The Hovel Family - A Legacy of Involvement

Joe and Mary share a lighter moment with Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, who arranged a Stewardship dedication of the new addition to the Northern Highland state forest on August 23, 2009

The Hovel family is tremendously proud of the Pilgrim River conservation purchase, as one of the greatest achievements of several decades of involvement in conservation projects. The Hovels’ efforts toward environmental causes began in central Wisconsin in the 1970s, where Joe and Mary worked to raise awareness of the environmental and health hazards of heavy pesticide use on commercial potato fields and its threats to small family farms (Read more at

For decades conservation activism has been a part of their lifestyle, working to protect land and water quality. More recently, they and their daughter Rachel and son Mark have invested time and energy into numerous small- and large-scale projects. In Northern Wisconsin, they have worked to prevent development of DNR lands for a golf course, restrict ATV trail expansion on the most sensitive public lands, and expand the boundaries of the Northern Highland State Forest, as well as advocate wider land conservation projects. Joe and Rachel played a leading role in exposing plans for sale and development of UPPCO-owned reservoirs in the Western Upper Peninsula, a move which would have destroyed habitat and restricted public access. Since then, the family feels their work in the U.P. has blossomed with the conservation partnership developing in the Pilgrim River.

The Pilgrim River watershed was identified as a region of high conservation concern by members of the Keweenaw Land Trust and Trout Unlimited in 2006, and was brought to the attention of the Hovel family in 2007. At that time the Hovels were anticipating a land sale to the Wisconsin Northern Highland State Forest, which in itself protected 1130 acres and over a mile of upper stream frontage on the Ontonagon River, and the family became interested in the Pilgrim property as a next step to further their conservation goals. Following months of research, negotiations and business proceedings, the Wisconsin sale and the Pilgrim purchase became reality in 2009.

The family’s strong conservation ethic is grounded in the belief that healthy forests must be actively conserved as an invaluable resource to both the environment and society, and that maintaining public access for non-motorized enjoyment and

Joe with all three heirs, from left, Mary Jo (MTU Grad), Joe, Rachel and Mark, enjoying a moment near a legacy Yellow Birch.

education is a paramount goal of land protection. These beliefs shape the Hovels’ vision for the future of the Pilgrim River watershed lands, and they hope that their purchase of the land is only the first step in perpetual protection of this part of the sensitive watershed. Currently, they and other members of the communities surrounding the Pilgrim River are raising funds to work toward securing conservation easements on these parcels. This will indefinitely conserve the property and public access to it for the enjoyment of fishing, hunting, hiking, birdwatching, snowshoeing, etc., while maintaining its value as a high-quality timber resource, regardless of future ownership. If the funds to obtain the property rights to protect this phase of this project are successfully and quickly generated, the family plans to reinvest in even more critical lands in the Pilgrim or neighboring watersheds, returning benefits directly to the partners and neighbors who have played a critical role in the success of this grassroots conservation effort.

In the long term, the Hovels hope that the process of protecting the Pilgrim River lands might be modeled by other conservation-minded individuals, creating enduring legacies for the benefit of future generations.