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Hunt: Northport Creek

Jeannette Hunt Protects Her Sensitive Land Along Northport Creek With a Conservation Agreement

From our 2009 Fall Newsletter

When our Director of Land Protection, Matt Heiman, returned after his first visit to Jan (Jeannette) Hunt’s land along Northport Creek, he called it “possibly the most ecologically rich 10 acres I’ve seen in quite a while.” He claimed that its values rivaled that of Hatlem or Cedar Creek, and marveled about the land’s “wild feeling.” “It is the last, intact, natural section of the creek before it hits Grand Traverse Bay,” added Matt. “Its protection is important to preserving the water quality of Northport Bay, which is located just a few blocks south.”

I was intrigued to see the property for myself, and to meet Jan, the 92-year-old landowner who had forever ensured its integrity with a conservation easement. When I arrived on a late September day, she was reading a mystery novel. A basket of knitting sat at her feet. Out the big picture window, birds flitted to and from a feeder from a nearby wetland. As we chatted, I was struck by the exceedingly quiet and peaceful surroundings, and thought about how the setting reflected the demeanor of its petite, soft-spoken owner.

Jan and her late husband, Bob, purchased the land in 1967. She says they weren’t really looking to buy at the time; they were happy enough living on a wooden sailboat in the Northport Harbor. (Bob was a middle-school counselor in Midland and she also worked in the schools, giving them their summers off.) But a friend told them about a 10-acre parcel on the outskirts of town that had a spring-fed pond and a trout stream running through it.

They were intrigued, and once they saw it, quickly hooked. Jan was taken with a huge patch of blooming cardinal flowers. Her father, a professor of horticulture at MSU, had given her an appreciation for what she saw on the land. Bob, who loved to fish, was excited about the pond and 1,600 feet of trout stream next to it. Then as now, the stream is full of woody debris and shaded by dense wetland, making for ideal trout habitat.

The then-13-foot-deep pond had once been used to wash logs for a sawmill that stood where Jan’s house is now. Bob stocked it with rainbow trout. “We didn’t have any children, but Bob would always have the local kids come down for catch and release and taught them how to tie flies,” says Jan. Sand hill cranes, blue herons and ducks were also frequent visitors.

After Bob retired, they moved north permanently, and enjoyed the change of seasons around the pond and along the stream. When pressed to name her favorite season, Jan says “They’re all so beautiful here.” But she eventually settles on spring, because of the wildflowers.

Before Bob passed away in 2008, they talked about preserving the land. “We were concerned about what future landowners might do with the property,” she says. Her friend, David Brigham, who had preserved his land near Kehl Lake through a conservation easement, suggested she do the same. “I knew that she and Bob had been tremendous stewards of the land for over 40 years,” said David. “I have a deep affection for trout streams and grew up fishing on feeder creeks like theirs. I offered to arrange a meeting with Matt and she was very receptive.”

The house, pond and envelope around it remain unrestricted, but the surrounding 9.3 acres will remain forever in its current state. “I’m very happy to have done it,” says Jan. “I think Bob would be happy about it too.”