November 30, 2023

Land Stories

Moving tales behind some of our favorite preserves
By Anna Faller | May 29, 2021

Looking for reasons to leave your house? Consider this your open (air) invitation. While we all have our favorite parks and hikes, as summer edges in and more tourists and townies descend, it’s worth keeping a few lesser-trod landscapes in your back pocket. Here we highlight three of our favorite protected lands, selected not only for their sheer size or slightly out-of-the-way location that offers a little extra isolation but also for the unique tales of the faces and families behind them.

Elizabeth B. Hoffman Nature Preserve/Diane and Richard DeNardis Family Nature Preserve Complex
Land conservation is a community effort. At least, that’s the name of the game in northern Michigan. “We get quite a few donations,” says Anne Fleming of Little Traverse Conservancy. “Most of the land that we’ve protected is because somebody has come to us and said, ‘We would really like to do something with this [because] it means so much to us.’ It’s people who just love that land.” But few have been as committed to land conservation as LTC contributor, Elizabeth B. Hoffman.

Known as “Betty” to the LTC, Hoffman has helped realize more than a dozen land protection projects to date. But up until recently, she’s preferred to stay anonymous. “She’d done a lot of lands before this one,” says Fleming, “and we’d ask, ‘Betty, can we name this one after you?’ And she’d always say no, that she didn’t need the name.”

Then an easement opportunity near her home became available. “We finally convinced her with this one,” says Fleming. “I think it meant a lot to her, because it’s right down the road from where she lives.”

Located along US-31 in the historic Kingwood Community of Charlevoix County, the original 138 acres of the Elizabeth B. Hoffman Nature Preserve had previously been part of a separate conservation easement — one which Hoffman herself helped pioneer.

(A conservation easement is a legal tool that private landowners can enact to guarantee the preservation of a particular plot of land. “If they’re concerned about what will happen to it in the future,” says Fleming, “[an easement] limits the amount of development that can happen.”)

So, when the original owners were looking to sell, Hoffman was only too happy to lend a hand. In 2017, Betty Hoffman donated the funds that let the Little Traverse Conservancy acquire the original acreage; and in late 2019, she added another five. But the complex wasn’t quite complete.

Because the LTC monitors every parcel they protect, one of their primary criteria for conservancy is land connection. “If [a parcel] is on land that’s already protected, “says Fleming, “then you’re expanding that protection — you’re doing what’s called ‘ecosystem management.’ The bigger, the better!” In 2018, Diane and Richard DeNardis, a couple of northern Michigan lovers, funded the purchase of the 63-acre parcel immediately adjacent to the Hoffman preserve.

The result? A whopping 206 total acres of pristine forest, fields, and protected farmland. Set snugly along the US-31 corridor, one of the LTC’s most significant preservation projects, the Hoffman and DeNardis Family Complex features the characteristic hills and lowlands of the region, as well as the breathtaking lake-views they provide. The complex also includes several glacial erratics (rocks from other places deposited by glaciers as they moved through the region), and the healthy mix of meadows and hardwoods means a variety of habitats for local wildlife.

But it’s the variety that sets this complex apart. Featuring just over 1.5 miles of accessible trail on the Hoffman Preserve, visitors can enjoy a lengthy hike before breaking for a pint at Bier’s Inwood Brewery, or exploring the family’s infamous art gallery, both of which are just steps away. A real multi-tasker of an estate, this complex is a Michigan must-see.

Find it: From the intersection of M-66 and US-31 at the south end of Charlevoix, travel 5.5 miles south on US-31. Parking is on the left (east) side of the road, just north of the art gallery.

Nathan Beem Memorial Nature Preserve (pictured)
The Little Traverse Conservancy has a saying: Next to family, peoples’ land is often most important to them. “And, it’s true!” says Anne Fleming. “If you think about it, and how you feel about where you came from, or if you have family property; [that place] — your place — is really important to you.” For Dan and Heather Beem, that place is the Upper Chain of Lakes in Charlevoix County.

“I’ve been coming to Ellsworth every year since I was born,” says Dan Beem. His father, who discovered the area in the late 1950’s, brought Beem and his brother Up North from Ohio every year — two weeks most every each June and whenever they could the rest of summer, always staying at Big Fish Inn on St. Clair Lake in Ellsworth.

“We absolutely loved Northern Michigan summers,” he says.

After Dan and Heather married, they continued the tradition with their own family. “We began taking our children, Nathan and Kristin, there as babies, and they grew to love the area,” says Heather. “It became their special place.”

But no one loved the lakes like Nathan. Known to many as “Nate the Fisherman,” he knew all of Ellsworth’s best spots. In fact, he was so well-acquainted with the Upper Chain of Lakes that, according to his father, he could have been a fishing guide.

