Crown Jewel in the Emerald Necklace
A new nature preserve was created in Harbor Springs, Michigan, thanks to the generosity, foresight, and commitment of the Stebbins family, Offield Family Foundation, and Little Traverse Conservancy. With a range of habitats and diversity - including natural features such as hardwood and pine forests, a boggy area, an old orchard, and vernal spring pools - this property is known as "a ‘crown jewel’ in the Emerald Necklace around Harbor Springs,” said Jim Offield of the foundation.
Nine years ago when Little Traverse Conservancy launched the Harbor Springs Greenbelt land protection program, this 390-acre property located within minutes of the ski resorts and a short drive from Harbor Springs was considered the most desirable to protect. This past spring, thanks to a lead grant from the Offield Family Foundation, the property was purchased to create a permanent nature preserve held by the Conservancy.
With thousands of feet of road frontage on Quick, Hedrick, and Hathaway roads, the new preserve will maintain scenic routes that have been enjoyed by travelers for decades.
First a Farm... Never a Development
For many years in the middle of the 1900s, much of the property was part of Crowl’s Fruit Farm. Located along the “fruit ridge” that benefits from its proximity to Little Traverse Bay (Lake Michigan), the Crowls maintained a farm stand along Hathaway Road. Neighbors, including the Bango family who has lived next to the new preserve for 40 years, are thankful that the property did not become a golf course development. This never happened, thanks to C. Rowland (Rolly) Stebbins entering the picture in the 1960s.
Stebbins, a realtor from Lansing whose family has summered at Roaring Brook since 1902, dearly loved northern Michigan. An avid outdoorsman, he was well known in the Lansing area for his fierce protection and enhancement of the Grand River.
Stebbins first began acquiring land in Emmet County in 1944 when he purchased 80 acres so he could enjoy berry picking and scavenging for wood. His married life was cut short when his wife, Virginia, died of multiple sclerosis at age 45. Yet their three sons — Winston, Malcolm, and Kenyon — were raised in the same tradition and love for the outdoors. Much of the land Stebbins purchased was within a short distance of the ski hills. “Dad always enjoyed skiing and spent 13 years walking up the (ski) hills before the first rope tow was invented,” Kenyon said. Five separate purchases were assembled to create the parcel now protected as a preserve.
In the early 1970s, Stebbins served on Little Traverse Conservancy’s founding board. For more than 40 years, the Stebbins family has held onto this land, with the shared hope that someday it would be owned by the Conservancy. Stebbins planted pine seedlings on the open acreage, enrolled the land in the state’s Commercial Forest Act (CFA) program, and followed best management practices over the years. Now as a nature preserve, the property will remain in the CFA program.
Photos by Greg Czarnecki/Sue Dempsey