LOOKING BACK By Ed and Bobbie Collins, Founders–October, 2018
In mid-October the Leelanau Conservancy will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its opening ceremony. It is known as one of the most successful land trusts in the nation, thanks to the hundreds of past and present Supporters, Boards of Directors and Staff who share the vision to “conserve the land, water, and scenic character of Leelanau County.”
Back in 1988 there were few land trusts nationwide and conservation work was not broadly known. We were each lucky “summer kids” who since early childhood enjoyed the natural beauty, bounty, and waters of our respective peninsulas—Ed at Fish Creek in Door County, and Bobbie at Glen Lake in Leelanau County. We retired to Leland in 1979; and, as time went on, became concerned by the mounting pressure for development and its impact on fragile lands as has happened all over the country–particularly areas near our beautiful National Parks. We began to ask ourselves what we could do to make a difference, to “give back.”
Intrigued by a Smithsonian Magazine article about the work of the venerable Brandywine Conservancy in Pennsylvania, we met with them. Their directors and staff generously provided valuable suggestions and guidance for founding a land trust. With the help of the late Larry Verdier, friend and attorney who later became our first board chairman, we incorporated, and obtained 501(c)3 status.
In 1988 we purchased and donated the building that houses the Conservancy. A few of us volunteers began work to form a board of directors, mailed letters county-wide to a prospective membership, and were rewarded with an enthusiastic response. Dr. Harlan Hatcher, President-emeritus of the University of Michigan and international conservationist agreed to be our Honorary Chairman.
Brian Price appeared on the doorstep a few weeks later with a paper he had written on the geology of Leelanau County. We were so impressed with his knowledge and passion that we hired him on the spot! He became our first Executive Director, and his wife Susan came on board a couple of years later as our Director of Finance. They each contributed tremendously to the success of the Conservancy and recently retired after 27 dedicated years.
During the first few years we slowly gathered a talented staff, several of whom—Gayle Egeler, Carolyn Faught, Matt Heiman, and Tom Nelson our current Executive Director—remain and have been joined by additional collaborative and hard-working staff. The Board of Directors over the years has been exceptional in its selection of thoughtful and wise people from all over the County who so generously give of their time and talents. Our membership has continued to grow and now numbers over 2,500, including over 300 volunteers. Over 650 Sustainers pledge $500 or more annually to our Operating Fund, and 153 members of the Richard O. Ristine Heritage Society have named the Leelanau Conservancy in their estate plans. Others have made generous gifts of land and in-kind donations.
The Leelanau Conservancy has adhered to the founding premise that it will operate only under the highest standards and practices, public accountability, and sound financial management. That was nationally acknowledged in 2008 when it became one of the first land trusts in the country to receive accreditation by the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission.
Thirty years ago, our first land preservation projects were what are now the Leland Village Green, the Glen Arbor Art Association land, and the Cedar River and Kehl Lake Natural Areas. We could not have envisioned then the scope of the Leelanau Conservancy’s success to date in preserving nearly 14,000 acres—including 46 miles of stream and lake frontage, nearly 5,000 acres of working farmland, 173 conservation easements, 26 natural areas, the stewardship tools to manage those lands, and a fully funded $21 million dollar Capital Campaign!
As Founders we are filled with immense gratitude for all those who have contributed in countless ways to the successes of the last 30 years. The next 30 will bring more—and changing—challenges, but we know in our hearts the mission of the Leelanau Conservancy will be carried on by generations to come.
Ed and Bobbie Collins
Leelanau Conservancy Founders