An avid outdoorsman, Nathan excelled in all things active, and his talents ran the gamut of all seasons of sports, including kayaking, hunting — and especially — soccer. Following four years on his high school team, his soccer prowess and smarts landed Nathan an athletic and academic scholarship to Mount Vernon Nazarene University, in Ohio.

From there, he transferred to Hocking College, where he graduated in May 2018 with an associate degree in Natural Resources Law Enforcement. Nathan entered basic training for the U.S. Coast Guard in Cape May, New Jersey, that July, and the following month, the new seaman was assigned to the Coast Guard Station Fairport on Lake Eerie.

On August 24, 2018, little more than a month into his first tour of duty, tragedy struck, when 21-year-old Nathan suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in Ellsworth, Michigan — the very place where he had often spoke of living and owning his own land.

Shortly after Nathan’s passing, Dan and Heather resolved to do something to reflect Nathan’s love for northern Michigan. “We knew we had to do something to honor him and make something good come out of this situation,” says Heather. In cooperation with the LTC, the Beem family discovered two perfect parcels of land for sale, both about a half-mile south of the St. Clair Lake-Six Mile Lake Nature Preserve: a 53-acre plot complete with 1,800 feet of Six Mile Lake frontage, plus an adjacent 52 acres.

In conjunction with the LTC, the Beem family created a fundraising campaign to finance the now-105-acre Nathan Beem Memorial Nature Preserve. Accessible from the water and from the road, the property features direct access to an undeveloped coastline, and as of last fall, a “bat condominium,” courtesy of Petoskey High School. “[The preserve] is beautiful,” says Heather. “Nathan would love it.”

Find It: The Nathan Beem Memorial Nature Preserve is located on the west side of Miles Road, south of Lake Street, in Ellsworth. 

The Bill Carls Nature Preserve, Pyatt Lake
Located about halfway up the historic Old Mission Peninsula, just a half-mile inland of Bower’s Harbor, sits Pyatt Lake. Owned and protected by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Pyatt Lake is a geological gem of undisturbed landscape. But it very nearly wasn’t.

In 1991 — the year the GTRLC began — a local land developer named Rick Meyer purchased 80 acres of land surrounding the pristine Pyatt Lake, with plans to sell it off in 10-acre parcels for the purpose of development.

But founding GTRLC Executive Director Glen Chown wasn’t about to let that happen. By the following spring, he had convinced Meyer to give the conservancy six months to purchase a pivotal 61 acres surrounding the lake. And just like that, the GTRLC signed off on a $100,000 dollar project.

As the old adage goes, ask and you shall receive; and the community members of Old Mission Peninsula certainly didn’t disappoint.

In fact, the most influential fundraising efforts came from the students of the Old Mission Peninsula School, who wrote passionate letters to the local newspaper and held drives selling T-shirts and soda, all in support of the Pyatt Lake project. And while they yielded an impressive $1,300, they also captured the attention of a man named Bill Carls.

A native of Germany and northern Michigan transplant, Carls was an automobile-manufacturing mogul who had sold his downstate home and retired to the Old Mission Peninsula around the time of the GTRLC’s creation. After reading about the students’ involvement, he decided he could do one better.

With fewer than 50 days to go before the deadline, Carls provided a game-changing challenge grant of $15,000. Made possible by his charitable group, The Carls Foundation, the grant matched every dollar the campaign received.

Ten days later, the previously plateaued goal was met. Thanks to the grant, the GTRLC was able to close on its very first conservation effort in December 1992. Since then, the parcel has seen a whopping eight expansions, including a second gift from the Carls Foundation in 2011.

Now a 160-acre parcel, the Bill Carls Nature Preserve also features 1.5 miles of walkable trail and remains one of only three wooded dune and swale complexes — a regionally-unique dune ridge — in northern Michigan. Comprising more than 250 individual plant species, the preserve’s distinctive “habitat mosaic” makes it one of the most ecologically diverse parcels in Grand Traverse County.

As of this month, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy has also completed a series of improvements to the preserve’s trail infrastructure, including the replacement of damaged boardwalks and platforms with universally accessible (UA) styles. An aggregate trail, boardwalk, parking lot, and two additional decks are also planned for the project. Construction will begin this summer, with completion slated for early November.

Find It: Located off of Pyatt Road, The Bill Carls Nature Preserve is just north of the Boathouse Restaurant and Bowers Harbor boat launch. From Traverse City, head northbound on Peninsula Drive. Turn left on Neahtawanta Road, and then right on Pyatt Road. The preserve is on the right as you go north.


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