Glen Lake/Crystal River Watershed: A Plan to Protect a Precious Resource

From our 2005 Summer Newsletter

Glen Lake, framed by a dramatic rise of Sleeping Bear to the west, and surrounded by high-forested moraines to the east and south, presents one of the most recognizable landscapes in Michigan. The waters of Glen Lake are so pure that with increasing depth, on a clear day the water colors shift from sandy hues of the shallows through aquamarine to some of the deepest blue known anywhere. To the thousands of visitors who view the lake from Pierce-Stocking Drive, Inspiration Point, or the Narrows Bridge, the lake and its surrounding watershed are simply breathtaking. To the 600 families fortunate enough to share this gem as property owners, Glen Lake is home.

While Glen Lake is widely known for its scenic beauty, its value as a biological resource is just as important. Recent studies have documented that the lake’s pristine water quality has changed little over the past century. Big Glen is among a handful of Midwestern lakes with extremely low nutrient and algae levels. The lake maintains its high water quality because it is surrounded by nutrient-poor sandy soils, and because the surrounding forests and wetlands are largely intact, filtering out potential pollutants before they reach the lake or its tributaries.

Over the years the Conservancy has worked with private landowners in the Glen Lake and Crystal River areas, and with the Glen Lake Association (GLA) to monitor water quality. In 2004 Conservancy staffers Matt Heiman and Meg Woller worked closely with volunteers from the GLA to produce a Watershed Management Plan for Glen Lake and the Crystal River. The plan identifies the two wetland areas most critical to maintaining high water quality in the lake, as well as noting the importance of retaining the surrounding forests which prevent erosion on steep slopes.

The Hatlem Creek wetlands and Crystal River dune and swale ecosystem are unique and sensitive areas. These ecosystems support many rare and endangered species that rely on high water quality. In turn, these ecological gems help to maintain the high quality, low nutrient and stable flows of the waters that traverse through them.

Now, with a thorough understanding of both the science and the scenery that makes Glen Lake so attractive, the Leelanau Conservancy is launching a program to protect more of the most critical land in the watershed. And we have set the table by securing both private and public funds to begin the work. Last October, when the sale of the Crystal River property to the National Park Service was finalized, nearly $500,000 in donated funds was released back to the Conservancy for use in the Glen Lake watershed. Also, we are thrilled to announce that $375,000 from the Clean Michigan Initiative – Clean Water Fund has been approved for the protection of critical wetlands in the Glen Lake Watershed.

These funds have been earmarked for the purchase of conservation easements in high priority areas such as Hatlem Creek and the eastern ridgeline. Because landowner interest has been high, and because $375,000 in new local match money must be raised to match the public funds, we will be working to finalize both land protection priorities and fundraising goals this summer. For the families who share Glen Lake, and for the annual influx of visitors who enjoy the Sleeping Bear Dunes, this is a great opportunity to protect a priceless resource.

Glen Lake Association: A Vital Role

Last summer dedicated members of the Glen Lake Association (GLA) hand delivered or mailed over 1,700 copies of this handbook along with a companion Stewardship Checklist to all landowners within the Glen Lake/Crystal River watershed.

Their goal? To share information with fellow landowners on the dynamics of and threats to the watershed. The two-guide package details critical areas in the watershed and explains methods of protection such as conservation easements. Finally, the checklist gives extensive information on how landowners can be good stewards. The GLA, through funding from the Oleson Foundation and the Glen Lake Preservation Fund, contracted Mark Stone to create the handbook in collaboration with Sarah Litch and members of the GLA. Sarah, a driving force behind the project along with husband, Mike, also developed the companion stewardship checklist. The Leelanau Conservancy helped in establishing the database for the watershed and contributed information on the land protection tools.

“It is hoped that the simple choices people can learn about in these publications will make a difference in the quality, both now and for future generations in the Glen Lake-Crystal River Watershed,” says Sarah. If you would like a copy of the guide, contact Litch at 231-334-3612 or email ewl9@aol.com

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