Ten years ago I walked into the offices of the Leelanau Conservancy, offering to volunteer. Having just retired and moved with my husband to Traverse City, we needed to establish a new life and although we had visited “up north” for almost 30 years we didn’t have family or close friends here. I didn’t feel I really belonged.
Immediately staff member Gayle Egeler had me stuffing and stamping envelopes. Carolyn Faught saw the “people” side of me and put me to work calling donors to thank them for their donation, be it large or small. I loved hearing everyone sing the praises of the Conservancy. Through hikes with docents Dave Amos and Lou Ricord I started my habit of hiking the trails in the Conversancy’s Natural Areas. These staff, donors and docents had a sense of belonging to the good work of the Conservancy.
I was asked to join the Board of Directors. Brian Price was this seemingly laid-back executive director but so much happened during his leadership! Every month staff member Matt Heiman introduced us to a project to consider as a possible natural area, conserved farm, or conservation easement. Brian retired in 2014 and Tom Nelson stepped into Brian’s shoes but soon laid down his own path for the Conservancy. Both Directors followed the footsteps of Bobbie and Ed Collins who established the Conservancy with integrity and honesty. Staff and volunteers—all a part of the Conservancy family—belonging.
I quickly learned that when board member Steve Martineau speaks everyone listens. What’s this about a 1,000 acre parcel of forested land we should buy and turn into a Natural Area with mountain biking trails? Bob Gilbert was passionate we should do this, especially the mountain biking; but, there were concerns. Sharon Oriel insisted we be careful to preserve the peace and quiet and wonderful flora and fauna of what would become Palmer Woods. Susan Green questioned this purchase, as she was in charge of raising the funds. Becky Hill and her Stewardship Team of Emily Douglas and Chase Heise led us through the decision-making process and I learned that the Board could address questions, but then come to consensus to move a project forward. Now Palmer Woods is the Conservancy’s crown jewel, belonging to all of us. It was also clear that if the farmhouse and barns at the DeYoung property were going to be preserved action was needed sooner, not later. Of late board member Rich Hoover nudged us along and soon that beautiful restored old farmhouse will be open for community activities. Board and staff belonging to the greater good.
Julie Weeks urged the Conservancy to expand its use of social media. Such wisdom she had. We lost her way too soon—a future board chair to be sure. But now we use social media to reach so many more people who are developing their own sense of belonging to this beautiful place.
As I come to the end of my third and last term on the Board, I see what wonderful accomplishments have been achieved. During the past nine years we’ve added 8 natural areas and preserves (1,462 acres) and added 44 Conservation Easements, preserving 4,100 acres of farm and natural lands in perpetuity. New board members are adding depth and new insights to our decision-making: Alison Horton, expert naturalist; Kathy Garthe, committed farmer; Bill Witler, financial whiz, and Nick Loud, communications and social media expert. Each one is growing in their belonging with the Conservancy.
Looking back I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to meet these many wonderful people—volunteers, board, and staff— too many to name, who make the Conservancy such a wonderful organization—a place to belong. I invite each of you to find your place within the Conservancy—as a docent, trail steward, hiker, biker, water quality monitor, plant rescuer, office volunteer, photographer, Heritage Society member or Sustainer, board or committee member. You, too, can belong to this wonderful community called the Leelanau Conservancy.
Linda J Proffitt