Conservancy Celebrates 20 Years and 10,000 Acres



SWMLC completed its 20th year of operation protecting over 1,500 acres and cumulatively more than 10,000 total acres throughout southwest Michigan. This landmark year demonstrates southwest Michigan’s commitment to conservation and sets a new benchmark for SWMLC’s success.

During 2011, SWMLC protected 1,571 acres, including three new preserves and 12 conservation easements, with four of the properties purchased with federal and state funding to protect Great Lakes water quality. The three new preserves are the KL Avenue Nature Preserve in Kalamazoo County and the Black River Preserve and Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, both located in Van Buren County.

“This is SWMLC’s most successful year ever in acres protected, value of land protected, and complexity and quality of our work,” said Peter Ter Louw, SWMLC executive director. “This landmark year is primarily the result of long-term water quality projects along the Paw Paw and Black Rivers, within the Gull Lake watershed and on the Lake Michigan shoreline.”

The crown jewel of SWMLC’s conservation work is the Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, a generous gift from the estate of Suzanne Upjohn DeLano Parish. The property has a history of Camp Fire Girl camps and church camps and is a place long treasured by many families who spent time there every summer. This 26-acre scenic land, with 800’ of beach frontage, contains a mixture of open fields, forest and a small creek that flows into Lake Michigan. SWMLC is currently working on plans — developed during public visioning sessions this past September — to identify appropriate public uses for the creation of this natural area.

The KL Avenue Nature Preserve in Oshtemo Township is a 70-acre property that will be open to the public once some initial work and site assessments are done. This rolling oak woodland has a diversity of topographical features that will provide interest for people who enjoy passive recreation. The property was a gift from Dr. Richard Malott, a professor at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. 

The Black River Preserve, located just southeast of South Haven, is a 121-acre natural area that will eventually offer canoe/kayak access as part of the Black River water trail. Three tributaries of the Black River are also protected along with lowland forests and marshes of the river’s floodplain. Former owner Dan Garvey and partners accepted a bargain sale, and SWMLC purchased the property with funds from the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The 12 conservation easements protect a total of 1,355 acres which include wetlands and forested floodplains on the Paw Paw River, additional conservation land adjacent to the Barry State Game Area, and four sites within the Gull Lake watershed.