The Conservancy had two goals when it purchased the Swanson Preserve along M-22 near Sugarloaf. First, to protect 2,000 feet of shoreline on Little Traverse Lake and its two distinct wetland communities critical to wildlife and the health of the lake. Second: to revitalize the adjacent 13-acre iconic farmstead, known as “Sonny’s Farm”–home to a beloved farm stand. (That land has since been sold to a young farmer.) Swanson Preserve is one of our most ecologically diverse, with 207 documented plant species. Among them: the rare Berulaerecta (cut-leaved water parsnip.) A boardwalk winds through cedar forest, over two cold groundwater streams where brook trout spawn, and ends at the lake.
The yellow farm stand and the man who once tended it for decades—Sonny Swanson—were integral to the scenic character and local history of the Little Traverse Lake neighborhood.
What you see from M-22 is just a small part of what we have preserved. Wetlands cover most of the property along Little Traverse Lake. A half-mile of road frontage along the M-22 Scenic Heritage Route and a ridge overlooking the lake are also part of the picture.
Karen Viskochil, whose family has owned property on the lake for years, called the project “a dream realized. “My late brother, David, was especially eager to see this happen. It’s the last parcel of significant size of undeveloped wetlands and preserving it will help ensure lake quality, while providing significant woodland and shoreline habitat for birds and animals, with beautiful scenery for the enjoyment of all.”
To restore farming to “Sonny’s Farm,” in the winter of 2011 a Leelanau Conservancy Board Committee asked for proposals from local farmers interested in carrying on the land’s agricultural legacy. The committee evaluated those proposals and chose a young farmer named Ben Brown, who had a strong business plan and a degree in Ecological Agriculture from the University of Vermont. He had also worked on a number of farms. “Ben’s credentials and his philosophy of small scale sustainable agriculture fit with our mission,” said Executive Director Tom Nelson.
Ben was granted a 3-year lease, with the option to buy the farmstead for its appraised value after three years if both parties were agreeable. Ben exercised his option with our Board’s approval. The purchase of the 13-acre farmstead was finalized in late January 2014.
The Leelanau Conservancy retains a conservation easement that limits residential development to one farmhouse and associated farm outbuildings. The language of the easement was agreed upon when Ben was chosen to lease the property three years ago. Ben shares in our conservation goals for the land. “I’m thankful,” said Ben, “that the Leelanau Conservancy is able to hold the conservation easement, which allows me to afford the land and to farm here.”
- .3-mile boardwalk over wetlands
- Towering white pines, cedar swamp
- Cardinal flower, rare fern species
- River otters along wooded shoreline
- Marsh birds, abundant waterfowl
- “Sonny’s Farm” is protected with a conservation easement and is owned by a local farmer
Plants at Swanson Preserve
Click below to see a list of High Quality Plant Species at Belanger Creek along with a summary and description of the Floristic Quality Assessment outlining all plant species found on the property: Swanson FQA Table and Summary
Look for a gravel driveway about 300 yards south of the yellow farm stand. Look for the Preserve sign and park in the field to the right off the driveway. The farm is privately owned and not open to the public, but your are welcome to visit the yellow self-serve farm stand when it is open.
Guided hikes with our docents are offered throughout the year; see our schedule here.
- Swanson Farm: One Year Later – July 2012
- Sonny Swanson Farm Purchased – March 2011
- Carol Benner Remembers Sonny Swanson’s Stand – March 2011
- New Beginning for Swanson Farm – April 2011
- Interested in learning about our upcoming hikes, workbees and other events? Click here!
- Rare Michigan Plant Found at Swanson Preserve