Our lives are made up by what we do with our time. There are the necessary allotments like work and sleep, but where we truly live is in the in-between spaces. The stretch of time between getting off work and sitting down to dinner, or late mornings on the weekend, is where we choose to daydream, draw, read, walk, or any other luxury undefined by time. To spend some of that time serving others or a cause is a gift of magnitude.
Our volunteers are an integral part of what makes the Leelanau Conservancy great. For many, volunteering is their first experience engaging with the Conservancy, and there are plenty of ways to get involved. Our trail stewards do the vital work of making the trails a pleasant place for folks to enjoy time and again. The Wildflower Rescue team ensures that precious native species are preserved and re-homed when development looms. The exciting trail system at Palmer Woods is looked after by a fun-loving group known as the Palmer Woods Trail Crew. Our streams are monitored by dedicated samplers. And of course, our Docents have a deep wealth of knowledge of our Natural Areas. They have no shortage of fascinating facts on led hikes to delight hikers with. We’re so proud and grateful for all the people who choose to spend some of their time volunteering for the Conservancy, and we’d like to introduce you to a few.
“I have become the Lady Slipper Lady, so to speak. I keep our lady slipper rescues on my property during the winter. This isn’t how I got started with the Conservancy, though. I got started here by stuffing envelopes. I don’t remember when I first heard about the Conservancy, but we moved here in 2001, and obviously, you get made aware of what they do. I was interested in helping. When I found out about digging for Wildflower Rescue, I signed up for it because we had a whole bunch of trillium and Jack-in-the-pulpit blooming where our house was going to be. Before I had even heard of the Wildflower Rescue, we had dug up all of the plants in harm’s way and moved them. I’ve always been interested in saving things, and I’ve always been a gardener, so it was natural for me to join the group. It has been such a joy. You get to experience beautiful areas in nature that you wouldn’t normally get to. I’ll never forget when we were digging south of Maple City, and we went into the woods. It was the most lovely sight of wild ferns that I have ever seen. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to say that I’ve helped rescue populations of native plants and flowers. I have made lifelong friends through doing this, and I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can.”
Erika Ferguson, Wildflower Rescue
“As a keen outdoor and nature enthusiast and science teacher, I became involved, along with my husband Doug, with education and advocacy as a board member and docent volunteer guide for the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy downstate. Upon moving to Leelanau, it was a no-brainer to become involved with the Leelanau Conservancy as a volunteer and as owners of a 40-acre Easement, which is part of the cross-Peninsula Wildlife Corridor concept bordering Leelanau State Park developed by the Leelanau Conservancy. Leelanau Conservancy was a perfect match for my passion for sharing, not only my keen wonder of the natural world and the opportunity for continued learning but also for using my strong science background in educating and advocating about the need to appreciate, care for, share, enhance and protect those special natural areas in Leelanau that still retain some of the amazing ecological diversity representative of Northern Lower Michigan. I especially love the Conservancy staff and members who have made conservation and preservation their life’s mission along with fellow docents who gladly share their love of Nature and the LC’s mission with the thousands of curious and receptive folks who have chosen this region for visitation, recreation, and permanent residency.”
Ann McInnis, Docent
“I didn’t grow up here. I was here stationed in Empire for the Air Force. I was going to go to college and pursue a different career afterward, but I was offered a job the day after my last day with the Air Force. After being here, staying here is all I really wanted to do. For me, living across the lake was perfect. As far as the Conservancy goes, I first got involved when I was interested in protecting a piece of land. Volunteering with them as a trail steward has been rewarding. I’ve gotten to meet so many great people, even beyond Leelanau Conservancy people. People will see me working on the trails, and their reactions are inspiring. They’re so kind and grateful for the efforts, and it makes me glad to be able to give back like that, in a way that enhances something about their everyday life. I was nervous that I’d be bored in retirement, but that hasn’t been the case so far. My career wasn’t labor-intensive, so this isn’t necessarily something I was used to, but it’s easy to get the hang of. Signing up to dig ditches might not sound like a fun time to most people but seeing the impact of your work up close is such a great feeling. Really gratifying.”
Mike Scharpf, Cedar River Preserve Trail Steward
“My grandsons were 11 and 9 at the time, and so I took my street bike with them, and we rode the easy trail at Palmer Woods. They were done in about 15 minutes, and I never saw them after the beginning. It took me about 45 minutes to finish, and they had started walking the trail to see if I had fallen off a cliff or something. So, I thought, I’d better pick up my game a little bit. When I saw that the Conservancy had volunteer opportunities to work on the trail, I thought, ‘I’m going to do that so I can keep up with my grandsons.’ The first time I went, we were lugging five-gallon buckets of clay up a hill to fix a berm. Truly, it was hard to carry up. But the next time I went, they were looking for someone who wanted to weed whack wild raspberry bushes along the trails. I enjoy it and have my own weed whacker, so that’s been my main assignment. You get into the mindset, do it for a couple of hours, and then go home to have pizza and ice cream. There’s a mishmash of people, and we have fun. Lindy lets us all know what’s going on when. Chad is the head of the group, so we see him every week, and we spend time working with the AmeriCorps members. Not all of us are bikers, but the ones who do enjoy talking about some of their bike adventures. They do a nice job of showing us how to work and maintain the trail for what they’re trying to do. Sometimes, we’ll have a cookout after work, kind of spur of the moment. I’ll go out for a ride some evenings, but I avoid the more difficult trails, and it doesn’t take me 45 minutes.”
Kathy Draper, Palmer Woods Trail Crew
“My family had a cottage built up here in the ’70s. I grew up in Grand Rapids but spent time coming up here as a kid. I always felt such a strong connection to Leelanau. A few years ago, I moved to Leland, and it’s been so wonderful. Moving here, I knew that I wanted to get involved in helping the local community. Sometime, somewhere, I donated to the Conservancy and started getting their flyers in the mail. All of these different volunteer opportunities were listed, and I was interested. I got ahold of Chase Heise because I wanted to become a stream sampler. I’m a nurse and I wanted to do something where I could spend more time outside. So, for the past six years, Greg Vogt and I have been stream sampling throughout Leelanau. I spend a lot of time indoors and in fast-paced situations for work. Sampling is so simple and quiet. Sometimes my daughter comes with me. We also like hiking Conservancy properties together; our favorite is Whaleback. The view of the water down the ridge is so beautiful. I’m grateful that we have these places to escape to and opportunities to join in, and to the Conservancy for providing them to us.”
Julie Kuieck, Stream Sampler