Ralph and Nancy Kalchik have been married for 62 years. They met at Northport High School and other than a few years away at MSU and an army stint for Ralph, the couple has spent their entire lives at the tip of the peninsula.
Ralph grew up just a stone’s throw from the home they built tucked in the woods off Tatch Road. His father started and excavating company that Ralph and his two brothers later purchased and called KAL Excavating Co. Nancy worked as an RN at the now-closed Leelanau Memorial Hospital until she retired in 2001. They raised one daughter here, who lives near Washington D.C. with her family.
The Kalchiks relish their simple, quiet life off the beaten path. “It’s so peaceful,” says Nancy. “It used to be that the only people who came back here was the meter reader. We could almost be hermits.”
From their kitchen window they see a plethora of birds, from woodpeckers to bluebirds—and other creatures too. “The other day we saw a deer pushing a bobcat into the woods in order to protect her fawn,” says Nancy. They enjoy the beauty of the pristine streams that wind through their land, dotted with bright yellow marsh marigolds in early spring. They talk of the trillium and Jack-in-the-pulpit that covers the hillsides in May.
The land is located near other protected lands, including the Charter Bird Sanctuary as well as the Mitchell and Putnam farms and other conservation easements on nearby Bass Lake, adding to the impact of this block of conserved lands. Meanwhile, multiple streams and seeps on the Kalchik property merge into Weaver Creek and ultimately, into Grand Traverse Bay. Preserving this parcel ultimately helps to protect the clean water of the bay.
Now in their 80s, Ralph says he has been “thinking for a long time” about protecting their land and is feeling a sense of urgency to get it done. “You go up this side of Tatch Road and there are now houses on both sides,” he says. “I didn’t want to see that. It feels like driving in the city.”
Jim Charter, who was a friend and classmate, died last year and they attended a memorial gathering at Saving Birds Thru Habitat. Jim, along with his wife, Kay, founded Charter Sanctuary, habitat for birds that is protected with a conservation easement. “We knew that they had worked with the Conservancy to protect that place, and had read about others in the paper too,” says Ralph.
The couple met with Conservancy land protection specialist Kim Hayes. “At first the Kalchiks were hoping that they could do an outright donation of a conservation easement* which was so amazing and generous,” says Kim. “But after talking further it was clear that they needed some family resources to keep paying for the taxes and insurance.” (Even though taxes may be reduced by removing the development premium, the land still stays on the tax rolls.)
“We talked about the concept of a ‘bargain sale,’” explains Kim. “They ended up donating 75% of the value and were compensated for 25% of the value.”
They could have demanded more, but didn’t. “I’ve just come to like the place and didn’t want to see it change,” says Ralph. “Seems like something we could do for the people around here.”
“I feel lucky that my first solo land protection project is working with Nancy and Ralph to protect such special natural resources,” says Kim. “The project, with its perennial and ephemeral creeks, protects over 100 acres of the upper Weaver Creek watershed.” The rich conifer swamp and northern hardwood forest on the land are all home to natural wonders like brook trout, comb-tooth fungi, bobcats and bald eagles.
Adds Kim: “I honor their love for their land and am happy to help secure its protection into the future.”
Story and photos by Carolyn Faught