The more things change, the more they remain the same. – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Writing in 1848, Karr’s epigram was intended to assert that while things may appear to change outwardly, that which is most meaningful to people remains constant. For more than three decades, we have experienced little change in Leelanau since the Conservancy was founded by an act of profound foresight and grace by Ed and Bobbie Collins. The forests, the clear water, the orchards and fields, and the vibrant villages of Leelanau have thankfully stayed much the same, thanks in no small part to all of you—our Conservancy Family.
Then came 2020. A global pandemic. Tragic loss of life, with families, friends and communities struggling for connection. Businesses closed and jobs lost. Social and political strife not witnessed in a half-century. An urban exodus that continues with no end in sight. And, here in Leelanau, we have not gone unscathed.
Gratefully, 2020 brought welcome news too, thanks to you. News that we’ve been able to deliver over the course of an extraordinarily challenging year. Successfully adding 350 spectacular acres to our Palmer Woods Forest Reserve, now 1070 acres and protecting a five-mile border of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The generous gifts that gave us the new Stites Natural Area, a stone’s throw from the village of Sutton’s Bay, and Pat’s Preserve on Lime Lake. Both have now been acquired by the Conservancy and have new trails planned or are in progress. Same too for the ridgeline addition to our Cedar River Preserve. Not to be outdone, we completed five private forest and farm conservation projects—now putting us within pit-spitting distance of 200 conservation easements.
All told, together in 2020 we conserved 954 acres of our precious peninsula. We also witnessed dramatically more people than ever enjoying a connection with the Leelanau’s land and water at our 28 natural areas and preserves.
Our plans for 2021? We have four new family farms we’re working to permanently conserve, with several more in the planning stages. In response to the overwhelming popularity of our trails and a growing interest in more of them, we have plans for new trails at Palmer Woods, Cedar River Preserve, Stites Natural Area and Pat’s Preserve at Lime Lake. We also expect to complete the renovations of the historic farmhouse at the DeYoung Natural Area, which will become a community focal point for conservation stewardship, volunteerism and more. 2021 will also be a major planning year for the Conservancy, including a new comprehensive survey of our members and our community, as well as the work to craft our next multi-year strategic plan.
And, I’d be remiss in failing to mention we’ll be wishing a fond farewell for our long-serving storyteller, Carolyn Faught, who will be retiring this spring. Be sure to read Carolyn’s parting thoughts on page 15, with an essay by former Conservancy board member, and founder and editor-in-chief of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, Deb Fellows. We love you, Carolyn. Needless to say, we will miss you!
And so, despite all the changes we witnessed in 2020, and the ones to come as well, what strikes me most is how the love of land and water has stayed the same. There has always been something uniquely special about Leelanau that brings us together and reconnects our hearts to the peninsula and to each other. What incomparable gratitude and grace there is in that.
Together, let us continue to strive to keep it this way.
Thomas Nelson–the Leelanau Conservancy’s Executive Director. (This column appeared in our 2020 Annual Report, published in March, 2021.)