2020 in Review
Well. That was an interesting year, wasn’t it? Despite the unprecedented challenges, we are excited about what we accomplished together in 2020 and hope you will indulge us in a moment of reflection.
In 2020, we unveiled our first-ever Strategic Conservation Plan. Through a rigorous process, we identified three priority regions in our service area: the Eastern Glacial Corridor, Big Forests & Wild Rivers and Lake Michigan Shoreline. Our Strategic Conservation Plan identifies our goals and strategies for responding to threats posed by climate change, urban development and habitat fragmentation and degradation over the next 10-15 years. In addition to giving us a plan of action for the future, the plan affirmed that our previous work has been focused in the right areas. The Land Conservancy is proud to be among the first land trusts in the region to implement a strategic conservation plan, and it could not have happened without the kind support of our donors and volunteers.
In collaboration with many generous donors and landowners, we were able to protect 311 acres of high–quality natural land in 2020. Together, these projects support critically important biodiversity and the continued health of our watersheds.
More than doubled the size of Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve
Thanks to those who donated to our Back the Dunes campaign, we successfully secured the funds to purchase a 43-acre forested dune landscape next to Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve. This property, originally owned by Doug Paprocki and his late wife, Gretchen, encompasses dune ridges and valleys that begin on the preserve and extend into the property. Protecting preserves a natural connection along the Lake Michigan Shoreline, where high quality, connected habitat is increasingly difficult to protect. Together with Meinert County Park and Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve, this property creates a total of 255 acres of connected, permanently protected natural land in the area. This is wonderful news for the migrating birds, butterflies and wildlife that depend upon these habitats, not to mention the humans who get to enjoy access to an expanded natural area.
Added the Gregory Conservation Easement
In collaboration with Scott Gregory, we helped protect his 205 acres in Mason County with a conservation easement. His land features a bog and wetland complex with orchids and carnivorous plants. There is also an inundated shrub-swamp—a habitat generally found more to the south. Its protection will support climate resilience for the unique plants and wildlife that depend on this habitat type. The property also features steep hills forested with native hardwoods. Protecting these in perpetuity will ensure improved water quality of the Swan Creek headwaters. A Clean Water Program 319 grant funded the purchase of the easement.
Expanded the Cok Conservation Easement
Stu Cok and his family added 63 acres to their existing 124-acre conservation easement. The project was supported with funds from a grant from Trout Unlimited, through a Clean Water grant from the state. The goal of the grant was to protect and improve the Rogue River watershed’s water quality. This additional land does that in spades, protecting two additional lakes along a tributary of the Rogue and their associated wetlands. Stu and his family exercise high-quality, sustainable forest management on the uplands surrounding the waterways. A key part of their timber management is protecting the wetlands and streams from any adverse effects. The easement will allow them to continue to use and manage the property in this way!
In 2020, we continued the important work of caring for the natural areas we have protected in perpetuity. In addition to monitoring hundreds of acres of land and ensuring those areas could be easily enjoyed by increasing numbers of preserve visitors, our stewardship team and volunteers advanced critical restoration work. Here’s what we accomplished together:
- Planted 1,800 trees
- Planted 27 acres of native plants
- Conducted 1 prescribed burn
- Removed invasive plants and shrubs at 6 preserves
- Monitored 733 acres across 16 nature preserves
- Monitored and maintained 11 miles of trails
Conservation Easement Stewardship
Each year, we are committed to ensuring the continued health of the landscapes we have worked with private landowners to protect forever. We monitored 124 conservation easements, collectively protecting 9,176 acres of natural land. In addition, 25 conservation easement owners committed to specific conservation action on their land. Five landowners are accessing federal cost share funding available for professional conservation planning assistance, which will provide detailed guidance for things like forest restoration and fish and wildlife habitat enhancement. Three landowners are working with conservation partners Trout Unlimited to use on-site wood to reduce streambank erosion and improve fish habitat, and 11 are in the planning stages for 2021 tree planting along our wild and scenic rivers and coldwater streams. We are so grateful to collaborate with landowners who understand the importance of continued stewardship of their protected land.
Supporters & Volunteers
In a year where everyone faced incredible challenges, your support of West Michigan’s natural lands did not falter. You showed us that protecting our dunes, forests, wetlands and meadows remains a top priority, and we are so grateful. We welcomed 206 new supporters this year—an amazing blessing during a time of so many other worthy community needs. Together, you helped us meet and exceed our fall match challenge, securing an additional $45,000 in donations. Thank you to the J.A. Woollam Foundation and Hansen Charitable Foundation for their generous pledges to match donations to this campaign.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions meant we had to cancel some of our volunteer events, but when we found those safe windows in time and space, many of you showed up to help. Around 130 volunteers committed over 500 hours of time to supporting the work of the Land Conservancy. A special shout out goes to the small, core group of volunteers who stepped up and worked over multiple days to ensure our largest plantings were completed after the November and December workdays were cancelled. Thank you for your help caring for the lands we have protected together!
For a year that can be challenging to describe in positive terms, we did a lot of great work together. There is more to be done in 2021! We are so glad to have you on our team as we take on the new year.