News & Resources

Director’s Blog - The Work at Au Sable

Posted by lindsaybarden | Feb 20, 2017

Dear Friends of Au Sable,

Sometimes local people ask me, “What do you do at the Institute in winter,” apparently thinking, perhaps, that when the college classes are over we simply wait in expectation for the next ones to begin. As much as I enjoy and value our college program, there is no shortage of engaging work at Au Sable in this season.

The Winter Environmental Education Internship completed its final week. Paul Wiemerslage, our Environmental Education Coordinator, and his talented interns daily take their students into the snows of the forest and the ice on the lake, and the students always learn that there is a wealth of learning (and fun!) to be had in winter if you know how to master the season. Eric Bond, our Director of Support Services, and John Farrell, our Food Service Director, with their helpers Sam and Taylor, are fully engaged in preparing for the guests we receive each weekend in this season of retreats and reunions. Some of our guests have been to Au Sable many times (I met one man who had lost count after his twentieth retreat), and some have never come before. I hope that all will come again. It’s a privilege to have the Institute play a role in the fellowship, worship, study, recreation, and genuine affection enjoyed by the churches and families that have chosen to use our campus, our facilities, and our staff to create such wonderful experiences and memories.

Although college classes are yet to begin, they are never far from our thoughts, for the college program is as important to our budget as it is to our mission. For this time of year (early February), enrollment is unusually low. Anxiety is never the ideal source of motivation, but, if we need it to encourage our efforts, we have some. Lindsay Barden represented us to students at Calvin College at the Faith and International Development Conference, and, over the next few weeks Brian Keas will be completing trips to Minnesota and California while I travel to Ohio, British Columbia, and Alberta. Speaking to students at colleges is always important, but, for the last three years, we have placed increasing emphasis on helping our Participating Colleges build strong programs in environmental study. You can’t pick apples from a withered tree. We aim to make our community of Participating and Partner Schools a vibrant, vigorous orchard that prepares students well to care for God’s creation. And if we can help to grow a good orchard, Au Sable will enjoy the fruits. Pray for us, that God will continue to send those He has called and chosen for the work of serving, protecting, and restoring His creation.

Word about our Undergraduate Research Program seems to be reaching (and impressing) more and more people. Our continuing studies on best practices for reforesting abandoned oil pads and determining the use of alternative habitat (red pine instead of jack pine) for the endangered Kirtland’s warbler have drawn outstanding applicants for our Research Assistant positions. But these paled in comparison to the (double digit) wealth of exceptionally qualified students who desire to work in our new effort to restore the Arctic grayling to Michigan. We’re grateful to our Faculty Representatives and the applicants themselves for giving us such a lavish provision of good people to hire, and thankful to God for giving us a good reputation that is drawing people to want to work with us.

Completed research won’t lead to any student employment, but the end of a thing is better than the beginning, and research I completed recently on forest amphibians was just published in Ecosphere, a journal of the Ecological Society of America. Among my fellow authors on this study was Rachel Lamb, our instructor in Au Sable’s Environmental Law and Policy course. It’s an honor to have distinguished colleagues. You can see the paper at

Look for an announcement soon about this year’s Alumni and Friends Reunion. It will be like no other. Wait till you see what we’ve got planned.


Dr. Fred Van Dyke, Executive Director