2017-08-03 / Life in Leelanau


Leelanau Conservancy replaces annual picnic with event-filled ‘Conservancy Day’
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

THE ANNUAL Friends Picnic held by the Leelanau Conservancy has been replaced. This photo is from the 2014 picnic, held on the Gregory farm in Suttons Bay Township. THE ANNUAL Friends Picnic held by the Leelanau Conservancy has been replaced. This photo is from the 2014 picnic, held on the Gregory farm in Suttons Bay Township. What would Boo-Boo say?

The Leelanau Conservancy for the first time since the early 2000s will not hold its Friends Picnic at some location in the county.

Instead, the Conservancy has planned several events for today as a way to celebrate all things Leelanau. It’s dubbed, “Conservancy Day.”

The change could be likened to a maturing of the largest nonprofit in the county, says former Conservancy chair and present board member Larry Mawby. He was master of ceremonies at past picnics.

Those attending picnics were given a multitude of options for donating, from auction purchases to raffles, Mawby explained. While raising funds will always be a necessary activity for the Conservancy, there should be time for pure celebration as well.

“We do have a lot of fundraisers, and that is critical. But we also have to be able to sit back from that and have people celebrate what they have accomplished,” he said.

With the picnic now history, several “records” set at previous events will not be surpassed. Included is the $67,500 bid by several Conservancy members to spend an afternoon and evening with celebrity chef Mario Batali preparing — and consuming — a meal at Cherry Basket Farm in Omena.

Or the 800 people who attended a picnic held at the 100-acre Roger and Coco Newton farm overlooking the Manitou passage.

Beyond the record books, fourth-generation farmer Rex Dobson hosted the 2011 picnic at his farm in Bingham Township just months before passing at the age of 87. Conservancy members considered Dobson’s effort to place his 90-acre farm into a conservation easement as a watershed moment for the then-fledgling organization.

“He ended up staying at the picnic for hours,” recalled former Conservancy executive director Brian Price at the time. “He seemed to enjoy having so many people visiting his farm and having such a good time there.”

But now it’s time for the Conservancy to head in a different direction, said present executive director Tom Nelson.

“The picnic was a big event that has always been more of a celebration of Leelanau County and the people who love this place more than anyone else, as opposed to a fundraising event. We did a nice job over a number of years in putting on the picnic, but it really is a celebration of place,” he said.

So out with the big top and silent auction that offered everything from stays at condos to guided mushroom hunts, and in with Conservancy Day.

“We encourage people to get out there and enjoy Leelanau County in whatever way and however they want,” Nelsons said. That could include everything from a sunrise boat ride to Gull Preserve in Northport Bay to a hike up the Whaleback for sunset over the Manitou Passage.

The Conservancy has organized a handful of events for the day, including:

 A workbee at 9 a.m. at Chippewa Run Natural Area near Empire. Volunteers will be maintaining trails and removing invasive shrubs.

 Gatherings are planned at three county wineries whose acreage has been entered into conservation easements through the Conservancy. At 10 a.m., Conservancy staff and guests will hike along a trail at 45 North Winery in Suttons Bay Township. At noon, a discussion begins on solar panels followed by a walk through the vineyards at Brengman Brothers Winery in Elmwood Township. And at 2 p.m., activities move to L. Mawby Vineyards in Bingham Township for talks about farmland preservation.

The changed focus resulted from staff members and volunteers who were starting to organize the 2017 picnic, Nelson said. They thought that spreading events out through the day would provide more intimate conversations among Conservancy members and staff, he said.

“We wanted to shift the focus from a huge gathering to getting people outside and onto the land to connect with the work we’ve done together to protect this truly stunning peninsula,” Nelson said.

The change was not made because organizers had tired of hosting the picnic, Nelson stressed.

“I did not hear from anyone who was tired of it. In fact, a lot of people were proud of being a part of that,” he said.

And funds raised at the picnic can be made up with other events, Nelson said. The Conservancy netted $20,000 to $30,000 from past picnics; by comparison, it’s last major project was purchasing Palmer Woods near Glen Lake for $4 million.

Still, Nelson fondly recalls his first Friends Picnic in 2004 at Woolsey Airport in Leelanau Township. He led a hike in the morning, took tickets at the gate, gave a talk about his work with farm families and bagged garbage at the end of the day.

“I thought it was fabulous. It was amazing to be among a community of people who love this place, as I do,” he said.

Mawby hopes the celebration will continue without an obligation to raise a hand during an auction.

“The concept of just being able to celebrate without making money is a great thing,” he said.

And if you have to work all day?

“If you can’t do something on that Thursday, then set aside Saturday as your Conservancy Day,” he suggested.

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