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'Nature's Megaphone': Odd-shaped audio device amplifies Michigan woods

Tucked away, deep in the woods in Cheboygan County is a giant wooden funnel that brings the sounds of nature to life like never before.

AFTON, Mich. — Where better to hear nature's sounds than deep in the woods. Imagine when you got there, you could turn the volume up.

Thanks to a group of Northern Michigan high school students, and the generosity of the folks who operate the Little Traverse Conservancy, a place like that exists, and it's one of very few in the United States.

"It's not the easiest destination to get to but once you're there, you won't want to leave," said Anne Fleming, 53, spokeswoman for the Little River Conservancy. "It's in the middle of the Andrae/Banwell Nature Preserve Complex which is located in the southeastern corner of Cheboygan County."

After a 30-to-40 minute hike over the Pigeon River and though hilly, wooded terrain, you'll arrive at the huge structure perched on a ridge overlooking wilderness.

"We call it Nature's Megaphone," Fleming said. "Because of how it's built, it enhances the sounds of nature."

Credit: Anne Fleming
The Megaphone was built by students at Petoskey High School. All of the labor and materials were donated.

When one sits inside the Megaphone, outdoor sounds are amplified. The chirping of certain birds, unheard outside the structure, are easily recognized inside. Light wind blowing through the trees is much louder, and if you remain completely still, you can also hear the fast-moving waters of the Pigeon River racing in the distance.

"We intentionally tucked it deep in the woods for a reason," added Fleming. "It's super peaceful."

The Conservancy learned about the large, wooden audio devices in 2019 when the group's stewardship and technology coordinator stumbled across an online blog.

"These things were placed in a forest in Estonia, which is a country in northern Europe," Fleming said. "We thought why not build one and put it Michigan's wilderness."

Credit: Anne Fleming
Little Traverse Conservancy contacted Petoskey High School and trade construction students made the creation of the Megaphone a class project.
Credit: Anne Fleming
Little Traverse Conservancy contacted Petoskey High School and trade construction students made the creation of the Megaphone a class project.

Members of the Conservancy drew up some designs, then reached out to construction trades teacher, Larry Liebler at Petoskey High School. Liebler has his students work on community projects all the time, so getting him to make the Megaphone didn't take much convincing.

"The 12-foot-by-8-foot Megaphone was finished in May 2019 and soon after delivered to the location where it sits today," Fleming said. "It's become something people are visiting again and again.

"Nature is who we are and what really keeps us healthy and happy."

For those who don't want to travel to northern Michigan to experience the Megaphone, Ken-O-Sha Park (1353 Van Auken SE) in Grand Rapids recently installed one.

Directions to Northern Michigan's 'Nature's Megaphone':

Take I-75 North to Indian River (exit 310); take M-68 east 4.5 miles; turn left onto Old Onaway Road (Look for Cochran Lake Public Access sign); Go north on Old Onaway Road 1.8 miles to Riverwood Trail and turn right; At the 'T' intersection with Big Sky Trail, you'll see the 'Andrae/Banwell Preserve' sign ahead of you.

Plan accordingly for about a mile hike from the entrance to the Megaphone.

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