Moving From the City to the Swamp
Jen Superson and Trevor Smith were living in Brooklyn when a listing popped up on Zillow for a home with 42 acres near Cedar. The listing was so compelling that they decided that night to pack up and drive 15 hours to Leelanau to tour the property.
The young couple had been thinking for a while about moving back to Leelanau, where Trevor was raised. Although Jen and Trevor loved the diversity of New York and their friends, they longed for a slower pace. “We were considering what kind of lifestyle we wanted to have long term,” says Jen. “We are interested in community, spirituality and nature. In Brooklyn, we had all those things, but had to work to integrate them into our life.”
The Zillow listing was an ecological treasure, with wetlands and streams, hardwoods and views of Lake Leelanau. They loved that 35 acres had been protected in 2005 with a conservation easement by the seller, Robert Bartle, who wrote about his love for the land in the listing.
Because the majority of the land was restricted from development, the asking price fit their budget. Compared to Brooklyn real estate, it was an amazing value. Trevor is a software designer who works remotely, and Jen is a therapist who established a practice here. “It was serendipitous,” says Trevor.
“We are practicing Buddhists, and share many values with the previous owner. It felt like everything was aligning to bring us here.”
They met Robert, and instantly felt connected. “He was so honest and transparent, and his love for the land was evident,” says Jen. “We share a view that land is not owned, but rather entrusted to our care.
We felt like Robert was passing the stewardship and legacy of the land and home on to us, which is an honor,” Trevor added.”
Since 1988, the Conservancy has worked with nearly 200 landowners to protect 10,000 acres of private lands. Ownership of these properties is starting to change. Some are passed down to family but others, like Robert Bartle’s, are being sold to new owners.
“Part of our ongoing stewardship responsibility is to make sure that these places retain their conservation values,” says Yarrow Brown, Conservation Easement Program Manager. Part of her job includes annual
monitoring and communicating with new and existing landowners. “I answer all kinds of questions—everything from cutting up downed trees for firewood to dealing with invasive species,” says Yarrow. “Trevor and Jen have been ideal to work with.”
Jen sums up their move as “from city to the swamp.” She grew up in Massachusetts and fell in love with Leelanau after her first visit. “The east is more jagged and rough,” she says. “Here the sand is soft and the
landscape feels more gentle.” They were married in 2014 at Trevor’s parents’ home (Jeff and Linda Smith) in Cedr. East coast friends who attended were wowed by Leelanau. “They kept saying how much Lake Michigan felt like the ocean,” she says.
Jen and Trevor love to to hike on Good Harbor Bay and at Conservancy Natural Areas. But nothing speaks to Trevor like his own 42 acres. “I’ve never had the chance to walk the same path day after day, to see the diversity and how things change. It’s very calming. A lot of people are afraid of dying but this land teaches me how life and death are intermingled, and that’s very comforting.”
“We see families of deer and turkey and hear the water moving constantly through the creek,” adds Jen. “The baton is ours for a bit but the aliveness of the land is so much bigger than us. It’s really thriving on its own.”
Note: Private protected lands like Jen and Trevor’s are not open to the public but we all benefit from their preservation.
“Protected Forever” Really Means Forever!
When a landowner works with the Leelanau Conservancy to protect private lands with a conservation easement, it is a forever deal. So what happens when a landowner passes away or wants to sell? The beauty of private land protection is the fact that 100 or 200 years from now, no matter who owns
the land, the protections we put into place to protect the natural features travel with the deed, from owner to owner.
“There’s no better way to permanently protect the ecological and agricultural integrity of our inspiring peninsula than by partnering with willing landowners to continue to steward this place we so cherish,” says Tom Nelson, Executive Director. “By doing so, together we are ensuring that future generations will be able to experience the magic of Leelanau just as we have. We are immeasurably grateful to all of our conservation easement landowners for this truly remarkable and enduring gift.”