Once a year, Legacy Land Conservancy takes an opportunity to honor the Preservationist of the Year. This award honors people who exemplify the conservation ethic and who live it in their personal lives.
The first of two awards for the 2009-2010 year goes to the Waterloo Hunt Club. For over 40 years, the Waterloo Hunt Club has made the Waterloo Recreation Area its home – and done all it can to protect the area. One of the few remaining hunt clubs in Michigan, their claim to fame is their ability to hunt in the public lands surrounding their Waterloo Township Club. Like other park users, they noted the encroachment of development on the park. Unlike many other users, they did something about it.
For many years, they have hosted an Earth Day clean-up of the Recreation Area. This clean-up brings their members and others out for a spring cleaning that removes tons of casually dumped debris from along the roadsides in the public recreation area.
They have encouraged their members to weigh in when the Natural Resources Trust Fund was considering whether or not to fund projects in Waterloo — the very properties that are now being successfully protected. The number of letters they were able to generate helped persuade the Trust Fund that this was the time to make an investment there.
When the Department of Natural Resources brought user groups together to see how they could best co-exist in a multi-user park, the Hunt Club was there, making sure their own interests were represented, certainly, but also listening to the concerns other groups had.
Understanding that land protection takes money, their members have helped to fund our Waterloo Fund, and they have encouraged the visiting riders who come to their annual horse shows to contribute as well.
And recently, as the Conservancy has committed to helping the DNR make their grant dollars go as far as possible, the Hunt Club has challenged 100% of their active members to give to the Waterloo Fund — a challenge that they seem well on their way to successfully completing.
Congratulations to the Waterloo Hunt Club on being awarded Preservationist of the Year 2009-2010.
For the second award recipient, I’m reminded of a poster I saw in college that said, “Sometimes it’s easier to organize a conference on the environment than it is to pick up a gum wrapper.” Our second awardee understands that good conservation requires both. Charity Steere is that rare volunteer who is willing to do it all.
It isn’t enough that she volunteers for nearly every workday that the Conservancy has. She also volunteers for the DNR stewardship volunteer days in Waterloo, and she spends her vacations on The Nature Conservancy and Sierra Club work trips.
She is also willing to pick up the phone to talk to her congressman about policy, or to let the DNR know when a nice piece of land in their priority area has come on the market. (And as an aside, we have just been advised that with the support of Charity, the Hunt Club, and the Conservancy, MDNR will soon add an additional 33 NEW acres to the Waterloo Recreation Area. That makes 142 acres in 2010 alone. What’s more, an additional 238 acres are under consideration for protection this year. The Conservancy has now protected 4,188 acres to date – over 10% in the past year alone.)
Charity is tenacious. With her help, Waterloo is now criss-crossed with designated natural beauty roads that remind visitors to look around them – and help make sure the peace of the area isn’t marred in the future.
She also kept bringing information on farmland protection to the Jackson County planning committee and Board of Commissioners until they established a Farmland Protection ordinance. And then she was willing to serve on the committee implementing it.
Charity also works subtly. She’s the voice on our board that asks the uncomfortable questions - ’Is this an easement we ought to do?’ ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ And, for many years until we finally listened to her, ’Do we have an endowment big enough that we can ensure landowners that we really can protect their land forever?’ In fact, it was largely because of her urging that we established our Forever Fund. Her encouragement led us to embark on an ultimately successful campaign to complete the $500,000 Forever Fund Challenge, at an economic time when some fairly experienced people said it couldn’t be done. We’re grateful that she pushed us to take it on, and we’re thankful to the support of our many donors who helped make it happen.
We didn’t give Charity any fair warning that she was going to receive this award, because we knew that if we told her ahead of time, she’d tell us to honor someone else.
Congratulations to Charity Steere for all her hard work on behalf of conservation in Michigan and throughout the country.
- Robert Tetens, President, Legacy Land Conservancy