Coastal campaign saves 6,000 acres in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula

David Reese is an avid hiker who paints colorful word pictures when describing what he like best about the place he calls “home” for the summer months.

“We love being in Northern Michigan. You can drive for miles without seeing a single billboard and when you look all around, there are tall [sand] grasses blowing in the breeze,” said Reese, a semi-retired banker.

“Where else can you run down a 400-foot sand dune and feel as though you will fall right into Lake Michigan, where the water is so pristine you think you can drink it?”

Like Reese, countless others have fond memories of carefree summer days spent at the lakeshore; they echo his appreciation for Michigan’s natural beauty. As a result, thousands of residents — from both the state’s upper and lower peninsulas — donated time and money to the “Coastal Campaign,” a successful fundraising effort that protects the state’s breathtaking views from development.

Spearheaded by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC), the Coastal Campaign’s goal was to raise funds to protect more than 6,000 acres of land in the northwest section of the state.

The undeveloped property consists of three separate parcels of land that includes sand dunes, forests, prime fruit-growing farm land, and more than three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. One parcel was previously owned by CMS Energy and had been the largest piece of privately owned Lake Michigan property in the state.

The Coastal Campaign is one of several projects of the GTRLC, a Traverse City-based land trust. Nationally, land trusts are nonprofit organizations that work to protect open space by purchasing property, providing assistance to acquire land easements, and serving as stewards of property and easements.

The Coastal Campaign really created a community of people around saving a piece of land like this — people putting their money where their hearts were.” Glen Chown

At the GTRLC, the mission is to protect significant open lands in a five-county region of the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Under GTRLC’s leadership, the Coastal Campaign secured $35.4 million in a three-year fundraising drive. Pledges came from private donors, public coffers, and the foundation community, including $7.75 million in Charles Stewart Mott Foundation support.

“The Coastal Campaign really created a community of people around saving a piece of land like this — people putting their money where their hearts were. The way they got behind it is really humbling,” said Glen Chown, GTRLC executive director.

He said the campaign’s success means the public can enjoy the region’s natural beauty for generations to come.

Ensuring access for people from all walks of life, but especially those who can’t afford to own property in pricey development projects, motivated Reese 65, and his wife, Weezie, 61, to get involved in the Coastal Campaign. Even though they are not fulltime Michigan residents, the Arizona couple has spent their summers in Frankfort, Michigan, since 1990.

“Somebody with a net worth of $20 million can go anywhere they want and buy a piece of natural beauty, but your average working Joe should also be able to hike on land like this,” David Reese said.

“We strongly feel that this is something the public should be able to enjoy for the rest of time. There are places to develop and then there are places that should never be developed because of their pristine beauty. This is one of the latter.”