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Empire Valley, Anonymous

285 Acres Near Empire Forever Protected: Conservation Easement Preserves Scenic Views From M-72 and Co. Rd. 677

From our 2009 Spring Newsletter

Nearly a mile of frontage on M-72 and one of the most scenic vistas near Empire has been forever protected through the completion of the Conservancy’s largest conservation easement to date. An Empire area family has protected 285 acres that will preserve forever the views seen from the highway as well as from a scenic overlook on County Road 677. The land is predominantly hardwood forest with some planted pines, a small amount of open land and a spring-fed pond.

The Conservancy was able to purchase the conservation easement with private donations using a ‘bargain sale’ or part sale/part donation format. The ‘bargain sale’ purchase allows the landowner to receive a percentage of the conservation easement value in cash and donate the remaining value to the Conservancy in exchange for federal income tax benefits.

“We felt it was very important to protect this land because of the tremendous scenic qualities enjoyed by the public from major roadways in addition to its important wildlife corridor functions,” says Matt Heiman, Director of Land Protection. Under current zoning, the land could have accommodated as many as 57 home sites, many of which would be situated along a prominent ridgeline overlooking the Empire valley. Intense residential development of the property would also have severely fragmented the forest ecosystem and degraded the wildlife corridor potential of the property. Instead, the conservation easement terms will allow only five new homes over the entire 285 acres to be constructed below the ridgelines in strategic locations that will keep the vast majority of northern hardwood forest intact. As with all conservation easements, the land stays in private hands, is not open to the public, and remains on the property tax rolls.

“Protecting this unfragmented block of forestland will also help to preserve a large portion of a wildlife corridor connecting the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore forestland with the Pere Marquette State Forest,” adds Heiman. “The health and sustainability of wildlife populations depend on intact corridors of natural habitat to facilitate animal movement and plant dispersal between larger tracts of public forestland.” The hardwood forest here has been managed by selective timber harvest and is in good condition. Continued forest management will be allowed by the conservation easement terms under an approved forest management plan.

One member of the family, which wishes to remain anonymous, says he wanted to protect the land he grew up on “because I would love to see it remain as it is forever. I feel like I am contributing back for every thing that I’ve gotten from the land for my whole life.”

The Leelanau Conservancy’s Land Acquisition Fund, which is supported by hundreds of small gifts from donors, helped make this project possible.  The Conservancy would also like to extend special thanks to the Ricord Family, David & Cara Cassard, and the Porter Family Foundation for their leadership support.  The Orion Foundation also supported the project generously with a gift in memory of Marsha Hunter.