20 Years of Land Protection–2008

From our 2008 Annual Report

This past October marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Leelanau Conservancy. We combed through old newsletters to compile a brief synopsis of the achievements of each year. I hope that you, as one of our loyal supporters, will take a moment to review this assemblage, and will pause for a moment to reflect on the trajectory of this organization.

Much has been made of the short attention span of Americans. We barely can remember what happened last week, much less recall and keep in perspective the events of last year or of 10 years ago. That’s why it is important look back over an extended time frame and to try to tease out the lessons of the past. In understanding where we came from, we learn something about what the future might hold.

So what can we learn here? There is the obvious growth and maturation of an organization that has transitioned over many years from an idealistic start-up to a community institution of some means and abilities. It’s an organization that is now expected to be a leader and to solve problems that might at first seem intractable. But there is something more.

I am fond of a statement by Teddy Roosevelt, our first great conservationist-President. He observed that “there is nothing more practical than the preservation of beauty.” Roosevelt’s observation is something that has fueled our organization for two decades. Behind this simple statement are some eternal truths that we conservationists have learned over the years, for instance:

Science tells us that the beautiful is also functional. The tangled swamps that fringe our lakes provide essential services. They protect our water supplies and prevent disasters. Our forested hillsides slow the run-off of water, modulating stream levels and cleaning the air. Our local farms provide endless beauty and bounty.

Part of beauty is complexity and interconnectedness, a lesson of great value in an astonishingly confusing and interconnected world.

Our livelihood as a community depends on the beauty of Leelanau. We are always going to be an out-of-the-way place. People have to want to come here, either to visit or to establish their business and raise a family.

The beauty of a place gives meaning and provides the psychological marker for so many of our most valued and cherished experiences, our family moments, the things that keep us together in a bewildering world. Preserving beauty is about people as much as it is about land.

There are many beautiful places in Leelanau, and each one of them has special meaning and significance to those of us who are privileged to live here, or perhaps only to spend a couple of weeks each summer. The Conservancy has thrived as a simple machine that converts the collective love that our members have for this peninsula into concrete actions that preserve that which is most beautiful. And by working to preserve that which is most beautiful, we work to preserve the ecosystem, our communities, and our economy.

A glance at the 20-year synopsis shows achievements in every single year. It shows an organization that wants to get things done and that (perhaps in keeping with today’s fashion) eschews ideology in favor of the practical and tangible.

We are now embarking on our third decade, ushered in by a deep and perhaps long recession. The economy will have an impact less on our long term goals and aspirations (after all our ultimate goal of preserving that which is beautiful is not subject to the exigencies of the economy), but on tools, timing and resources available to carry out our mission.

Land trusts like the Leelanau Conservancy came of age in America in the last half of the 20th century. This was a time of general peace, prosperity, and growth.  It was a time when society in its ever-upward trajectory was gobbling up lands that formed the touch-stones of our communities. As community organizations we grew up in good times, and our thesis is, in part, that beauty and integrity need not be sacrificed in the name of relentless growth. I remain confident that as long as we stick to our ideals, and remember that our goal is timeless and right, we will be able to not only continue but to thrive as an organization. The Leelanau peninsula, and its timeless beauty, means too much to all of us to do anything less.

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