A new natural beauty, Stites Natural Area protected by Leelanau Conservancy, showcases the beauty of Suttons Bay. Here’s how to get there, where to explore and four more hikes to explore on Leelanau Peninsula.

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The new Stites Natural Area is a dollop of nature saved on the edge of Suttons Bay. Tucked in behind the post office, the school and a striking church steeple, it’s one of Leelanau Conservancy’s latest land acquisitions. And it’s a perfect November hike, because there is no hunting allowed on the property.

“This was a full piece of property donated to us, which is rare,” says Lindy Kellogg, events and volunteer manager for the conservancy. “What a treasure.”

Lindy and I arrive for a hike on a mid-November day. The trees have all turned, but half the leaves still hang up high, while the other half covers the ground. It’s a golden hour of sorts: fall holding forth in all directions; winter still ahead.

We park in a tiny leaf-covered lot off West Broadway in Suttons Bay. The original trail on the property is 0.65 miles long and is actually a road that was cut in for a potential housing development. Today, it’s a distant memory of what might have been. The 50 acres of golden leaves, white birch bark and evergreen pines, rippling over gorgeous ridges, remind us of what was saved.

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Winding up the hill and over a small ridge, we start off on a new trail put together by Suttons Bay High School student Niles Segerlind, who championed the one-mile loop as his Eagle Scout project. The trail is just about finished the day we go. Signage and blazes will be up soon, but for now, we find ourselves half guessing where the trail is. The leaves are so deep that we are nearly lost in the most wonderful way.

The land had been slated for development, with up to 60 houses planned. But over the years two different developers tried unsuccessfully to market a housing development. After watching the property change hands over the past decade, neighbors Ray and Jan Pezzi decided enough was enough. They purchased the 50 acres as parcels became available before donating it all in 2019 to the conservancy in honor of Jan’s parents, Phyllis (Merchant) and David Stites, who were both raised near Acme (their distant relatives were some of the first settlers in Northport).

The Pezzis, who love to walk their dogs on the property, often reflect on those who taught them both to love nature. “I think my parents would be really pleased,” Jan says.

They should be; we are surrounded by nature, knowing full well that Farm Club is just up the road for a fine wine, or a good read awaits us at Bay Books downtown a few minutes away. It’s an oasis within an oasis.

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Photo by Kandace Chapple

The views, when the leaves finally fall, will stretch all the way to Old Mission Peninsula. The rolling terrain will offer challenging snowshoeing this winter. And, come spring, the forest floor will be blanketed with wildflowers like white trilliums and pink lady’s slippers.

Halfway around the loop, we come across two fallen trees. They’re too big for us to move, so Lindy snaps a photo and texts it to the trail stewards.

“They’ll be out here soon to clean those up,” she confirms with a nod.

It’s cool to see her in action. In that moment, I see the very definition of the conservancy. I can feel her care, her love, her attentiveness.

She laughs when I tell her this and replies, “How lucky are we to get to save land like this?”

Photo by Kandace Chapple

See the trail map at leelanauconservancy.org. Dogs are allowed on leash. The trail is rated “moderate” due to elevation change; however, the one-mile loop is perfect for families looking for a short, fun outing that the kids can handle.

Walk Without Worry During Hunting Season

Check out these other Leelanau Conservancy hunt-free hikes. Firearm deer season runs from November 15 to 30 in Michigan.

  • Lighthouse West Natural Area, Northport (1.2-mile trail)
  • Jeff Lamont Preserve, Northport (0.15-mile trail)
  • Whaleback Natural Area, Leland (1-mile trail)
  • Chippewa Run Natural Area, Empire (1.5-mile trail)

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Kandace Chapple is a freelance writer and owns Michigan Girl, a company that hosts outdoor events and trips for women in the Grand Traverse region. mi-girl.com

Photo(s) by Kandace Chapple