“This is Our Place and Our People”
Imagine spending your 20s living and working on the 46-mile-long island in Lake Superior known as Isle Royale National Park. Imagine boarding a Piper Cub plane flown by an Alaskan bush pilot in the dead of winter, watching wolf packs from the air. The pilot drops you off with your snowshoes and a two-way radio with a promise to come back for you six hours later. You spend the day tracking moose, collecting their frozen urine for analysis.
Or, imagine being in charge of restoring Circa 1855 lighthouses on this rugged and isolated island, far from the civilization that most of us know.
That life belonged to our new Heritage Society members, Lee Jameson and Barbara Nelson-Jameson. (Barbara was the moose tracker, Lee the restoration expert.) The couple spent 40 years working for the National Park Service (NPS) after meeting at the University of Michigan’s school of Natural Resources in 1974. They spent 10 years at Isle Royale, seven in Ohio at Cuyahoga National Park and the remainder at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL).
The Jamesons’ passion for the outdoors has informed nearly every decision of their adult lives. That includes a decision to include the Leelanau Conservancy and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) in their estate plans. “We are huge advocates for nature conservation and really appreciate these organizations; their work is about everything that we believe in,” says Lee.
Lee’s job as a Facilities Manager and Historic Restoration Specialist ultimately put him in charge of all park buildings, utilities, trails, campgrounds and historic structures at the parks where he served—including Leelanau’s SBDNL. Barbara started out as a seasonal park ranger then earned a master’s degree in natural resources management.
Much of Barbara’s career was centered around providing technical assistance to communities, non-profits and state and local governments as part of a Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program—an offshoot of the park service. She wrote grants and brought stakeholders together on projects such as the Detroit River Walk, the Ohio Erie Canal Tow Path Trail and Leelanau’s Heritage Trail. Tom Ulrich, Deputy Superintendent for SLBNL calls the Jamesons a “conservation power couple.”
“Lee kept this park in great shape for literally tens of millions of visitors, as well as for all his colleagues,” says Ulrich. “Barbara too has an admirable legacy. The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is just one local example of a much-loved community resource that would not have happened without her leadership.”
Barbara’s expertise and passion for conservation led her to serve for nine years on the Leelanau Conservancy’s Board of Directors, where she chaired its Land Protection Committee. “Providing outdoor recreation opportunities and access to nature is wonderful,” says Barbara, “but land and water conservation is what is really in my heart and why I choose to donate my time and energy to the conservancies.”
She helped to form the Leelanau Conservancy’s science-based land protection planning process. “Barbara is such an amazing and delightful font of information and experience,” says Tom Nelson, Executive Director. “She immediately upped our game when she joined our board. And, Barbara and Lee’s passion for Leelanau—now shared by their daughter Emily—is inspiring.” When Barbara’s board term ended, she joined the GTRLC board.
The Jamesons’ park service story includes Lee’s marriage proposal on South Manitou Island and years of long-distance romance. After a camping honeymoon, Lee dropped Barbara off at the Isle Royale ferry and drove to Nebraska. He was based there for three years working as an historic restoration specialist in the NPS Midwest region. Their time together was limited until he secured a position on Isle Royale, too.
A decade later, they wanted to start a family and transferred to a less rugged locale: Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park. During that time, daughter, Emily, now 22, was born.
Their goal was always to return to SBDNL where they both started their careers as ‘seasonals.’ That goal was met in 1999, when Lee became SBDNL’s Facilities Manager. Barbara, whose work took her all over Michigan and Great Lakes region, moved her office to Empire too. “What an amazing place to raise a child,” says Barbara. “Leelanau is such a welcoming community and, my God, it’s just beautiful.”
Emily followed in her parents’ footsteps, attending U of M and earning degrees in environment and statistics. She is applying to graduate programs in freshwater ecology. “Having grown up on the Leelanau Peninsula, I very much support my parents’ contributions to the Conservancy,” says Emily. “They will help to protect the lands and waters that I love, and for future generations.”
The Jamesons live on Omena Bay. Both retired recently and Lee says that “inspired us to get our financial planning act together. Putting the conservancies in our estate plan is all about thinking globally and acting locally. This is our place and these are our people.” —From our 2020 Annual Report.
If you would like more information about joining the Heritage Society, please contact Planned Giving Officer, Leslee Spraggins: 231-256-9665 or [email protected].