ANR North: Planting the Seeds for Michigan's Future

By Stefanie Sidortsova


Participants in the Academy of Natural Resources North pilot program, held at the Ford Center and Forest and offered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with Michigan Tech.

The new Academy of Natural Resources North, held at Michigan Technological University’s Ford Center and Forest, helps K-12 teachers bring the UP’s environment and history into their classrooms.

Last summer, 13 hand-picked K-12 teachers from across Michigan gathered at the Ford Center for a pilot project focused on the natural and cultural resources of the Upper Peninsula. The result of that project is the Academy of Natural Resources North (ANR North), a continuing education program offered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), in collaboration with Michigan Tech.

Ford Center Director Ken Vrana says the program’s curriculum aims to “demystify” natural resource management.

“We focus not just on environmental sciences, but also the human dimensions of natural resource management,” he says. “It gives teachers insights into the philosophical, operational and practical realities of managing Michigan’s environmental and natural resources.”

Teachers and organizers take a walk in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula.

It’s Different Up North

ANR North is an extension of the Academy of Natural Resources (ANR), MDNR’s summer environmental education program for K-12 teachers. ANR’s success is well demonstrated: it started with one class of 16 and now offers three tracks per summer, with around 20 educators in each track.

MDNR wanted to build on this success, beyond what could be offered downstate. The groundwork for a UP pilot program was laid at an environmental education conference in fall 2015, during a group discussion that included Vrana and Kevin Frailey, MDNR’s education services manager. 

“We didn’t want to just try something and hope it worked,” says Frailey, “so we brought together teachers from all over the state, all of whom are shining stars in education and many of whom have won state or national teaching awards.”

The teachers came from diverse educational settings as well, making the trek to the western UP from schools in inner city, poor rural and suburban communities throughout Michigan.

Learning Together

Over four days, from the Porcupine Mountains to the Keweenaw Peninsula, participants worked with diverse agencies that engage with and manage UP natural resources. The group met with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) to discuss tribal resource management and toured the town of Calumet to learn the historical impacts of copper mining.

“Everything we did was relevant, and we came away learning so much,” says ANR North attendee Debra Zolynsky, a Michigan Tech alumna who has attended five ANR programs downstate. “We liked every aspect, especially meeting with KBIC. Making those kinds of connections is something you usually can’t do in other programs.”

Frailey agrees. “A big attractor to the Ford Center is all the partnerships that Michigan Tech has in the UP. A diverse group of organizations helped run the classes. It wasn’t just MDNR staff. That made it unique.”

Participants discussed how to bring what they had learned into their classrooms and helped develop a curriculum for future ANR North programs.

He and Vrana note that organizational collaborators included (in alphabetical order) A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission, KBIC Department of Natural Resources, Keweenaw National Historical Park, National Park Service, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Quincy Mine Hoist Association, and US Forest Service Northern Research Station. The Michigan chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists provided financial support.

On the pilot program’s last day, organizers and participants came up with a curriculum for future programs and discussed how teachers can use what they learned in the classroom. When the teachers were asked whether there was enough happening in the UP to establish an academy worth driving a day to get to, the answer was a resounding yes. A few months later, MDNR approved implementing the pilot as an official program that will continue to be held at the Ford Center.

Looking UP

In recent years, the downstate ANR program partnered with Ferris State University (FSU) to offer undergraduate- and graduate-level credits to participating educators. This has helped FSU recruit students who are interested in environmental science and natural resource management, and Vrana hopes the impact will be the same for Michigan Tech and its School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

Zolynsky thinks this is a distinct possibility. “A lot of Michigan’s K-12 students have never been to the UP or haven’t spent a significant amount of time there, so they don’t care much about it,” she says. “But if you can bring the history and the richness of the UP into your classes, if you can share it with the kids, they’ll become more interested in the issues.”

If you are an educator interested in attending ANR North, contact Kevin Frailey at If you are a UP-based teacher, contact Ken Vrana at for information on Ford Center and Forest programs.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Last Modified 1:53 PM, October 3, 2022