A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes
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.