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Swanson Preserve–Near Sugarloaf

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Swanson Preserve–Near Sugarloaf at a Glance

Activities: birding, easy, flat terrain, guided tours, hiking, historic structures, lake frontage, no trails, best seen on a guided hike, stream(s), wildflowers

Acreage: 96

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Open to the Public–83 Acres Preserved in 2010

Iconic Sonny Swanson Farm Forever Preserved: 83 Acres, 2,000 Feet of Shoreline on Little Traverse Lake, Beautiful Trails Leading to Little Traverse Lake

For those readers unfamiliar with the Swanson Farm and Preserve, here’s the background. At the time the Conservancy purchased the 96-acre Swanson property in 2010, we had two goals. One was to protect the 2,000 feet of natural shoreline on Little Traverse Lake and the fragile wetlands here. We set aside 83 acres for the Preserve, and last summer welcomed visitors to explore a gorgeous trail and boardwalk that leads to the lakeshore.

The second goal was to revitalize the adjacent 13-acre farmstead. The yellow farm stand and the man who once tended it for decades—the beloved Sonny Swanson—were integral to the scenic character and local history of the Little Traverse Lake neighborhood.

“This land is special to us and to the people in the area for a lot of reasons,” says Conservancy Director Brian Price. “What you see from M-22 is just a small part of what we’re preserving.” Wetlands cover most of the property, which includes 2,000 feet of natural shoreline 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, calls 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 Ben Brown, 30, 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. “It was a hard decision,” says Director Brian Price said at the time. “Ben’s credentials and his philosophy of small scale sustainable agriculture really fit with our mission.”

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. That time has come, and Ben has exercised his option with our Board’s approval. The purchase of the 13-acre farmstead was finalized in late January 2014. “I’m feeling great about it,” says Ben, who raises pastured poultry, pork, eggs, vegetables and flowers on the land. He’s excited about adding a family dairy cow to the farm this spring”.

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 and is looking forward to starting his seeds in April.  “I’m thankful,” says Ben, “that the Leelanau Conservancy is able to hold the conservation easement, which allows me to afford the land and to farm here.”

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

Where to park: there is a gravel driveway about 300 yards south of the yellow farm stand. Park in the field to the right off the driveway.


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