A Place for the Children Along Leo Creek
There is a magical place near Suttons Bay, along beautiful Leo Creek, where Montessori children once built stick forts, picked blueberries and let their imaginations run wild. Now, 15 years after the school relocated, the land that so many children loved (see sidebar) has been forever protected by a private family foundation, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The Foundation has donated a conservation easement on these ecologically rich 8.7-acres, and naming it the Leo Creek Preserve. It is open to the public and accessible off of the Leelanau Trail (located between Fourth St. and Richter Rd.) and is within walking distance from the village and Suttons Bay Public Schools. Plans are in the works for a wildflower garden on the upland, which is visible from the trail.
“I have a vision of this being an incredibly beautiful sacred space where people can sit and meditate, with nooks and benches to contemplate beauty, appreciate native wildflowers and watch birds and butterflies,” says the Foundation’s spokesperson. “I want it to be an amazing place so I’m not rushing it and am looking to visit other community gardens to get ideas.” Revitalizing 30 old blueberry bushes, planting dwarf fruit trees and building benches from fallen cedars are also on tap.
All told, 2,250 feet along Leo Creek are now permanently protected, ensuring that the creek’s stellar fish spawning habitat is preserved. “Massive white cedars shade the stream bottom, providing a constant supply of woody debris for trout and other species to call home,” says Matt Heiman, Director of Land Programs. He adds that Leo Creek hosts native populations of suckers and a few adult steelhead that travel up the stream from Suttons Bay each spring on spawning migrations. The lush bankside vegetation helps provide cover over the gravel riffles favored by these fish for spawning.
The Foundation spokesperson’s children attended the Montessori Children’s House and she has also been a supporter of the Leelanau Trail since its inception. She often passed the property while using the trail and learned that the beloved stick forts her children had helped to build there were still standing. One day she wandered down to the creek and got the idea to purchase the property through her family’s foundation. “Walking around, I realized how special Leo Creek is,” she says.
She happened to know the property owner, Gretchen Uhlinger, who founded the Suttons Bay Montessori Children’s House. She contacted Gretchen, who, coincidentally, had been thinking of selling the property. A deal was struck.
“I was surprised and really pleased when the Foundation contacted me,” says Gretchen, adding that she had purchased the property initially to keep it from being developed. “When we met at the trailhead and walked the land together it became clear that the Foundation’s vision was the perfect way to both maintain and preserve this peaceful place. I can imagine the Montessori children who grew up there, returning often to reconnect with the trees, the creek and the wonderful quiet.”
Memories from Ellen Posner, a Montessorian who spent time on the land from preschool-6th grade
“I have an abundance of fond memories of the time I spent on this beautiful property. Affectionately and simply referred to as ‘the woods,’ it was our recess sanctuary, a place where we were free to commune with each other and nature. On any given day, my fellow classmates and I could be found entrenched in the construction of ever-evolving stick forts, drumming away on fallen trees during impromptu “jam sessions.” We roam
ed, carefree, with our precious stick wands in hand as we acted out the whimsical stories of made-up characters, or lounged peacefully along the banks of Leo Creek, chatting about our latest dreams, crushes, and frustrations. I vividly remember how I would run into ‘the woods’ with such palpable excitement and inspiration. I will always cherish this piece of land as one of those special places I felt free to be myself in the good company of friends and nature.” –Ellen Posner