Eleven years ago Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy completed one of Michigan’s greatest land saves, and this year, our Red Hot Best voters chose that remarkable place, Arcadia Dunes, as the No. 1 best conservancy preserve.

This guest post is part of the Traverse Magazine series “For Land and Water.” Subscribe for more about environmental preservation efforts in our communities.

When visitors enter Arcadia Dunes and wander through idyllic forests of maple, beech and oak on their way to Old Baldy—the preserve’s towering dune centerpiece—they’re walking on sacred ground every step of the way. The rolling hills, winding trails and sweeping views of Lake Michigan’s coast are special enough, to be sure, but what this place represents is so much more than the sum of its parts.

This 3,653-acre preserve will forever stand as a testament to a community that refused to lose one of our region’s most beautiful places to development. The generous outpouring of support during GTRLC’s Coastal Campaign of 2003–06—during which the conservancy raised more than $35 million to protect Arcadia Dunes and other coastal properties—will remain a highlight in the history of conservation in our state.

While protecting Arcadia Dunes was an amazing feat, it wasn’t the end of the story. More than a decade later, GTRLC’s work there (and at dozens of additional preserves) continues. Trails, parking lots and other infrastructure must be maintained, harmful invasive species must be eradicated and management plans need to be continually improved. As the conservancy has worked to protect the health of this preserve and improve the user experience, the public has become even more engaged and connected with this special place.

Visit Arcadia and see for yourself what makes it so special. The spring wildflower bloom along the Pete’s Woods trail is breathtaking. The 11-mile Dry Hill Trail and 3.5-mile Camp Trail, which continue to build on their excellent reputations with cyclists from across the state and beyond, are popular during all but the most frigid months. Birders flock to the excellent viewing at the grasslands portion of this preserve, which offers a tremendously diverse and rare ecosystem—one which will become only more rare as the years move on and regional development continues.

For more information about Arcadia Dunes, visit gtrlc.org. While there, you’ll be able to explore an interactive map that includes all of the conservancy’s preserves and natural areas. You can also browse GTRLC’s event schedule, read about volunteer opportunities, learn about current land protection and stewardship initiatives and find out how you can support the conservancy’s mission. GTRLC’s work is possible because of the generous and dedicated support of donors and volunteers.

Also, check out Saving Arcadia, a new book by Heather Shumaker. Heather worked for GTRLC and was intimately involved with the effort to protect Arcadia Dunes. Saving Arcadia details the many challenges inherent in this project and the wonderful story of how these challenges were overcome by the hard work and dedication of many.

Art Bukowski is Communications and Outreach Specialist at Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. abukowski@gtrlc.org. This piece was published in the June 2017 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. 

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Photo(s) by Nate Richardson