Extraordinary Volunteers Build the Deck at Clay Cliffs

Al Swiderski and Dave Coyne and Steven Popper small size for web

Al Swiderski, Dave Coyne, and Steven Popper on the newly constructed Clay Cliffs Deck

Around the office, you’ll often hear our stewardship staff mentioning two volunteers named Al and Dave. Their names are always said together, as in “Al and Dave spent the whole week out at Swanson Preserve building the boardwalk.” This fall, however, the dynamic duo morphed into an awesome trio who took on the task of building our long-awaited Clay Cliffs observation platform, which took the better part of a week.

Who are these guys and why do they do what they do for the Leelanau Conservancy?

“What we used to say over at Swanson all the time is you can’t get a better office than this,” says Dave Coyne. “Any excuse to be out in nature is a good one.”

Dave grew up in Traverse City and lives in Solon Township. He began volunteering when he moved back from Arizona after retiring as a sign painter (he reproduced photographs onto billboards.) “I wanted to be a part of the community,” he says. “Volunteering seemed like a good way to do it.” Carpentry is a hobby; he builds everything from boats to furniture and is “self taught.”

Quite the view from the deckAl Swiderski lives in Lake Leelanau and ran his own insurance agency near Lansing for 32 years. He also learned carpentry by trial and error. When his father-in-law needed new windows, the quote was “astronomical,” recalls Al. “I told him, ‘Geez it can’t be that tough. Buy one window and let me try it.’ I ended up doing all the windows, then remodeled the kitchen, and added on a back porch too. You just need to have a little confidence – and good tools.”

The duo met while volunteering for United Way. They serve as “Tuesday Tool Men,” visiting the homes of low-income elderly people.  Then they saw a notice for a brush-cutting workbee at DeYoung Natural Area and signed on. That led to digging fence posts and installing signs and benches. Last year they cut all 910 boards for the beautiful Swanson Preserve boardwalk and wetland bridge.

Boardwalk in progress smaller size for webStephen Popper is a new stewardship volunteer who has been active all summer at Clay Cliffs, helping to clear the trail and install a split-rail fence along the bluff and parking area. He is a pediatrician who spent the summer in Northport and is newly retired. He and his wife, Janet, have long volunteered tutoring low income children as part of an after school program in Ann Arbor, where they will spend the winter. Steve says that he is looking forward to doing more work at our natural areas. “The Leelanau Conservancy is very inviting and the people who work there are very helpful,” he says. “Sarah and Jenee are really energetic and knowledgeable, and the whole experience was just a pleasure.”

“We’re so thankful for these guys,” says Sarah Cook. “They always go the extra mile and are real perfectionists.”

At Clay Cliffs, all three men appreciated the job site views and the structure itself. “This deck is built like a Sherman tank,” says Al. The long t-shaped deck, designed by a structural engineer, anchors the deck on solid ground. Helical piers screwed into the bluff will accommodate shifts in the terrain and erosion. King Co. installed the anchor posts.

looking out webAll three volunteers say that they feel good thinking about the many people who will enjoy the platform and the panoramic views of Lake Michigan. Although they have special skills as volunteers, Al stresses that you don’t have to be a carpenter to get involved in stewardship. There are opportunities aplenty, with all kinds of jobs. Says Al: “At the Leelanau Conservancy, the nice thing is that there is something for everybody.”

5 responses to “Extraordinary Volunteers Build the Deck at Clay Cliffs”

  1. Kathy Scherer says:

    We enjoyed a girl’s hike just today and wondered about the stability of the deck being so close to the overlook. And then…our questions were answered just by reading today’s Leelanau Cons. FB page! Thank you!

    • Carolyn Faught--Communications Director says:

      So glad that our website and Facebook page are keeping you well informed. Thank you for posting your comment!

  2. Jerry Conroy says:

    I am interested in volunteering for projects like this. What is the process for signing up?

  3. Christopher Cole says:

    Thank you for the beautiful deck at Clay Cliffs! Outstanding views. My wife and I hiked to the lookout in late October and the views of the islands and lake were mesmerizing. Thank you for highlighting a place of peace and for hiking all those materials up that ridge!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *