Force: Lake Leelanau Watershed - The Leelanau Conservancy

Force: Lake Leelanau Watershed

For the Love of the Land: 40 Acres Preserved in the Lake Leelanau Watershed

From our 2007 Spring Newsletter

As communications director, one of the best parts of my job is to shut off my computer and get out onto the land. Newsletter deadline often finds me touring protected properties and listening to the stories of landowners, so that I might share them with our members. Although each person’s story and the way they tell it is different, a common thread exists among all the people I meet. Invariably, they are passionate about their property and about Leelanau County in general.

I met with one such couple – Dick and Janet Force – in mid-February on a brilliant day after a heavy snow. It was a perfect day for a cross-country ski around their 73 acres near Cedar – 40 of which the couple has recently protected through a conservation easement. As we strapped on our skis, I heard the beginnings of their story.

Although the Forces own a home overlooking Lake Michigan purchased in 1989, Dick had always yearned for acreage. He grew up on a farm downstate and wanted land where he could have a large garden, raise fruit trees, and hunt a bit. In 1998, shortly before retiring and moving north from Ann Arbor, he found just the place. The land included a rustic cabin that had been moved there from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore by a previous owner. It sits on a hill overlooking a grove of white cedars. West of the cabin, Dick’s huge vegetable garden plot sleeps under a blanket of snow.

We ski off on a trail Dick has created with his snowmobile. Soon we are deep into a hardwood forest and headed downhill. Dick and Janet navigate the slope handily; I wipe out at the bottom, after nearly colliding with a tree.

Once I’m back on my feet, we push on through the woods. Just when I think it can’t get more beautiful, we enter a mature hemlock forest. The lacy branches create a snowy canopy. A small spring-fed stream flows nearby – a tributary of Victoria Creek, which ultimately feeds into Lake Leelanau.

Beyond the hemlocks lies a clearing. We traverse a large field surrounded by trees – all protected under conservation easement. “There goes my subdivision,” jokes Dick, pausing to survey the beautiful landscape. As a retired civil engineer, he says, “I can see how houses could be situated here and it would have made some nice lots. But we just wouldn’t have felt right about developing it.”

The field was once farmed by Polish immigrants Grzegorz and Konstancya Czacksky (later changed to Cichacki). They and their grown children had sailed from Milwaukee and landed in Glen Haven in 1868. As was common at the time, they traveled by foot along Indian trails, carrying all of their belongings to the land they would homestead. As we finish crossing the field, I think about the fortitude it took to make a life in this remote spot, to grow food and survive harsh winters. I also think that the Czacksky family and their descendents would be happy to know that the land they homesteaded remains largely unchanged.

We climb the final hill and catch our breath inside the one-room cabin. MSU Spartan memorabilia and a wood stove dominate the space. One of the Force’s favorite activities is tapping their maple trees and making syrup on top of the stove. “When we get tired, we quit, and look forward to spring activities, like tilling the garden and hunting for morels,” says Janet.

The couple’s two children and five grandchildren are frequent visitors to both the farm and their lake home. Their easement leaves 32 acres unrestricted, giving them flexibility for future home sites or inherent value should they choose to sell their land. The Forces sold their easement to the Conservancy in a bargain sale for 50% of its appraised value. They’ll receive a tax deduction for the donation portion of their conservation easement, but as we talk in the warm cabin, I learn that the funds they have received from the sale will benefit another cause close to their heart.

The Forces will donate the sale proceeds to Michigan State University, in memory of their son, David, who passed on in 2000. David loved the farm and also loved collecting books and memorabilia indicative of popular culture in different periods of history. Dick notes that the MSU library has one of the premier collections of popular culture in the U.S.

As the winter sun begins to fade, we gather our things and leave the cabin. I think about how something good the Forces have done for Leelanau will in turn do something good for MSU, my own alma mater. We close the cabin door and Janet takes one last look around. “We love being outside and spending time on our land,” she says. “We had read about the Lake Leelanau Watershed Initiative and it didn’t take much for us to figure out that this land fit the bill.” Gesturing towards the woods where Lake Leelanau lies some 3 miles beyond, she adds, “It’s all flowing that way.” – Carolyn Faught, spring 2007.