Land Matters: A look at preservation and conservation efforts around the region

REGION – Why do we preserve land in northern Michigan? Because it has value. In some cases, value in the millions of dollars – but also value in terms of recreating and relaxing, as well as protecting scenic farmland, forests and water quality. Here's a look at what our local preservation and conservation groups have been up to recently and what's in the pipeline in the coming year.

GRAND TRAVERSE REGIONAL LAND CONSERVANCY:

focuses on land projects in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Manistee counties. As of March 2010, the conservancy has protected 33,215 acres, including 6,202 acres of nature preserves, 15,116 acres of conservation easements and 10,456 acres of other protected land. gtrlc.org.

2010 update:

Protected forever: the Elberta Dunes, a 58-acre natural area within the Village of Elberta. A quarter-mile of sandy Lake Michigan beach, dunes and forests awaits hikers, birders and swimmers. Keep an eye out for the threatened pitcher's thistle and Lake Huron locust that both call the dunes home.

Fast cash: In January, the conservancy raised $10,000 in 20 days (with a 1:1 challenge grant from Ted and Marcia Curran) to meet the final financial challenge for the Elberta Dunes. Other hefty gift-givers for the $2 million preservation campaign include The J.A. Woollam Foundation, The Seabury Foundation and The Herbert H. and Barbara C. Dow Foundation.

2010 fundraising priorities (for Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Benzie counties):

A preserve: An addition to the Pyatt Lake Nature Preserve will include expanded trail systems and improved access. This ecologically sensitive area, located 20 minutes from TC on Old Mission Peninsula, impacts the water quality of West Grand Traverse Bay. Fundraising for the addition is more than half complete due to significant gifts from The Shaw & Betty Walker Foundation and several area family supporters. Remaining need: $335,416.

A shoreline: Acme Township received a $75,000 Rotary grant to kick-start a project to open up Acme's waterfront on East Bay. Phase 1 includes four acres adjacent to the existing Bayside Park – the majority of the existing buildings will be demolished and replaced with shoreline fishing and picnic and swim areas along 540 feet of bay frontage. Plans for the entire mile-long stretch south of the M-72/US-31 intersection include a boat launch, volleyball and tennis courts and a connector to the TART Trail. Remaining need: $285,000 by June 1, to be able to leverage a $3 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The Carls Foundation just announced a 1:1 challenge grant to help do just that.

Nearby nature: The 62-acre Center Road Natural Area was purchased by Peninsula Township last July with assistance from the Conservancy. Located just past the Unitarian Universalist Church at the southern end of the peninsula, this new park offers a nearby escape from the city through meandering hiking trails. The Oleson Foundation and Biederman Foundation made significant gifts to the project. Remaining need: $30,000.

In the year ahead…Says GTRLC Associate Director Megan Olds: "We're facing an interesting paradox in that there are a lot of critical properties on the market and a lot of landowners willing to work with us, but the economy creates a challenge for us because most individuals and foundations are not in a position to make significant donations for land protection. We're evaluating new protection opportunities carefully…"

GRAND TRAVERSE

CONSERVATION DISTRICT:

focuses on Boardman River restoration, improving parkland and water quality and community programs designed to get people active outdoors. natureiscalling.org.

2009 highlights:

Swimming upstream: The bulk of the former pasture site for the Oleson buffalo herd (behind Kohl's in TC) is now Kids Creek Park, owned by Garfield Township. Former problem? A drop culvert from its days as a buffalo farm blocked fish in the section of Kids Creek that runs through it from migrating upstream. Solution? Removal of the culvert and creation of 300 feet of new stream channel, and now the fish can continue on their journey upriver for spawning. Federal funds fed this project through a special arrangement between the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and Garfield Township.

And, where buffalo once roamed (actually, trampled stream banks) now has been restored, and hiking trails are being completed this spring. An old mill pond onsite is also being dredged and stocked with trout.

Sediment=unhealthy fish stream: The banks of Kids Creek behind Fox Motors on US-31 were seriously eroding, but now three tons of stone and eight tons of topsoil have stabilized the banks and prevented sediment from entering the creek, thereby improving the trout habitat. The project was funded through a MDEQ grant in partnership with The Watershed Center.

2010 update:

Waste not: Plans call for replacing a 20-year-old boardwalk at Brown Bridge Quiet Area (and making it considerably wider for worry-free walking). The GT Conservation District hopes to use the wood from black locust, an invasive species being eradicated from the Sleeping Bear Dunes, for the project. Added bonus: The wood is resistant to rot, making chemical treatment unnecessary.

Hot water=unhappy fish: The District is working with a property owner who had 14 former trout-rearing ponds along the Boardman River. The process of water entering those shallower ponds and then exiting at a much higher temperature created "thermal pollution." Shutting off the outflow of the ponds into the river will eliminate that problem, keeping those cold water-loving trout happy.

Leelanau Conservancy: the land trust has preserved 7,279 acres and 27 miles of shoreline/stream and river frontage since its formation in 1988. theconservancy.org.

2009 highlights:

That big, blue water: A $418,000 MDEQ grant is helping the Conservancy purchase conservation easements along the east side of Leelanau County that makes up the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed – including land with numerous small streams and groundwater "seeps" that flow into West Bay. The goal? Permanent protection of at least 275 acres will prevent approximately 19.1 tons of sediment, 826 pounds of nitrogen and 76.9 pounds of phosphorous from ending up in the bay annually. It must raise matching funds to claim the grant funds.

The decade ahead: Late last year the land trust completed a long-range strategic plan that has laid the groundwork for the "most fruitful areas" for conservation easements, farmland and forest preservation and wetlands.

2010 highlights:

Big Payoff: The Conservancy paid off a two-year-old $1 million loan after Elmwood Township became a co-owner of the DeYoung Natural Area in February – thanks to a grant award from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The property is open for public use, including trails and a fishing pier on Cedar Lake and is managed by the Conservancy.

In the hopper: There are some 10 preservation/conservation projects in the works right now, a number which is unusually high for this time of year, says executive director Brian Price, not that he's complaining. Projects include land additions to existing natural areas, conservation easements for protecting water quality and a couple of outright land acquisitions.

In the year ahead…

Says Leelanau Conservancy Executive Director Brian Price: "We're going to follow through on the projects we have and hope a number will go through." The focus: working farms and forested land so vital to the area's beauty and economy and wetlands/tributaries critical to water quality. BN

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