The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy
and property owners along the Paw Paw River have a vision for protecting the unique natural area there.
In 2014, the Land Conservancy began a collaborative project with John Nelson, the Sarett Nature Center
and conservationist Peter R. Boerma to protect as much high-quality land as possible within Lower Paw Paw River watershed. Their plan was to conserve the property for the ultimate benefit of wildlife, biodiversity, open space, water quality, and human enjoyment of the natural space.
The collaborative effort aided by a two-year $600,000 Department of Environmental Quality watershed management matching grant, will ultimately protect seven properties totaling about 640 acres.
Earlier this year, SWMLC completed a conservation easement on Sarett Nature Center’s 280-acre Brown Sanctuary
, the first step of the larger project, which ultimately will also include a conservation easement on Sarett’s Black Woods preserve just upstream from the Nelson property.
"When this project is completed, Sarett’s Brown Sanctuary and Black’s Woods will both be under permanent environmental protection," Sarett Nature Center’s Executive Director Dianne Braybrook says.
This summer, SWMLC purchased a conservation easement on the John Nelson property, permanently protecting 164 acres and a two-mile stretch of the lower Paw Paw River just downstream of the City of Coloma. The purchase was funded by an MDEQ watershed management matching grant.
"Most of the Paw Paw River flows through a landscape that is broad and flat with significant areas of contiguous healthy floodplain forest," says SWMLC Director of Land Protection Geoff Cripe. "But the Nelson conservation easement is where the river narrows and drops through a ravine with bands of constrained floodplain forest along clay bluffs with mature hemlock and oak.
"And one such bluff area contains a rare limestone outcropping that supports an unusual plant community including ferns, mosses and lichen normally found much farther north," says Cripe.
The unique nature of the Nelson property, combined with its proximity to other protected lands in the area, make it an especially important component of the vision for conserving the Paw Paw River Watershed.
John Nelson spent years working with these partners to ensure the land he treasured would remain protected forever. The Nelson property’s proximity to the lakeshore and river frontage made it extremely desirable for development, but John was determined to protect it despite the financial sacrifice on his part.
"There are two things I really admired about John," says Boerma, "one, he kept the land intact during his lifetime, and two, he walked away from a lot of money when he conserved the land with conservation easements, rather than selling it at market prices."
Source: Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy