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Keeping Nature Nearby

November 2015 Newsletter

Pictured here, artist Teresa O’Brien painting at Tallmadge Woods overlooking Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area. See page 4 to read about our latest work protecting land in this Saugatuck area dune system. And see page 11 to read about our Preserved! art exhibit featuring Teresa’s painting and more than 50 others.


“In March 1976, four people met to organize a land trust in West Michigan.” So begins Molly Bradshaw’s history of the early years of our organization, incorporated in October 1976 as the Natural Areas Conservancy of West Michigan - NACOWMI. It all started with four committed people dreaming big. At the end of the first year, there were 100 members. NACOWMI’s very first project was ambitious – the 300-acre Saugatuck Dunes Natural Area and State Park, still among the most stunningly beautiful and publicly accessible natural areas along the Lake Michigan shore. Amazingly, the Saugatuck State Park was established while NACOWMI was still a volunteer organization, proving Margaret Mead’s axiom that “…a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world.” Those volunteers protected more land, including our flagship natural area, Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve. When the need for staff became apparent, April Scholtz became our first Executive Director in 1992, and she still serves as our Land Protection Director. In 1997 NACOWMI became the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. Today... Now 39 years old, we have worked with 97 private land owners to establish conservation easements, created 16 publicly accessible nature preserves, and worked with 11 communities and the State of Michigan to establish or expand publicly accessible parks and natural areas, including two state parks.


Every community claims Lake Michigan and its shoreline as their

own. We have protected miles of it. The largest rivers in the Lake Michigan basin – the Kalamazoo, Grand, Muskegon, White, and Pere Marquette – run through West Michigan, and we have protected thousands of acres in these watersheds and more than 60 miles of riverbanks and creek corridors. Recreation is richer and our water quality is purer because the Land Conservancy has been protecting and caring for land for 39 years. So we are getting ready for our 40th birthday – and the changes on our horizon. As West Michigan grows... We increasingly navigate the space between social and ecological communities as we take on projects like the Barrier Dunes Sanctuary in Muskegon County, flood plain relief along the Grand and for Grand Rapids, or endangered species habitat along the White Pine Trail. Protecting our nature preserves while making them publicly accessible is increasingly a delicate balance. Because people want to know where their food comes from and how it is grown, last week I found myself thinking about conservation while hiking farmland along a lovely wooded creek. With climate change looming and the advent of virtual experiences, the need to rekindle a conservation vision with the next generation grows urgent. As conserved land is sold to new owners or transferred to a new generation, we increasingly explain how land protection protects water quality and why that is important to our quality of life.

Land Conservancy of West Michigan November 2015 Newsletter

Vaughn Maatman, Executive Director

After almost 40 years the story is the same. We are still saving land from uses that would mar its beauty, ecological value or, recreation. And the story is new, as we seek ways to rekindle a vision in the next generation of conservationists. John Muir was adept at succinctly explaining the conservation story in a timeless way. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal, cheer, and give strength to body and soul.” Yes, that’s what we have been about for almost 40 years. Read on, and you will see how we are entering the next 40. •

A member of the next generation inspects wildflowers at Maas Family Nature Preserve.


Preserving land along the Muskegon River contributes to climate resiliency

Protecting natural habitat like this along the Muskegon River reduces the impact of flooding.

The Dykstra property rises 115 feet above he Muskegon River. The steep slopes shade and cool the river and create a scenic wooded backdrop for boaters and fishermen. Warblers and orioles sing from the wetlands and floodplain forest here. A clear and cold stream tumbles down to the river from a deep ravine.

Last June, the Land Conservancy was pleased to work with Mark Dykstra to complete a conservation easement that permanently protects his family’s 100-acre property on the Muskegon River in Newaygo County. The Dykstra property’s conservation easement was made possible through a partnership between the Land Conservancy and the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA) as part of their 2012 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant. The grant allowed MRWA and several partner organizations throughout the watershed to take actions that help offset climate change impacts to the watershed. MRWA previously worked with universities and scientists to examine how climate change would affect the Muskegon River. They found that associated extreme weather events (more frequent storms with heavy precipitation) would likely lead to flooding that is more frequent and more severe than we previously

experienced. These floodwaters gouge riverbanks and send sedimentfilled water downstream and into Lake Michigan. MRWA found that one of the most important things that could be done to preserve water quality is to protect the natural vegetation along the river. The natural habitats, especially wooded land along the river, can reduce the impact of flooding by giving the floodwaters a place to spread out, slow down, and drop sediment. With the Dykstra family’s careful stewardship, all of their shoreline along their stream and the Muskegon River is wooded and vegetated. We thank the Dykstra family for recognizing that by preserving their land’s natural habitats, they are contributing to a much larger conservation effort in the Great Lakes region. •



Forested dunes preserved near Saugatuck as former camp property changes hands way to preserve the property’s natural areas. Working with the City of Saugatuck and the Land Conservancy, the Dune Ridge Limited Partnership restricted future residential development to areas that were already developed for camp buildings and uses and in July preserved nearly 50 acres of newly protected forested dunes near Saugatuck. 50 acres with a conservation When the 130-acre Camp Gray easement donated to the Land was listed for sale by the Chicago Conservancy. Presbytery several years ago, the In addition, the Dune Ridge community was justifiably concerned partnership ensured that the that the property’s extensive natural area and forested dunes would be lost easement will allow for the future development of a path south of the to residential development. road that leads out to Oval Beach Fortunately, the property was sold Park. Developing a safe route for to a group that was open to finding a people walking or biking to the

lakeshore has long been desired by many in the community. This natural area protects another portion of the massive dune system that formed around the mouth of the Kalamazoo River and is vitally important for migrating birds and butterflies. This dune system also includes Mt. Baldhead and Oval Beach City Parks, the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area (a community partnership project of the Land Conservancy), and the Land Conservancy’s Tallmadge Woods and Shorewood conservation easements. The Dunegrass conservation easement is a great example of how the Land Conservancy’s private land protection tools can preserve important natural land when it is not possible to create a public park. We thank the Dune Ridge partnership development team for their willingness to find a conservation solution for the dunes that are so important to the community’s identity. •

Purchase a conserved property and write your own land story! Properties that we have protected with conservation easements are currently for sale along the Muskegon River, Deer Creek, Little South Branch of the Pere Marquette River, and in eastern Kent County. If you are in the market for property, consider what a conserved property has to offer:

•• It remains in private ownership. You own it and have the right to sell or bequeath it. •• Often comes with lower property taxes because it is exempt from Michigan’s “pop-up tax” on property transfers. •• Land Conservancy staff annually visits the property and can serve as a resource for forestry management and ecological restoration. •• You would own a special piece of property that will be forever preserved. Contact our land protection staff to learn more. Call 616-451-9476 or email or


Land Conservancy of West Michigan November 2015 Newsletter


Support strong for Barrier Dunes Sanctuary project

Township officials and community members have been fighting the proposed development by owners of the adjoining property for over two decades, but with the recent weakening of Michigan’s Critical Dunes Act, the outcome remains in doubt unless the Township can purchase the property.

For area residents, the Barrier Dunes Sanctuary means so much more than a scenic vista or a place for a summer picnic on the beach. Longtime resident Patti Sargent recounts what the Barrier Dunes meant to her as a child growing up in the area: “The dunes were an extension of our classroom as well as our playground. We learned about the unique ecosystem; its weather, flora and fauna. We spent much time walking the beach, swimming, climbing the dunes, sledding, tobogganing and visiting the climbing tree. It was our connection with nature, not only for us kids, but for all the local residents, summer residents and other visitors. And my children were able to learn about these living dunes and the changes made in the topography from week to week and year to

year. It is vital for our health and happiness that this special place remain natural and undisturbed for generations to come.” Earlier this year the Land Conservancy announced a partnership with Muskegon County’s White River Township to protect the Barrier Dunes Sanctuary park from the threat of development. Township officials have until June 30, 2016 to raise approximately $970,150 to purchase an adjoining parcel to expand the park and prevent the bulldozing of a road through its fragile dunes. The Land Conservancy kicked-off a fundraising campaign earlier this summer with a hike in the dunes. Since then, Land Conservancy and community members have rallied around the project, with over 300

contributions and pledges received to date. All told, over $540,000 has been committed including grants and matching funds from the Township. We thank all those who have contributed so far. Contributions may be sent to the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, 400 Ann Street NW, Suite 102, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 (memo line: “Barrier Dunes”) or donate securely online at (check the “Barrier Dunes” box). The campaign to protect Barrier Dunes Sanctuary is made possible in part by grants from the Alcoa Foundation, Carls Foundation, Consumers Energy Foundation, J.A. Woollam Foundation, James Hanna and Mary H. Murphy Land Fund, and the White Lake Community Fund of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. •


Stewardship Restoring nature with fire Plants and animals that live in oak savanna, open forest, and prairie fen habitats now have a little more room to breathe, thanks to prescribed burns we conducted at three nature preserves – Brower Lake, Maas, and Lamberton Lake Fen – earlier this year. Those once-common habitats are now very rare, and it’s no surprise that many of the species they contain are also imperiled, like the federally-endangered Karner blue butterfly. Many of Michigan’s native ecosystems require periodic fires to stay healthy. The fires set back invasive species, reduce encroaching vegetation, help native grassland, forest, and wetland species to thrive, and are a critical part of our long-term plan to restore these areas. We encourage you to come and see how these fire-dependent areas – and the plants and animals they contain – benefit from periodic burning as we continue to use fire as a tool to restore high-quality habitats on our preserves. Above right: Prescribed fire helps restore oak barrens and oakhickory forests at Brower Lake Nature Preserve.

Leaders in prairie restoration A group of passionate Land Conservancy volunteers has turned a heavily degraded pasture into one of Michigan’s largest and most diverse restored tallgrass prairies. The prairie – which started out in 2007 as a tiny plot with a handful of native species – now covers more than seven acres at the center of Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve and is home to a number of regionally-imperiled species. It is also a favorite spot for hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts drawn to the eclectic cast of plants, birds, and insects that rotates with the season. The restoration work continued this year, as staff and volunteers expanded the prairie by another acre through a carefully-orchestrated schedule of prescribed burning, removing non-native vegetation, and seeding with native species. The Land Conservancy recently completed a long-term management plan for the prairie that lays out a blueprint for expanding the prairie to eventually cover nearly 20 acres of the preserve. The plan also calls for restoring a nearby pasture to a mix of oak savanna and oakhickory forest, work that will begin next spring. Above right: Volunteers collect seed for the prairie restoration project at Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve. (Credit: Dwight Baker.) Below right: Volunteer Dwight Baker teaches a young prairie enthusiast the finer points of seed collecting and processing. (Credit: Lisa Castro.)


Land Conservancy of West Michigan November 2015 Newsletter

Protecting the land is just the first step in the long-term sustainability of our nature preserves. Here’s a look at some of our recent work to maintain and improve these healthy, vibrant communities that provide critical habitat for a diversity of native plants and wildlife. Improving trails Two of our newest nature preserves – both in Muskegon County – are now easier to visit and enjoy. The Sandy Hansen Birding Trail, a 2-mile route through the towering oak forest at Anderson Woods Nature Preserve, features a 1-mile loop accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. At Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve, the final phase of the John J. Helstrom Dune Ridge Trail is now complete, leading visitors up a steep dune and providing stunning views of Lake Michigan. Right: Climb the dune ridge trail at Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve for spectacular Lake Michigan views.

Backyard conservation We often think of nature as something that happens somewhere else – out on a nature preserve, for example. But nature can just as well occur at home too, thriving in unexpected places like backyards, alleyways, and landscape beds. The Land Conservancy’s recently-launched Bringing Conservation Home program seeks to keep nature nearby by pairing local homeowners with Land Conservancy staff who use their conservation expertise to recommend ways to improve native backyard habitat. Bringing Conservation Home was implemented on a pilot basis in 2015 with ten homeowners from Kent, Muskegon, and Ottawa counties. The program will be more widely available in the future. Right: A Grand Haven homeowner weighs options for using native plants to slow erosion in her yard.

Fostering ecological research What do road noise, flowering dogwoods, shifting dunes, bird parasites, and an 1800s-era botanist all have in common? They are all subjects of research projects that have recently been conducted – or are ongoing – on the Land Conservancy’s nature preserves. The Land Conservancy, with support from the Wege Foundation, has partnered with faculty and students from several area colleges and universities to facilitate nine research projects in 2015. The projects range in scope and purpose, but all encourage thoughtful investigation of natural features and processes and provide valuable information that feeds into the sustainable management of our natural areas. Right: A Calvin College student scans for birds at Wege Natural Area as part of a semester-long research project.



Land Conservancy member profile: Robert Vanderkamp “About ten years ago I heard about the Land Conservancy’s tagline, ‘keeping nature nearby’ and I really like that idea – supporting natural areas close to home instead of driving a long way to visit somewhere.” This realization led to Robert Vanderkamp’s longtime involvement with the Land Conservancy and its preserves in the Holland area, where he has lived for approximately 45 years. For the Land Conservancy, Robert serves as Preserve Steward for the Dune Pines Nature Preserve and the Castle Park Nature Reserve. “The main challenge as Preserve Steward is keeping invasive plants

What is a preserve steward? Robert Vanderkamp is one of 18 Preserve Stewards at the Land Conservancy. Preserve Stewards are volunteers who are each matched with one of our nature preserves and assume regular monitoring and stewardship responsibilities. They serve as the Land Conservancy’s first line of assurance that our nature preserves are safe, well-functioning, high-quality natural areas where both nature and people can flourish. With 16 nature preserves across eight counties totaling 720 acres, managing and monitoring this much land would not be possible without the hard work and critical role served by our Stewards. To learn more about the Preserve Steward program, contact Justin Heslinga, Stewardship Coordinator, at 616-451-9476 or


under control,” he said. Robert explained that he tries to visit both preserves where he is steward at least once a month to make sure the trails are clear of debris and signs aren’t blocked by plant growth. In the summer, it’s important for him to check in often because growth happens fast and the invasive plants require frequent attention. Robert believes strongly in the importance and nobility of volunteer work.

Robert says it’s not uncommon to see 50 different bird species in one day during the summer.

He uses the website to track all of his bird sightings, and sightings “I call it ‘sweat equity’. If you by others in the area. “I’m only ranked work for an organization, you’re #7 in Ottawa County right now, a lot more dedicated than if you but all six people ahead of me are just send in a check every year. friends of mine, so we have sort of a Any time you volunteer and get competition.” sweaty and dirty, you feel more connected to the environment Robert says that many birders will and to that organization.” travel several hours to spot one specific bird, but he takes a different In addition to his love of environapproach. He strives to maintain a mental work, Robert is also an avid small carbon footprint, so Robert birder. In fact, he’s the President spends his time enjoying the birds in of the Holland Audubon Club and his area. regularly leads educational bird walks including a recent Land Conservancy “Keeping nature nearby” is an ideal walk at Dune Pines Nature Preserve that Robert upholds in his work and this summer. his hobbies. He has been a generous donor, volunteer, and teacher for the He can often be spotted at the Upper Land Conservancy for over a decade.• Macatawa Natural Area with his binoculars, bird book, and note pad at Special thanks to volunteer, Erin Miner, for the ready to record any bird sightings. assisting with this article.

Robert surveys Lake Michigan during a birding hike at Castle Park Nature Reserve.

Land Conservancy of West Michigan November 2015 Newsletter


What will be your legacy? Donor challenges members to make a lasting impact West Michigan is known for a strong tradition of philanthropy. Most of us give to the causes we believe in – causes that represent our values; that make this a better place to live, work and play. Yet how many of us think about how we can continue to perpetuate those values after our lifetimes? Planned giving can be an easy way of making a lasting impact. For most people, a simple bequest may allow an opportunity to make a much larger gift than they would be capable of during their lifetime. A gift to the Land Conservancy’s endowment fund may perpetuate your giving indefinitely.

this is a gift of nature to those same beneficiaries, with those same dollars, and one that may be invested forever in keeping nature nearby, for all.” Along with this member’s gift, though, comes a challenge from him to our friends and supporters to think about their own legacy and consider an estate gift to the Land Conservancy. To find out more about how you can perpetuate your values beyond your lifetime, or to notify the Land Conservancy of a gift in your estate plan, contact Development Director Brian Obits at 616-451-9476 or What will be your legacy to keeping nature nearby in West Michigan? •

Recently, a longtime Land Conservancy member informed us that a portion of his life insurance policy had been designated to the Land Conservancy. Why life insurance? As he explains: “Many of us routinely send in premium checks for life insurance policies of all shapes and sizes. The beneficiaries are typically people we care deeply about – a spouse, our children, or grandchildren. Few of us know, however, that with the completion of a simple form you can redirect a ‘piece’ of those proceeds to something else you care deeply about – the preservation of lakes, land, and rivers of West Michigan, in perpetuity. In reality,

Autumn at Saul Lake Bog – one of the most biodiverse bogs in Michigan.

Maximize your impact with matching gift challenge! For a limited time, your year-end gifts may be matched by the J.A. Woollam Foundation Matching Gift Challenge. If you are a renewing member, the Foundation will match any increase in your gift amount. In addition, the following gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar: new membership gifts, renewal of a lapsed membership, and all gifts of $500 or over. Double the impact of your gift – make a donation to keep nature nearby today! See the enclosed donation envelope, or donate securely online at

Thank you, business partners! Landmark Guardian ($5,000+) Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge Steelcase Valley City Electronic Recycling Landmark Leader ($2,500 - $4,999) Baker Book House Varnum Wolverine Worldwide Land Patron ($1,000 - $2,499) Forest Hills Foods/ Spartan Stores Global Concepts Enterprise Lacks Enterprises Mountain Khakis Universal Forest Products Land Protector ($500 - $999) Alcoa Howmet Allegra Marketing.Print.Mail Bata Plastics Dickinson Wright Fifth Third Bank The Griffin Tipton Group at Baird Growco Indoor Garden Supply Jack Dykstra Excavating Old National Bank Patriot Realty Pratt & Whitney Component Solutions Reliant Professional Cleaning Contractors Rooks Landscaping Rutherford & Associates Structural Concepts Corp. Land Benefactor ($250 - $499) DMH Architecture Grand Valley State University Biology Dept. Guy’s Ultimate Kayak Service Irwin Seating Jawor Bros Blueberries Inc. Sound Off Signal Land Steward ($100 - $249) Catalyst Partners GR Paddling Lakeshore Environmental, Inc. Sweet Spot Studio



Event snapshots: A look back at our 2015 events helping people protect, enjoy, and care for natural land in West Michigan. At our Member Picnic and Annual Meeting in June, we celebrated those who strive to keep nature nearby in West Michigan: • Mary Jane Dockeray Award recipient: Tanya Cabala (pictured here with Mary Jane Dockeray) • Volunteers of the year: Marti O’Brien and Dan Perrin • Conservation easement donors: Paul & Denise Busman, Dr. Robert & Margaret Gunnell, Tom & Jan Hamilton, Charlie & Sandee Thompson • Outgoing board members: Jan Deur, John Fox, Susan Hoekema, Marti O’Brien, and Pete Schmidt.

More than 80 people joined us for the scenic Ride for Nature bike tour in June. Participants enjoyed a beautiful day and a bike ride along West Michigan’s lakeshore, with visits to several of our nature preserves. It was a great opportunity to explore these pockets of nature along a bike-friendly route. Photo credit: Caroline Chadderdon.

Nearly 100 people joined us for the July Barrier Dunes Sanctuary Campaign Kick-off to expand and permanently protect this Lake Michigan park. The event featured remarks from local officials, guided hikes through the dunes, and a sunset bonfire on the beach.


Land Conservancy of West Michigan November 2015 Newsletter

NEWS & EVENTS During half-day river float trips on the Muskegon River in June and the Pere Marquette River in July, volunteers helped us install new signs marking conservation easements.

At our August Anderson Woods Preserve Dedication, we celebrated this forested natural area near Whitehall that provides excellent trails and birding habitat for public enjoyment. Pictured here, Dick Hansen and his granddaughter cut the ribbon to open the Sandy Hansen Birding Trail – a new, wheelchair and stroller accessible trail named in memory of Dick’s late wife.

Our Harvest Moon Celebration was held on a gorgeous September evening. We were joined by Land Conservancy members and friends for a fun evening of music and refreshments as we celebrated this season of nature’s abundance and beauty in West Michigan. Photo credit: Erin Miner.

In October, our Preserved! exhibit opened at galleries in Douglas and Grand Rapids. The exhibit featured more than 50 pieces of art – paintings, ceramics, and photographs – created by nine local artists inspired by our natural areas. A percentage of the sales of the artwork supports our continued conservation efforts. Photo credit: LaFontsee Galleries.


Non-Profit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Grand Rapids, MI Permit No. 906

Board of Directors Dwight Baker, President

A. Joseph Engel, III, Vice President Margaret Idema, Secretary Bob Van Stright, Treasurer Cindy Ackerman John Byl Suzanne DeVries-Zimmerman Frank Dunten Gary Greer Mike Julien Clay Stauffer Trish Taylor

Mission Mission

Helping people Helping people protect, enjoy, and protect, enjoy, and care for natural land care for natural land in West Michigan. in West Michigan.

Jeff VandenBerge


Vaughn Maatman Executive Director Brian Obits Development Director April Scholtz Land Protection Director Pete DeBoer Land Protection Coordinator Justin Heslinga Stewardship Coordinator Diane Sampson Membership Coordinator Gretchen R. Mousel Finance Director 400 Ann Street NW, Ste. 102 Grand Rapids, MI 49504 Phone: 616-451-9476 LCWM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All contributions are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

Explore nature with our new Natural Areas Guide

We are pleased to announce a new resource to help you find and enjoy West Michigan’s natural areas: the Land Conservancy’s new natural areas guide. This printed booklet highlights our publicly accessible natural areas throughout West Michigan.

Thumb through it to find new places to explore and reconnect with old favorites. Keep it in the glove compartment of your car and stick it in your pocket before you head out. And it will make a great stocking stuffer! Interested in a new place to hike? The guide describes 25 nature preserves and parks. Want get out on the water? The guide also features three protected river corridors for canoeing/kayaking and fishing. The guide features 28 properties with maps, photos, descriptions, conservation information, and visitor information. Get your free guide today! Email or call our office at 616-451-9476. Happy exploring! •

2015 annual report now available The Land Conservancy’s annual report highlights financial information and our recent work to help people protect, enjoy, and care for natural lands in West Michigan. To read the annual report, visit or call our office at 616-451-9476. •

Land Conservancy West Michigan Fall Newsletter