How Are Things at the Leelanau Conservancy?–2009

From our 2009 Fall Newsletter

Perhaps the question I’m asked most often is the simplest and most basic:  “How are things at the Conservancy?”  At first it seems that there is no simple answer to such a sincere and straightforward question. And given the upheavals in the economy over the past 16 months, the question is often tinged with genuine concern.

So- how are things going anyway?  There are certain metrics that can be recited:  members, both new and retained; the strengths and talents of our human capital including staff, board, and volunteers; dollars raised and spent.  That most important metric of all, how much critical conservation land have we protected. And by the way, what’s in the pipeline? We don’t begrudge the use of such metrics, but prefer to assemble the data after year-end, when a more complete picture emerges. These numbers form the backbone of our annual report. And when this year is finished, I’m confident that 2009 will go into the books as a challenging but a “good” year.

But the “things” people are really asking about are not easily reached by the data alone.  Lately people occasionally ask if I’m concerned about the future of the Conservancy given the ongoing economic crisis, especially in Michigan.  My answer would be a simple and honest “no.”

That does not mean we have not been impacted by the downturn. We have been. Like most institutions our endowment and fund balances declined along with the markets, but are now on the rebound. Direct contributions to support our operations will struggle to keep pace with last year. Our board of directors is doing what any prudent business does in tough times, constructing a budget that cuts any unnecessary costs and conserves capital.  Next year’s budget will strictly hold the line on expenses while ensuring that our core land protection and stewardship functions continue undiminished.

But I can honestly say that things are going well at the Conservancy because as an organization we have always been “conservative” in the original and best sense of the word. The Conservancy was built for the long haul, understanding that it takes special care and husbandry of resources to keep the promise of permanently protecting Leelanau’s precious landscapes. We manage both land and money to last forever.

As to the future, I’m confident because what we do is uniquely valuable and meaningful. If you have doubts about that I invite you to visit the “Why Leelanau” section of our website (  The heartfelt expressions of what this lovely peninsula means to those who live here or visit regularly can only be properly appreciated by going direct to the source. When times are tough the “core values” emerge.  Leelanau is part of our “core values” and not in the “discretionary” column.

Yesterday I drove home from a final fishing and sightseeing trip to the north shore of Lake Superior before the snow sets in.   We’d left the brilliant sunshine behind not far from Wawa, and bore southward through  the grayness of a late-fall weather front.  Nearing Leelanau the sun, now low in the western sky, emerged from under the cloudbank, illuminating the autumn foliage with a wonderful glow.  The forest seemed lit from within.  I was thankful to be one of the few people who return from a short vacation to live and work in this exceptional place.  Even after 36 years here, it’s rare to go a full day without witnessing some special and new aspect of that beauty.

How is the Conservancy doing?  The places we protect are beautiful and healthy.   Our trees are growing and have put on their customary fall display.  We’ll continue to do what we’ve learned to do pretty well in the last 20-plus years:  preserve land, manage and restore special places, and in the process help build strong and sustainable communities.

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