Sav­ing Ar­ca­dia

A Story of Con­ser­va­tion and Com­mu­nity in the Great Lakes

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Climate Change -

Heather Shu­maker, Wayne State Univer­sity Press Soft­cover, $22.99 (285 pp), 978-0-8143-4204-6

This work of cre­ative non­fic­tion may be among the year’s best pieces of en­vi­ron­men­tal drama so far. Fol­low­ing the jour­ney of a lo­cal non­profit as it fights to save a unique dune ecosys­tem, it fea­tures both true-to-life re­count­ing of real events and dra­matic cre­ative li­cense that ri­vals any­thing in fic­tion.

One of the book’s most prom­i­nent fea­tures is the net­work of peo­ple be­hind the con­ser­va­tion ef­fort. In many ways, Sav­ing Ar­ca­dia pulls back the cur­tain on the pas­sion­ate peo­ple who ded­i­cate their ca­reers to sav­ing na­ture, only to have to force them­selves into a cor­po­rate par­a­digm to gain donors and con­vince large com­pa­nies to give up land. In this case, the big bad­die is an en­ergy com­pany that nearly went down with En­ron, pro­vid­ing a sat­is­fy­ing vil­lain whose bland de­ter­mi­na­tion to turn a beloved com­mu­nity sand dune into a golf course ex­em­pli­fies the ba­nal­ity of evil. The pro­tag­o­nists, on the other hand, are col­or­ful in­di­vid­u­als with deep com­mu­nity roots. The por­trayal of these char­ac­ters, even those who ap­pear in­ci­den­tally, is mas­ter­ful. Per­sonal de­tails, drawn from in­ter­views with the story’s sub­jects and from deep re­search, give the book the sense not only of a con­ser­va­tion record, but of a true epic sur­round­ing a quirky, sweet com­mu­nity where farm­ers, con­ser­va­tion­ists, and the tourist in­dus­try work to­gether to save what mat­ters to them all.

In other hands, the story could eas­ily have be­come a te­dious and repet­i­tive list of failed land pur­chases. In­stead, it is sus­pense­ful in places, even grip­ping, and full of heart through­out. One could even con­sider it in­spir­ing. This is a book likely to please crowds and wow au­di­ences. Ac­counts like these are what turn ordinary peo­ple into en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists.

En­gag­ing, per­sonal, and lively, this tale of the Lit­tle Non­profit That Could is a cap­ti­vat­ing and moving tri­umph.

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