Giving Back to the Land

Giving Back to the Land

If you asked Bruce and Ellen Vartian, they would tell you that the land where they live has taken care of them for nearly 40 years. It has provided them with food, with wood for their heat and lumber for crafting, with quiet for thinking and walking, with space for exercise and health. It has given them sap for maple syrup, a playground for their dog Ike and others before him, and so much more. Last summer they decided, after all the time the land has taken care of them, it was time to give back.

The Vartian’s house sits on the edge of the property. All the buildings on the property–the house, the barns, the greenhouse–have been built or refinished by them. Next to the house are several acres of gardens where Bruce and Ellen grow vegetables they take to the Pentwater Farmer’s Market. They also have several sheep which help to clear the gardens in the spring and which provide wool and nutrients to the soil.

Two different cold-water brook trout streams run through the mostly-wooded 83 acres. These are the headwaters to the South Branch of the Pentwater River. A short walk from the gardens is the first of the streams, which over centuries, has cut a deep channel into this land. The banks rise steeply on each side and when we walked the property in the spring they were covered with blooming trillium, spring beauty, and trout lily. The streams contribute to a large area of hardwood swamp, which the Vartian’s have named “the wet woods.”

When Bruce and Ellen first looked into protecting the land the first option they came across was to leave their land to the Nature Conservancy. After initial conversations, they found out that the land would most likely be sold in order to help protect larger properties nearer to the lakeshore. While Bruce and Ellen care deeply about protecting large areas of public land and have been long time supporters of the Nature Conservancy, their motivation for protecting their land was much more personal and specific and they hated the idea that these woods and streams might one day be neglected, or even worse, destroyed.

The Nature Conservancy recommended the Land Conservancy as another option and a conservation agreement turned out to be just what they were looking for. Today, the conservation agreement, placed on the entire property, is attached to the deed and that means that whoever owns the property in the future will not be able to subdivide the property or build on any of the 76 acres of woods and natural land.

With the property forever protected from development and division, the Vartian’s no longer need to worry about what will become of the land when they are no longer around to watch over it and they can get back to the work of planting trees, managing invasive species, growing food, end enjoying the beauty that surrounds them.

Colin Hoogerwerf
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