2018-04-19 / Life in Leelanau

WORTH PROTECTING

Leo Creek Preserve serves as outdoor oasis, classroom in Suttons Bay
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


STUDENTS FROM the LIFT teen center in Suttons Bay help turn over soil at the Leo Creek Preserve. STUDENTS FROM the LIFT teen center in Suttons Bay help turn over soil at the Leo Creek Preserve. There’s a spot, tucked away in the Village of Suttons Bay, that served as the outdoor classroom for dozens of children.

Those lessons and others continue today at the Leo Creek Preserve, which was scheduled to be the center of Earth Day activities Sunday in Suttons Bay. However, heavy snow forced the event to be cancelled.

The preserve is a precious place to Kate Thornhill, whose children explored the property while students at the county’s first Montessori School, the Suttons Bay Montessori Children’s House in the 1990s.

“I worked as an accountant to support the family. But this is my true passion,” Thornhill said.

The property, located along the Leelanau Trail south of Fourth Street, was purchased by Thornhill and her family in 2016 and has been under a conservation easement with the Leelanau Conservancy since May 2017.


KATE THORNHILL spoke recently to Suttons Bay-Leelanau County Rotarians about the Leo Creek Preserve, a 9-acre natural area located within the Village of Suttons Bay. KATE THORNHILL spoke recently to Suttons Bay-Leelanau County Rotarians about the Leo Creek Preserve, a 9-acre natural area located within the Village of Suttons Bay. “It started out with soil science and botany and it’s gone way beyond what I ever thought it would,” she said.

Thornhill and her non-profit Leo Creek Preserve board have made great strides toward their mission: to provide an outdoor learning laboratory for people of all ages to enjoy.

Part of the preserve’s allure is that visitors have to want to get there.

The only access to the property is via the Leelanau Trail. But it is well within walking distance of Suttons Bay School and Tendercare, which is now MediLodge of Leelanau.

A half-mile walking trail leads explorers to the preserve’s 2,250 feet of frontage on Leo Creek, which flows from a wetland south and east of the preserve and drains into Suttons Bay. Future plans are to expand the trail to a one-mile loop.

“The stream is one of the two healthiest in Leelanau County,” Thornhill said.

Periodic samples are taken as part of water quality monitoring by the Leelanau Conservancy. However, this spring, Thornhill will be working with several area schools as students participate in creek ecology/macro-invertebrate sampling and identification.

Elsewhere on the preserve, trees have been cleared and 1 1/4 acres are designated for agricultural use.

“Permaculture” gardening, intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient, is practiced on site. Examples of methods used are companion planting and intensive planting without tillage and amending the soil using biochar.

Student volunteers from the LIFT teen center in Suttons Bay were at the preserve last week, helping out with the biochar process by gathering limbs and brush.

It was a learning opportunity.

“Biochar comes from slow burning the wood,” Thornhill told the kids. “The material afterward has a lot of surface

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