Photo above by Ken Scott Photography. The Leelanau Conservancy announced on November 12 that the spectacular Clay Cliffs project which has taken over two years to complete is officially owned by Leland Township. The majestic 104.5-acre parcel with 1,700 feet of frontage on both Lake Michigan and North Lake Leelanau will be managed by the Leelanau Conservancy. The Conservancy assisted the Township in obtaining $2.9 million from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Conservancy donors provided 25 percent of the $6.2 million project while the sellers donated 25 percent in land value.
“Clay Cliffs is now a tremendous public natural resource with unparalleled conservation values and passive recreation opportunities,” says Matt Heiman, Conservancy Director of Land Programs who, along with Executive Director, oversaw the complicated project. He adds that the mature hardwood forest features one of the most fantastic wildflower spots in the county, that the 200-foot bluff is home to a rare ecosystem and that eagles nest on this diverse property. The land was purchased from the Crary family, who wished to see it preserved forever.
The Leelanau Conservancy will manage the property, and can now begin to create trails, a parking area and an overlook from the bluff that will showcase panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the Fox Island. Trail work will begin by year end and the Conservancy hopes to have the parking area and overlook in by mid-summer.
“We’re excited that people can now access this beautiful piece of property,” says Jenee Rowe, Director of Conservancy Owned Lands, who will be overseeing the management of the property. “We’re working with Leland Township on a site plan and are excited to get our first trail. But we need to work around the weather and around eagle nesting season. We don’t want to do anything to disrupt these awesome raptors. I’m happy to say that ice boaters and fisherman will forever be able to access the shore from the area they know as ‘Silver Poplars.’ And we want archery hunters to know that the upland is open for archery deer season now and hunting permits are available in our office.”
Because of the residential properties nearby, deer hunting with firearms is not allowed. People who want to explore the property should go to leelanauconservancy.org where they can find more information about where to park and a rough trail map. Archery deer hunters can also find links to hunting information. Rowe adds that she is planning to schedule hikes at Clay Cliffs soon and says that anyone interested in volunteering for trail work should email her coworker, Sarah Cook at [email protected].
“In a transaction this big and complicated, it takes a while to piece it all together,” adds Heiman. “It has been wonderful to partner with Leland Township to fulfill one of the top priority goals of their Recreation Plan, which also happened to be one of the Conservancy’s top priority land conservation goals.”
Township Clerk Jane Keen attended the closing. “For me, it has been a pleasure to work with the Leelanau Conservancy to bring this wonderful project to fruition,” says Jane. “I think Clay Cliffs will be used by the schools, by visitors and by residents alike. And it will be preserved in perpetuity—which is what I really love about it!”
Township Supervisor Cal Little signed a mountain of documents to make the transaction official. “This is a marvelous opportunity for all residents and visitors to enjoy such a pristine and beautiful environment.”