2020 was a big year for land conservation in Northern Michigan—fragile wildlife habitats were preserved, forests were fortified and trails were blazed. We touched base with five regional conservancies to hear about their accomplishments and to see what’s in store for 2021.

Note: Acreage numbers were collected in November 2020, prior to publication, and may have increased since then.

Leelanau Conservancy

Acres Protected in 2020: As of November, Leelanau Conservancy had protected 888 acres, with another 89 expected by year-end. That adds up to a total of more than 15,000 acres since the conservancy’s inception in 1988.

Goals for 2021: “Our 2021 goals are to focus on farmland protection, in addition to protecting forests and wildlife habitat. We’re also looking forward to working on our goal to establish up to 40 miles of recreational trails for public enjoyment at our 1,000-acre Palmer Woods Forest Reserve after having completed the fundraising for purchasing its 350-acre addition last year. Having seen an uptick in trail usage during the pandemic, we also hope to expand on how we provide exceptional experiences for everyone in Leelanau’s natural spaces.” –Claire Wood, Communications Director

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

Acres Protected in 2020: Thus far, during the Campaign for Generations, which concludes on June 30, 2021, GTRLC has protected 5,072 acres of land, including 19 miles of shoreline. In addition, GTRLC has built 45 miles of trail during the Campaign, including four universally accessible trails.

Goals for 2021: “Installing universally accessible trails at the Conservancy’s first-ever nature preserve—Pyatt Lake: The Bill Carls Nature Preserve—and completing protection of Mt. Minnie, Embayment Lakes, an addition to Mitchell Creek Meadows, Finch Creek Sanctuary and critical farmland on Old Mission Peninsula and in Antrim County. GTRLC is actively working on projects throughout its five-county service area that will protect an additional 2,283 acres of land and more than six additional acres of shoreline.” –Jennifer Jay, Director of Communications and Engagement

Little Traverse Conservancy

Acres Protected in 2020: Little Traverse Conservancy anticipated completing the protection of roughly 1,000 acres in 2020. Their most significant land protection highlight was the 280-acre Offield Family Viewlands Working Forest Reserve.

Goals for 2021: “Looking to 2021, we will continue to respond to needs in our community that are in alignment with the organization’s mission. This ranges from keeping trails open and available for outdoor recreation to finding creative ways to continue working with schools and educators to ensure environmental education is available for all who seek it. It also includes trying to address some of the underserved populations within our service area, a need that has been spotlighted during COVID.” –Anne Fleming, Director of Communications

HeadWaters Land Conservancy

Acres Protected in 2020: At the end of 2019, HeadWaters Land Conservancy accepted a conservation easement that permanently protects more than 1,200 acres of land and two inland lakes. This project was their largest to date and ensures some of the most beautiful and diverse property in their service area is protected in perpetuity. By the end of 2020, the conservancy hoped to complete three additional conservation easements with private landowners, protecting an additional 260 acres and more than a mile of river frontage.

Goals for 2021: “Our goals for 2021 will be to complete four land protection projects on high-priority parcels in our service area and fund an endowment that will help us keep the promise to protect land and water in Northern Michigan forever.” –Laura Justin, Executive Director

Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy 

Acres Protected in 2020: As of November, the conservancy was on track to permanently protect 880 acres (three projects) before the end of the year, despite timing setbacks due to the pandemic—two conservation easements (200 and 600 acres) on managed forests that will ensure that only sustainable, climate change and restoration-focused forestry will occur on these properties in the future, and a 40-acre veteran’s memorial nature preserve that the conservancy is working on purchasing.

Another success in 2020: the completion of a partnership trail that now connects Craig Lake State Park to the 1,300-acre Peshekee Headwaters Nature Preserve. The new wilderness hiking trail provides expanded hiking and exploration opportunities for visitors to the State Park (the most remote and least visited in the system) and also provides better hike-in access for visitors to the Preserve.

Goals for 2021: “Next year’s ‘acres’ goal will be almost entirely focused on the fundraising and acquisition of the Dead River Community Forest, a 180-acre property that will protect and provide access to two large and much-beloved community lands. The larger portion is adjacent to our ever-expanding major shopping center and will provide important biking, hiking and green space in this over-developed area. This section of the DRCF will also become an important outdoor classroom for our local community as well. The other 28-acre portion includes the iconic old and new 510 Bridges over the Dead River near the McClure Dam Basin—one of the most photographed fall foliage sites in the U.P.—to create hiking trails and provide protection for that incredible view. We’ve already raised a third of the total project cost—only $220,000 to go! One of the most interesting aspects of the Community Forest model is that it’s not just another nature preserve owned and managed by a 501(c)3. The DRCF will be managed by a steering committee with direct input from the community. The mountain biking trails and outdoor education hub are goals already provided to us by the committee, which currently has representatives from over 20 local and national organizations/community groups, and this Community Forest will give us a home to expand our education programming that is easy to get to from town.” –Andrea Denham, Executive Director

Photo(s) by Noah Jurik courtesy of GTRLC