In Harbor Springs, a 290-acre property with extraordinary views of Little Traverse Bay and the Inland Waterway has been protected forever by the Little Traverse Conservancy.

The protection of the former Little Traverse Bay Golf Club property was finalized on April 22 (Earth Day) with a planned opening in late June. The property is located between Harbor Springs, Alanson and Petoskey and a short drive from many Up North communities. Grants from the Offield Family Foundation and gifts from donors, along with the support of LTC’s membership, allowed the Conservancy staff to complete this project.

Now known as the Offield Family Viewlands Working Forest Reserve, the site is best known by people who visited it in its former life as a restaurant and golf course. The business recently closed and the property was purchased by a real estate investor, explains Director of Communications Anne Fleming. The Conservancy approached the investor to inquire about a sale to the Conservancy, which would allow it to be protected in a permanent manner. A tight timeline for the resale made the purchase uncertain until the Offield Family Foundation gift was pledged.

“This was an incredible opportunity that challenged us in both new and familiar ways,” says Kieran Fleming, executive director of the Conservancy. “We simply could not have considered it without the generosity of the Offield family and the commitment of our annual members who make our daily work possible. The total cost of this project is $2 million. The Offield gift and an additional $105,000 pledge made by anonymous donors allowed us to secure a loan to close on the purchase. However, we are still seeking $395,000 to allow us to pay off the loan and move ahead with plans to restore the property to a natural condition and give access to our community.”

“Working with the Little Traverse Conservancy has always been a top priority of our family,” says Jim Offield, whose father Wrigley “Bud” Offield was on the Conservancy’s original board of trustees in the 1970s. “It is an honor to work on a cause that offers continued comfort, beauty and health for this region that many of us deeply love.”

Because the transaction is so recent, future management plans for the Conservancy’s care of the property and its accompanying buildings are yet uncertain. Environmental screenings were conducted earlier this spring and concluded that major contamination of the land was not an issue. This was good news, yet several questions still remain unanswered at this time.

“Northern Michigan residents and visitors alike will soon be able to explore this beautiful place, but we are taking this quarantine time to thoroughly evaluate all of the many options we have for keeping this land open and available for the public,” says Director of Stewardship Derek Shiels. “As we develop our future management activities, we are looking forward to opening up the trails and multiple views to the public. Our utmost concern is the safety of the public and the health of the land.”

Fleming adds, “We all need access to the natural world, especially now. This is a place, close to many towns, where you and your family will soon be able to explore at a safe distance from others. Imagine a picnic while overlooking Little Traverse Bay or a senior portrait taken from the top of the hill with the bay or the Inland Waterway as the backdrop. Our members and supporters have prioritized having these lands protected for everyone.”

Common Questions About Offield Family Viewlands Working Forest Reserve

When will the property be open to the public? We anticipate opening up The Viewlands to the public for non-motorized recreation by the end of June. Like all of Little Traverse Conservancy’s trails, these will be multi-use and open for running, biking, snowshoeing, skiing, walking dogs on leash, etc.

Did you shut down the golf course? The golf course and associated businesses had already been closed when the Conservancy became involved. The Conservancy purchased this property from a private land investor who had purchased the land from the owner of the Little Traverse Bay Golf Club earlier this year. The Conservancy did not shut down the golf course, and after careful consideration, we have decided to not operate the course through a lease agreement either.

Why did you buy this property? The Conservancy staff, board of trustees and donors recognized the very unique and special features of this land that make it a true gem to protect for everyone’s benefit. We decided to purchase this property to protect the public’s access to the views and to make them accessible to even more people. We recognized the incredible opportunity for nature recreation and enjoyment of extraordinary views. And this project allows us to restore fragmented habitats and broaden ecosystem protection for the benefit of all living things.

What do you plan to do with the buildings? We have decided not to make any immediate decisions. We are in discussion with various parties who may have an interest in using the restaurant and concession stand structures. If no opportunities emerge, we may remove those buildings. The existing pole barns will be utilized by the Conservancy to hold the tools and equipment needed to manage this property and the 215 other properties it owns. Staff will continue to work with committee members and trustees to develop the best management plan for this land and structures over the next year. In the meantime, the public is asked to please stay away from the buildings.

What is a working forest reserve? We established the working forest category in 2015 to distinguish lands that are more actively managed through forestry or other habitat manipulations from lands where we generally let nature take its course, our nature preserves. The Offield Family Viewlands will fall under our working forest reserve category. While that doesn’t mean you will see logging trucks out there, someday that may be a management tool. You will more likely see us actively restoring some of the lands by planting trees and native grasses.

Will you be planting trees everywhere? We are currently evaluating different plans for reconnecting the natural communities best suited for this land. We plan to balance our reforesting goals with maintaining the views. Therefore, we will likely be establishing meadows of native grasses in some of the former fairways and will be carefully selecting where certain tree species should be planted. Look for opportunities to help us plant trees in the coming years!

Photo(s) by Little Traverse Conservancy