2017-08-03 / Life in Leelanau

State grant to keep Leelanau water clean

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


THIS AERIAL photo of West Grand Traverse Bay shows the developed and undeveloped portions of the eastern Leelanau shoreline. A grant received by the Leelanau Conservancy aims to conserve the still-forested or wetland portions along the shore as a way to maintain the high water quality of the Bay. 
Photo credit:Marge BeaverPhotography Plus THIS AERIAL photo of West Grand Traverse Bay shows the developed and undeveloped portions of the eastern Leelanau shoreline. A grant received by the Leelanau Conservancy aims to conserve the still-forested or wetland portions along the shore as a way to maintain the high water quality of the Bay. Photo credit:Marge BeaverPhotography Plus The Leelanau Conservancy has been awarded a $452,877 grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) that will help to keep Grand Traverse Bay clean and healthy.

The grant will be used to purchase conservation easements from landowners whose property is located within a 68-square-mile area along Grand Traverse Bay in Leelanau County, which is part of the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to receive this funding,” said Tom Nelson, executive director of the Leelanau Conservancy. “Our staff loves the opportunity to work with private landowners who have come to us. They clearly understand the benefit of clean water to the community and are willing to preserve and protect these critical watershed features.”


IN 2009, the Leelanau Conservancy completed a 96-acre conservation easement at Belanger Creek Preserve south of Peshawbestown. The wetlands pictured here were part of the project. 
Photo: Leelanau Conservancy IN 2009, the Leelanau Conservancy completed a 96-acre conservation easement at Belanger Creek Preserve south of Peshawbestown. The wetlands pictured here were part of the project. Photo: Leelanau Conservancy “People so love and cherish their clean water resources here that we’re working hard to prevent these negative impacts,” Nelson said.

The Leelanau portion of the watershed takes in countless small streams and groundwater seeps that flow into West Bay, as well as 47 miles of shoreline stretching from the county line at M-72 to the Leelanau State Park at the tip of the peninsula.

Large portions of that side of the county along M-22 have been converted from farms and forest into subdivisions because of desirable bay views and proximity to Traverse City, said Matt Heiman, director of land programs for the Conservancy.

“The grant will help us to protect some of the remaining natural lands that are critical to clean water and wildlife habitat,” Heiman said. “We’re just doing our part in that watershed plan to protect land integral to maintaining the high water quality of Grand Traverse Bay.”

And the stress is on maintaining the high water quality, he said.

“We’re very blessed here,” Heiman said. “We’re very lucky to have high water quality.”

Heiman said he anticipates that the grant will permanently protect about 98 acres of land. In doing so, he said, about 7.2 tons of sediment, 313 lbs. of nitrogen and 31 lbs. of phosphorus per year could be prevented from ending up in the watershed.

The numbers are based on land use models that show the amount of sediment and nutrients that end up in a watershed due to erosion from a developed residential area versus a natural landscape.

The models use the assumption that the land is developed at the maximum density allowed, while in Leelanau County many larger land tracts may only have one house on them, Heiman said.

Some of the land in the lower part of the county still shows the effects of erosion from being overused back in the early 1900s, he said.

“You’re just not seeing it reforest anywhere,” Heiman said. “A lot of that was from erosion when the land was cleared and left open.”

The type of land the Conservancy is interested in preserving in the watershed project are forested or are wetlands with undeveloped stream or lake frontage along the entire eastern portion of Leelanau County.

The grant money will be used to fund up to half of the cost to purchase permanent conservation easements on two parcels where landowners have expressed interest in conserving their land.

Heiman declined to name those landowners as preliminary discussions are confidential.

Conservation easement properties remain in private hands and are not open to the public, but are permanently protected against over-development, Heiman said. Each easement is customized to fit the landowner’s desires for their land, provided those uses are compatible with its preservation.

Return to top