Northern Michigan’s protected lands are serving up a much-needed healing dose of natural beauty, and the need to preserve them has never been greater. Work done by local conservancies, such as Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, is vital. 

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The good life Up North was never a secret, but more than ever, the word is out—and attracting people nationwide who, because of the pandemic or ability to work remotely, want to move to Northern Michigan.

The problem for conservation nonprofits like Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is the influx is not only increasing property costs but also driving people to buy and build in areas most in need of protection. “It appears people want to be remote, isolated,” says Jennifer Jay, communications director for the Conservancy. “They aren’t looking at in-town amenities or where developments should happen … they’re looking where it shouldn’t. It’s created some added pressure.”

But there’s good news, too—the social changes and restrictions have meant an uptick in outdoor recreation and a surge in the usage of our region’s preserves and natural areas. “That’s the bigger part of the story,” Jay says.

The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy has been hearing from so many people that these protected lands provide solace, healing and countless benefits for mental, physical and spiritual health.

“It just strengthens our mission,” Jay says. “A place to take the kids, be safe, exercise, fresh air, the beauty—things that we need. Our natural environment has given us so much, and our hope is people will return the favor by being better stewards of the resources.”

Since 2015, GTRLC’s Campaign for Generations has raised enough donations to complete 48 projects protecting 4,300 acres and many miles of shoreline. But little did the Conservancy know, five years ago, that all of our lives were going to change. “The pandemic has put the importance of our work into an even sharper focus,” Jay says.

What drives so many people to move to Northern Michigan is the natural beauty; Jay hopes that newcomers and residents alike will continue to do what it takes to preserve it. “We have so many projects just on the edge, almost there,” she explains.

Take Mount Minnie, a spectacular property on Platte Lake. Losing it to development would forever change the entire Platte watershed: the diversity of wildlife, water quality, views and habitat, as well as the feel, the peace and tranquility. Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy was given a challenge grant for the property and is just $112,000 away from protecting it forever (make a donation here for Mount Minnie).

“We have the audacity to say ‘forever,’ because that is literally what these funds do,” Jay says. “I feel good about every dollar given, because of the permanence of that gift. It’s truly a legacy.”

She adds the need has never been more urgent; the conservancy has never been so busy, nor has the quality and quantity of land needing protection ever been this high. “The land keeps calling,” she says, “and we’re still answering.”

Photo(s) by Noah Jurik courtesy of GTRLC