A Legacy of Land Preservation: A Washtenaw County Man’s Three-Decade Journey

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WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – Land will be developed for housing no matter what Barry Lonik does.

But the Dexter resident, 59, is here to help those who prefer it not to happen to their rural lands.

Lonik operates Treemore Ecology and Land Services, which consults with townships to prevent development on historic farmland. He’s spent three decades doing this and recognizes that while he can’t completely stop development, sometimes he can slow it down.

“We are not going to stop development. We couldn’t do it even if we wanted to, ”Lonik said. “But what we’re trying to do is provide a way for at least some people who don’t want to develop their property to have the option of not doing so.”

Over the course of his career, Lonik has helped secure $ 200 million in public funding for land preservation. And, on the 30th anniversary of its mission, Lonik has concluded another important conservation milestone.

In partnership with Webster Township, he secured a $ 1.5 million conservation easement, including half a million dollars in federal grants, to prevent the development of Base Lake Farm, a 204-acre property located at 7861 Strawberry. Lake Road. The property has been owned by Bill Brinkerhoff and Kathy Sample of Argus Farm Stop of Ann Arbor since 2015.

The easement means that the land, including 180 acres of “prime agricultural land of local importance,” 18 acres of woodland and six acres of wetlands, is not open to public purchase. Base Lake Farm is now part of a protected 554-acre block from development, Lonik said.

“There are so many good things about this particular project,” he said. “I really feel like it’s a great cap, even though I won’t turn 30.”

Base Lake Farm in Webster Township is now protected farmland. The protected portion is 204 acres and was protected from development by an easement organized by Barry Lonik of Dexter. Photo provided by Barry Lonik.Barry Lonik

Lonik’s career in conservation

At age 5, Lonik grew up in Oak Park, which he describes as a space with “very little green space” and “a lot of hard surfaces”.

His love for nature emerged during childhood visits to the Bald Mountain State Recreation Area in Orion Charter Township.

“We camped in a giant canvas tent which was horribly hot and smelly,” he said. “I just had a blast with this.”

As a teenager, Lonik pulled out a map of the Detroit subway to find the nearest running water, eventually cycling eight miles from his home to the Birmingham branch of the Red River. As he grew older, his goal became to conserve Michigan’s nature as it is.

Childhood trips to visit his brothers enrolled at Michigan State University involved crossing vast farmlands. But the longer he drove between East Lansing and Oak Park, the more he saw sprawling developments instead of farms.

“I didn’t like it,” he says. “There has to be a way to counter that, to some extent. “

After earning environmental degrees from Albion College and the University of Michigan, Lonik joined the board of directors of the Potawatomi Community Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to land conservation now called Legacy. Land Trust. This effort involved finding land that could be used for community-supported agriculture.

Lonik’s efforts there simply required more funds to get farm owners to sell their land for preservation. He found “well-heeled donors” to donate resources for smaller land purchases, but soon realized that this would not be enough to have a bigger impact.

“I realized there were serious limitations for a small nonprofit land conservation that could barely afford a part-time employee like me working in his own home,” he said. “Farm owners would say they like the idea of ​​conservation easements, but I can’t afford to donate my development rights.

In 1998, Lonik convinced the Washtenaw County Council of Commissioners to put a proposal on the ballot to create a mileage purely for land preservation. After a few losses, due to a pro-development lobby, Lonik’s efforts paid off in 2004.

Reaffirmed in 2012, the village raises approximately $ 500,000 per year for land acquisition and preservation efforts. This helps fund preservation programs in Ann Arbor, Scio and Webster Townships, giving Lonik the opportunity to enter into preservation agreements for 110 properties totaling over 7,700 acres.

Lonik’s most notable projects are the 478-acre Centennial Farm owned by Howard and Kelven Braun on the Saline Frontier, the 286-acre Charles and Catherine Brain Centennial Farm in Ann Arbor Township, and the 160-acre Aprill Farm. in the canton of Scio.

Read more: The old ancestral farm is now an Ann Arbor area strawberry picking paradise

“Some of these farms actually produce food that people can eat, unlike the staple grains that are shipped to Chicago and Kansas and fed to feedlot cattle,” he said. “You actually have U-pick strawberries… you actually have young farmers raising cattle in a much more user-friendly and sustainable way. “

Possibility of agricultural collaboration

Lonik sought out farmers with preservation values ​​similar to his. This is how he connected with Brinkerhoff and Sample for the sale of Base Lake Farm.

Brinkerhoff grew up across from the Base Lake Farm property. When he was running in the countryside as a child in the 1960s, he remembers a farmer who laughed at him for jogging on old country roads.

After this farmer’s death, real estate developments quickly followed, Brinkerhoff said.

“It really caught our attention that Dexter’s development encroachment is treading everywhere,” he said. “We were right in the back of our minds thinking about this problem and the potential loss of farms.”

The farm passed through several hands in the last century. Until 1991, it was owned by Carl Rosenfeld, who supplied beef to his Detroit steakhouse, Carl’s Chop House. After that it was owned by the Schauer family before Brinkerhoff bought it in 2015 to help supply the Argus Farm Stop stores in Ann Arbor.

It was then that he started working with Lonik to secure easements to close the door to developer openings. After six years, they closed on an easement on the agricultural part of the land.

Brinkerhoff credits Lonik with his knowledge of handling complicated bondage negotiations, but also his determination.

“It took us a lot of years to put all of this in place and there were definitely some speed bumps along the way,” said Brinkerhoff. “We continuously worked together throughout the process, and his passion and determination was clear. It is his legacy, and he is quite simply motivated to leave a legacy of land conservation in our region. “

The easement allows Brinkerhoff and Sample to collaborate with other farmers, as they hire cattle rancher John Cox to supply beef to their stores. They are open to other farmers who collaborate with them on this property, especially the chicken farmers who go well with Cox’s efforts.

Lonik sees Argus Farm Stop not only as conserving the land, but also as creating opportunities for the farmers of the future. He notes that Argus Farm Stop has paid out $ 10 million to local farms and food producers since 2014, and that the purchase of Base Lake Farm will facilitate more financial returns down the line.

“It’s new money,” he said. “It goes into the pockets of local growers and producers that weren’t there before (Brinkerhoff and Sample) showed up.”

If this is his last big business, Lonik will spend his days playing music in his house in Dexter which he calls “Rancho Tranquilico”.

As he tells his story, he stands barefoot outside the barn door of his ranch. His feet blend into the damp ground, seemingly becoming one with the nature he has protected for most of his life.

Read more from The Ann Arbor News:

Flood prompts Washtenaw County to declare state of emergency

Debate continues on who should be Dexter’s next city manager

Traffic and property value concerns expressed by residents regarding the Depot Town Affordable Housing Project


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