Theiss: Glen Lake Hillside - The Leelanau Conservancy

Theiss: Glen Lake Hillside

The Theiss Easement Protects a Glen Lake Hillside

From our Spring 2004 Newsletter

A scenic hillside near Glen Lake and the birthplace of skiing in Leelanau County has been forever preserved by the Leelanau Conservancy. Vik and Susan Theiss of Cincinnati and Glen Lake have placed a conservation easement on their 71-acre parcel that lies on a bend off Trumbull Road.

The Theisses donated an easement that will restrict the property to one residential dwelling in addition to a small A-frame cabin already on the property. Much of the land is a wooded hillside which rises 300 feet. “It’s a gorgeous piece of land,” says Vik Theiss. “And it’s going to stay that way.”

The hillside is a local and much-loved landmark by those who learned to ski there as children. Judy Brown has fond memories of gliding down the long, gentle slope known as “Chainsaw Mountain” in the 50s and 60s. Her father, Stanley Ball, owned the land at the time and had, along with friend Robert Spinniken, rigged up a towrope system powered by a tractor engine. Ball was a strawberry farmer who also served as the county agricultural extension agent. He decided to start a 4-H ski program at Chainsaw Mountain.

In order for kids to escape the cold, Stanley built the simple A-frame cabin. “We ran the ski club out of there,” says Judy. “Moms would sit around and chat and kids warmed up over hot chocolate. Those were wonderful times.”

Although her father loved to ski, Judy says her memories are of “Dad and Bob spending most of their time hunched over, helping kids tie ski boots.”

As interest in skiing grew, the action moved first to Miller Hill, and then to Sugarloaf. Stanley Ball was also the first operator of Sugarloaf, along with Pepi Teichner. Their public venture failed and Sugarloaf was closed until the Ganter family reopened it.

When Stanley died, the land passed on to his son David, who sold it to the Theisses in 1994. They have since updated the A-frame and use it as a summer guest house. The Theisses cottage on Glen Lake is not winterized, and so the couple also uses the cozy little A-frame for winter getaways. The hundreds of different conifers and hardwoods Stanley planted have grown up and make the building nearly invisible from the road. “It’s fabulous, especially in the fall when you look at the birch maple and beech trees,” says Vik. “In the winter we come up and hibernate in there and ski and snowshoe.”

The Conservancy stresses that conservation easements on private lands do not give the public access. Easements simply restrict development on the land and in exchange landowners receive tax breaks or, in certain cases, compensation for giving up their development rights.