In Northern Michigan, we’re surrounded by nature. Water, woods, trailsan abundance of natural resources are at our fingertips and waiting to be explored. An added bonus, exploration enhances our mental well-being as well as our physical health.

Our region’s conservancies play a major role in maintaining these natural areas and protect them from future development. Jennifer Jay, director of communications and engagement with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) likes to say, “Health and wellness is not what we do, but it’s an outcome of what we do.”

Explain what you mean by, “Health and wellness is … an outcome of what we do.”

In a comprehensive manner, the Conservancy is protecting the natural infrastructure (land and water) that is so essential to everyone’s health in this region. We are also investing heavily in the creation of trails (66 miles of trails in our five-county service area, including universal access trails) and assisting many communities with the creation of parks and public natural areas and recreational enhancements.

By having access to nature nearby, people and families are able to be outsidegetting exercise and fresh air—and enjoy the beauty of our region. That’s good not just for physical health, but mental health as well. We hear often from people that these natural areas contribute to their sense of well-being and provide hope and solace. 

The importance of the link between water quality and health cannot be overstated and we contribute to that by protecting the right lands in critical watersheds that contribute to clean drinking water and the ability to enjoy our water by kayaking, canoeing, and swimming as well.  

In what ways does the GTRLC promote healthy lifestyles?

By securing the land base that makes it possible for anyone to be active, by building trails and helping communities reach their recreational goals, and via the many guided hikes and volunteer work days that we offer year-round. In an increasingly busy and electronically focused world, we are providing beautiful outdoor spaces and the opportunity to learn about them and enjoy them.

How can people help the GTRLC protect our natural resources?

We have such a dedicated and amazing cadre of volunteers and donors, these are the people who are investing the time, energy, and money in protecting the lands that we love and that keep us healthy. Through financial donations, they make land protection possible and by volunteering, they help steward those lands and get a great work out while doing so. With over 40,000 acres of protected land and more than 125 miles of protected shoreline, the opportunities to help us by volunteering are endless. And because there is still more critically important land to protect, the opportunity to financially support the Conservancy is ever-present. I love hearing from our supporters that their gifts are part of their legacythey want their children and grandchildren to know that they helped protect these places forever.

What are your five favorite GTRLC preserves to explore?

It’s hard to pick a favorite but the Conservancy’s new Preserve Map is a great tool to help you find your personal favorite.

  1. Green Point Dunes is breathtaking and offers a great hike, views you simply won’t believe including a view of a shipwreckand then miles of pristine Lake Michigan beach. When I know I want a complete day encompassing hiking, scenic views, and beach time, Green Point is my first choice.
  2. Not far from Green Point Dunes is our flagship preserve, Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve. At Arcadia Dunes you can climb a dune, mountain bike through the woods on a sustainable trail, see wildflowers galore, enjoy spectacular bird-watching, and now there is an incredible universal access trail, the Overlook Trail, so that people with mobility challenges can also enjoy the view of Lake Michigan from some 350 feet above. It’s really an incredible spot.
  3. I also really love the Maple Bay Natural Area, mid-way between Acme and Elk Rapids. It’s a great close-to-town beach that you access after a short but beautiful hike through the woods. Adjacent to it on the north is a newly protected addition to the Petobego State Game Area which offers a rare and pristine Great Lakes coastal marsh.
  4. The Timbers Recreation Area in Long Lake Township, just six miles from downtown Traverse City, and the Pelizzari Natural Area near the base of the Old Mission Peninsula are terrific nearby nature examples and are absolutely beloved by so many people. After a long day at work, both places offer a wonderful setting to walk, hike, or run. Timbers features 9,000 feet of frontage on three lakes, while Pelizzari’s three miles of trail meander through wide open fields and former orchards, quiet upland forests, and cool lowlands with giant hemlocks.
  5. In Bellaire, the Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area is a favorite due to its extreme ecological diversity coupled with the more than 30 miles of trails used for mountain biking, hiking, and fat tire biking. The community up there really loves and takes excellent care of Glacial Hillsevery time I’m there I see happy, healthy people really enjoying the outdoors.

Photo(s) by Taylor Brown