2023 Year in Review

Upriver Nature Preserve, Land Conservancy of West Michigan © 2023 Photography by Steve Jessmore, Steve Jessmore Photography

2023 Year in Review

Image: Black-capped chickadee captured at Upriver Nature Preserve by Steve Jessmore

Happy New Year! As we embark on the exciting things in store for 2024, now is a wonderful time to reflect on the year we are leaving behind us. Please join us as we look back on what we accomplished together for West Michigan’s natural areas in 2023. 

Land Protection

Together, we permanently protected 360 more acres of natural land open to public exploration! 

McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve acquired

In spring 2023, LCWM successfully closed on McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve, a 300-acre natural area in northern Newaygo County. The purchase was made with support from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant, a donation of the property value by the landowner, several donors, and a loan from the Land Conservancy’s Land Acquisition Fund, which was created by generous benefactors to help us act quickly to take advantage of opportunities to protect natural land. 

This summer, we kicked off a campaign to raise funds to pay back the Land Conservancy’s Land Acquisition Fund as well as cover the costs of establishing public access features, and the creation of a fund to support the maintenance and restoration of the property into the future. Thank you to everyone who made a gift to support McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve this year and to the individuals who helped establish a legacy of conservation by giving to our long-term maintenance and acquisition funds! You can still support this preserve by making a donation on our website here. 

McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve was protected in part with support from the Carls Foundation, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, Ducks Unlimited, the Fremont Area Community Foundation, The Hansen Family Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Dumaw Woodland Nature Preserve donated to LCWM

In May 2022, Paul Tomandl contacted LCWM with the interest in donating his 60-acre property in Oceana County, near Hart, which he has owned since the 1970s. He and his wife wanted to see this property that they enjoyed mainly for hunting and camping for many decades permanently protected. In 2023, the Tomandls completed the donation of the landscape to LCWM.  They are delighted to share this special place with the public. 

Dumaw Woodland Nature Preserve is mostly forested. The preserve also features wetlands and the floodplain of Dumaw Creek, which flows into the North Branch of the Pentwater River and ultimately Pentwater Lake and Lake Michigan in the town of Pentwater. The preserve quietly opened to public use in December 2023. There will be more news to share about this preserve later this year, so stay tuned! 


Equipment Upgrades!

As the Land Conservancy of West Michigan’s continues to add more nature preserves to its roster, it was time to upgrade some of our equipment and expand our space, which we were able to do with grant support and an individual donation We bid adieu to our 2003 F-150 truck (with 308,000 miles on its engine!) and purchased a new F-250 and an equipment trailer. The new truck and trailer have enabled us to tow the heavy equipment needed to remove invasive species, build trails and boardwalks, and other crucial stewardship activities on our preserves near and far.  

A new space for stewardship operations was also a priority this year. We moved from a deteriorating maintenance warehouse at The Highlands to a new office and storage space. We are grateful to the generous grantors and supporters who made these needed upgrades possible! We are better equipped to help people protect, enjoy, and care for nature because of their support. 

Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve joins the Old Growth Forest Network

The Old-Growth Forest Network inducted Flower Creek Nature Preserve and its scenic mesic northern forest into its national network of old-growth forests this year. To celebrate, OGFN hosted a sunset hike at the preserve. 

Restoration continues at The Highlands

Our collaboration with Blandford Nature Center at The Highlands continued this year with three more projects executing on the master plan for the property. We removed a deteriorating fence from the border of Oakleigh Avenue and built a boardwalk along a berm separating two wetlands.   

With support from the Land Trust Alliance and donors to the Highlands Phase 2 fundraising campaign, we also restored an eleventh and final wetland at The Highlands to create more habitat for frogs, turtles, and birds. When The Highlands was a golf course, this former wetland was used as a dump. By removing debris, re-creating a natural wetland basin, and planting the site with native wetland plants, we catalyzed the reversal of 100 years of environmental abuse. Now that it has been restored, the wetland can allow stormwater to naturally infiltrate, filtering out pollutants, sediment, and low-quality surface runoff that would otherwise enter Great Lakes waterways. 

