitat*A*Syst program, and is used for stream temperature research by Trout Unlimited. For this and more, Sally was named 2018 Michigan Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year and is now a Regional Finalist for National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year for the Midwest region.
Much of the work on the tree farm has been done by Sally and her spouse, Linda. When the river bank below their house started degrading, they did the work themselves to restore the habitat. 1,200 red pines were planted after the first timber sale to Dow Corning in 1981. If you have ever planted hundreds of trees, you know how hard it can be! Thankfully, it was done with the help of some college students.
Sally is also a leader in the community. She serves as the chair for the Gladwin Conservation District, President of the Gladwin School Board, Board Member of Little Forks Conservancy, and is on the Advisory Board for Clare Conservation District's Forestry Assistance Program. She also provides forestry advice to her neighbors and always promotes stewardship and healthy wildlife management. Sally and Linda have gone above and beyond to conserve their property and always help others to do the same.
Tree Farm has eight Standards of Sustainability that make sure your property is managed in a sustainable way while providing assurance and recognition for a job well done. Every year, the Michigan Tree Farm Committee nominates a tree farmer who has gone above and beyond with practicing and promoting good forestry. These state nominees then compete for the national award. For more of Sally's story, see https://www.treefarmsystem.org/north-central-nominee-sally-hightower. If you are interested in joining Tree Farm, visit https://www.treefarmsystem.org for more info.