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Swanson Preserve

Swanson Preserve at a Glance

Features: birding, easy, flat terrain, guided tours, hiking, historic structures, lake frontage, no trails, best seen on a guided hike, stream(s), wildflowers

Acreage: 83

Year Preserved: 2010

Trail Mileage: 1/3 mile

Trail Difficulty: easy

Trail Map
Guided Hikes


The Conservancy had two goals when it purchased the Swanson Preserve along M-22 near Sugarloaf. First, to protect 2,000 feet of shoreline on Little Traverse Lake and its two distinct wetland communities critical to wildlife and the health of the lake. Second: to revitalize the adjacent 13-acre iconic farmstead, known as “Sonny’s Farm”–home to a beloved farm stand. (That land has since been sold to a young farmer.) Swanson Preserve is one of our most ecologically diverse, with 207 documented plant species. Among them: the rare Berulaerecta (cut-leaved water parsnip.)

Trail System

A boardwalk winds through cedar forest, over two cold groundwater streams where brook trout spawn, and down to the lake. A new loop trail runs along a portion of the lake front. This is an easy, short trail with plenty to see.

Getting there: The trail head and parking lot are located off M-22 just south of S Sugarloaf Mountain Road. Look for a gravel driveway about 300 yards south of the yellow farm stand. Look for the Preserve sign and park in the field to the right off the driveway. The farm is privately owned and not open to the public, but your are welcome to visit the yellow self-serve farm stand when it is open.


The yellow farm stand and the man who once tended it for decades—Sonny Swanson—were integral to the scenic character and local history of the Little Traverse Lake neighborhood.

What you see from M-22 is just a small part of what we have preserved. Wetlands cover most of the property along Little Traverse Lake. A half-mile of road frontage along the M-22 Scenic Heritage Route and a ridge overlooking the lake are also part of the picture.

Karen Viskochil, whose family has owned property on the lake for years, called the project “a dream realized. “My late brother, David, was especially eager to see this happen. It’s the last parcel of significant size of undeveloped wetlands and preserving it will help ensure lake quality, while providing significant woodland and shoreline habitat for birds and animals, with beautiful scenery for the enjoyment of all.”

To restore farming to “Sonny’s Farm,” in the winter of 2011 a Leelanau Conservancy Board Committee asked for proposals from local farmers interested in carrying on the land’s agricultural legacy. The committee evaluated those proposals and chose a young farmer named Ben Brown, who had a strong business plan and a degree in Ecological Agriculture from the University of Vermont. He had also worked on a number of farms. “Ben’s credentials and his philosophy of small scale sustainable agriculture fit with our mission,” said Executive Director Tom Nelson.

Ben was granted a 3-year lease, with the option to buy the farmstead for its appraised value after three years if both parties were agreeable. Ben exercised his option with our Board’s approval. The purchase of the 13-acre farmstead was finalized in late January 2014.

The Leelanau Conservancy retains a conservation easement that limits residential development to one farmhouse and associated farm outbuildings. The language of the easement was agreed upon when Ben was chosen to lease the property three years ago. Ben shares in our conservation goals for the land.  “I’m thankful,” said Ben, “that the Leelanau Conservancy is able to hold the conservation easement, which allows me to afford the land and to farm here.”


Plants at Swanson Preserve

A Swanson FQA and Summary for website is available here. It tells the story of the types and quality of flora at Swanson Preserve.

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Safety & Hunting

Poison Ivy is commonly found on impacted areas. Keep an eye out for this three leafed groundcover for it can give you an itchy rash. If your skin comes in contact with ivy, wash that area with soap a.s.a.p. Stay on the trails to reduce risk of contact.

THIS AREA IS OPEN TO HUNTING with written permission from the Leelanau Conservancy from October 1st – December 30 to reduce an unnaturally high white-tail deer population.   Too many deer threaten wildflowers and tree seedlings. Please use caution when hiking during hunting season, wear orange and keep dogs on a leash.