Restoring a forest for birds at Wege Foundation Natural Area

In December 2023, we began work to restore more oak forest and savanna habitat at Wege Foundation Natural Area. Thanks to grant funding awarded by the American Bird Conservancy through the Michigan DNR’s Wildlife Habitat Grant Program, we are removing 3 acres of non-native firs and spruces and 1 acre of invasive autumn olive and planting the areas with native plants and seeds. In the years to come, this low-diversity pine plantation will transform into healthy oak forest and savanna habitat. Read more about the project on our blog. 

By the Numbers

  • 1,025 trees planted 
  • 21 acres grassland and savanna planted 
  • 5 prescribed burns across 66 acres 
  • 18.5 miles trail maintained; 2.2 miles trail built 
  • 1,328 acres monitored 
  • 17 acres of eastern hemlocks treated for invasive hemlock wooly adelgid 
  • 1,100 volunteer hours dedicated to supporting the care of our nature preserves 

Conservation Easements

We worked with landowners to complete two conservation easements this year, encompassing 130 acres of private land that is now permanently protected. Over the course of the year, we completed monitoring of all 125 properties protected by conservation easements we hold, traversing 9,025 acres of natural land. To assist in this massive task, we added a fuel-efficient Toyota Corolla hybrid sedan to our fleet of vehicles. We are proud to share that 59 landowners are taking conservation action on their protected properties! 


Conservation takes community! This year, over 300 volunteers donated their time and energy to helping keep nature nearby. To LCWM’s board and committee members and stewardship, outreach, and office volunteers: Thank you for all you do!  

Over 877 people made a donation to support the protection and care of West Michigan’s scenic natural lands—96 for the first time! Thank you: Your support makes conservation happen. 

Several friends joined us to share their natural knowledge and expertise as part of our series of monthly events this year. Thank you to Michigan Natural Features Inventory, James Dunn, Bill Martinus, Disability Network West Michigan, and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks for helping our communities learn more about the natural areas we’ve worked together to protect! We were also grateful for the ways we were able to connect with our communities through special events like Spring Migration Bird Bonanza at Blandford Nature Center, the Pleasant Peninsula Art & Activism Fair, and the Forest Fires Art & Activism Gathering. Finally, we capped the year off with our annual Holiday Hike Challenge. Over 100 people participated in this scavenger hunt!  

As part of our efforts to ensure our mission and the benefits of our work reach all people, we completed a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion assessment performed by Inclusive Performance Strategies. The goal of the assessment is to understand the Land Conservancy’s existing strengths and opportunities for growth pertaining to supporting JEDI. This is a vital first step in our JEDI journey, and it will help us to focus our efforts to incorporate these values into our mission and work. Thank you to everyone who participated in the surveys and focus groups that informed the assessment. We look forward to continuing to work and grow with all of you as we move forward on this path. 

Staff and Board

We welcomed several new staff members to the offices of the Land Conservancy this year! Development Manager Han Meadway, Land Protection Specialist Jake Swedberg, Outreach Coordinator Kendra Larsen, and Office Manager Tarah Grow all joined the team in 2023. Maddie Stibel served as stewardship intern for the field season. 

Elise Tripp completed her term on the board of directors this summer. We are grateful for her years of service. We welcomed four new board members to our team. Eric VanTongeren, David Marquardt, Carmen Briggs, and Margrethe Kearney all joined the board, and we are excited to continue to work with them in 2024. 

Thank you for a great year!

Thank you to everyone who joined the Land Conservancy of West Michigan in 2023. This year will hold many more opportunities to protect, enjoy, and care for the natural lands that make this part of Michigan so special. We’ll see you there!

  • David Rinard

    Wow quite a year. I always love to hear about all the amazing work you are doing. Keep it up. So proud of you

    January 9, 2024at8:37 am
  • Joe Engel

    Amen, David. A hearty thanks and keep up the great work, Kim & crew – best wishes in 2024!

    January 10, 2024at5:32 pm

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