2006-07-29 / News

Little Traverse Conservancy Guides Mackinac Preservation Efforts

By Bernie Nguyen

"We're here to help you become more aware of your rights as private property owners," said Thomas Bailey to an attentive audience at the Mackinac Island Yacht Club Friday, June 30. Mr. Bailey, who is the executive director of the Little Traverse Conservancy, spoke to members of the community on the options and benefits land conservancy holds for property owners, in addition to its usefulness for environmental preservation.

Land conservancy strives for land protection through ownership, "the old-fashioned way," rather than by litigation, said Mr. Bailey. Little Traverse Conservancy, which since 1972 has protected about 30,000 acres of land, was previously called the Little Traverse Group. The Group worked mainly through law suits and legal channels to protect land, but soon learned a more effective route was education.

"Our philosophy is strictly that private owners should know how to be in control of their own land," Mr. Bailey said.

"Balanced growth is what it's all about," he added, emphasizing the importance of keeping harmony between development and preservation of important environmental areas. While the Little Traverse Group typically took adversarial positions, the Little Traverse Conservancy seeks community balance, the same goal, he said, that Mackinac Island seems to be pursuing.

Many laws governing the economics of land and real estate still adhere to 19th century standards, Mr. Bailey explained, and therefore aren't equipped to keep pace with commercial development or population growth. Where once it was important to protect civilization from the wilderness, now, he said, it should be a priority to protect what's left of the wilderness from civilization.

"What do we want to protect our land from?" Mr. Bailey asked. "What do we want to protect our land for?" The fundamental principles of land conservancy spring from these two questions, he said, and form the basis of preservation efforts.

Conservancy efforts provide education and choices for owners looking to use their property rights to protect, rather than exploit, their land. It gives residents a choice, he explained, on how they want Mackinac Island to look and be.

Two ways to preserve land are through donation and conservation easements. By donating land and conferring ownership to an organization such as a land trust, any developments on the land, such as buildings or roads, cannot be made without permission. Easements, which are a transfer of ownership rights, allow the residents to remain the private owners of their land, while all decisions about development or construction are at the sole discretion of the trust to which they have given their rights in this case, a land conservancy. Property owners who choose this option receive federal income tax deductions for the value of their easement, and may also receive relief in estate and property taxes.

An incentive for property owners who choose conservancy, he said, is often a love of nature and a desire to see it protected. Another is their children, and the wish that they will be able to enjoy unspoiled land in the future.

The Little Traverse Conservancy places great emphasis on educating the many children who grow up in urban environments about the importance and fascination nature provides. The Conservancy has reached more than 7,000 children with outreach programs in northern Michigan, he said, including field trips to its nature preserves.

"Our kids can have a better sense of who they are and where they're coming from" by getting in touch with nature and experiencing wildlife firsthand, Mr. Bailey said. This is especially important on the Island, he added, because the "interaction of humanity and nature is what makes Mackinac so special."

He commended the efforts of the newly formed Mackinac Island Conservancy, which has affiliated itself with the Little Traverse Conservancy for the professional and legal experience it has.

"The Mackinac Island Conservancy is a group of people who want to explore options of what your rights can do to protect your area," he explained to the audience. Mr. Bailey indicated that the Mackinac Island Conservancy is facing a

challenge, but a positive one, especially since so much of the Island already is public.

The local group is raising money to establish a donoradvised, non-endowed fund with the Mackinac Island Community Foundation to be used to assist in preservation efforts, said Anneke Myers, who serves as co-chair of the Mackinac Island Conservancy with Steve Murray and Marta Olson.

Steering Committee members include David Armour, Jennifer Bloswick, Dennis Bradley, Sr., Brad Chambers, Mark Chambers, Barbara Fisher, Nicki Griffith, Michael Hart, Margaret Horn, Susan Lenfesty, Ann Levy, Susan Lundgren, Mary McCourtDufina, Bruce Miller, Thomas Pfeiffelmann, and Christopher Straus.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2006-07-29 digital edition