HARBERT — Chikaming Open Lands has partnered with a group of neighbors on and around Harbert Road to protect one of the last natural open spaces along the lakeshore, and on Jan. 29 the Sawyer-based land conservancy announced that the effort has reached the fund-raising stage.

"Recently, we were able to successfully negotiate a purchase agreement to acquire and preserve 14 acres of woodland along Harbert Road," a Chikaming Open Lands (COL) release stated. "The contract gives us until April 1st to meet the fund-raising goal of $1.4 million for all project costs. Led by this group of passionate and determined neighbors,

To learn more about the project and how get involved the COL release recommends the Save Harbert Road Woods website (https://saveharbertroadwoods.com).

That website includes the following information:

We are a group of neighbors working with Chikaming Open Lands to protect some of the last untouched stretches of natural land in Harbert. Our mission is to rescue and protect the missing piece of the Harbert Road Preserves to create a continuous 30-acre Conservation Corridor. Join our movement as we carry on the 100-year-old legacy of conservation in Harbert. Together we can preserve the unique character of Harbert that distinguishes it along the shores of Lake Michigan!

We have identified a 14-acre property that is the missing link of the Harbert Road Preserves. It contains some of the last untouched, natural forest and wetland in Harbert. We are seeking to acquire this property with Chikaming Open Lands to permanently protect its natural state. Its central location allows us to join three existing preserves and create a continuous 30-acre Conservation Corridor.

The property is nestled within Harbert Road Woods — rich with seasonal wetlands, a ridge, and a mature forest. The current owner of the property is interested in selling for development and has cut down 9,000 square feet of the woods in preparation for an access road. If we act now, Chikaming Open Lands can Rescue, Protect, and Restore this land so that it can function as the centerpiece of the corridor.

The Harbert Conservation Corridor is described as a network of forests and seasonal wetlands that host biodiverse wildlife.

"Without long-term protection, a corridor is at risk of fragmentation by roads or other development. Fragmenting the corridor threatens the ability of wildlife to travel, harms native plant and animal communities, and can damage the water quality of Lake Michigan."

The Save Harbert Road Woods website also notes that the property supports a special ecosystem and diverse wildlife including at least two endangered species, along with high-quality wetlands that filter and clean stormwater runoff before it enters Lake Michigan, and deep woods that function as a carbon sink.

"Its lush canopy provides shelter and is a flyway for migratory birds. It is a site of natural beauty that enhances our community’s health, aesthetics, and quality of life."

The Save Harbert Road Woods website also goes over the history of conservation in the area, noting that in 1978 a group of families saw the wild areas in Harbert dwindling and banded together with a vision to preserve the last untouched stretches of forest.

"In the past 40 years over 16 acres have been donated to Chikaming Open Lands."

According to the website, "The effort to protect natural land sits squarely within the conservation legacy of Harbert. In 1908 a diverse group of visionaries from Chicago founded the Prairie Club as a means to escape the city and restore themselves in nature. Founding members included Jens Jensen and Stephen Mather, who are respectively the renowned landscape architect and the first director of the National Park Service. In 1930, the Prairie Club chose Harbert as the location for Camp Hazelhurst where they lived out their environmental values. From 1926-1945 the poet Carl Sandberg lived in Harbert for these same reasons."

SUGARWOOD FOREST

Chikaming Open Lands also announced in December that it had successfully raised the funds needed to acquire the 40-acre Sugarwood Forest property and was moving forward with the process of acquiring the property with a closing is expected soon.

"Nearly 100 individuals and organizations came together to successfully raise the funds necessary. The forest is located along Elm Valley Road adjacent to Warren Woods State Park," COL's website states.

Upon acquiring the property, COL will designate it as a nature preserve, permanently protecting the woodland in its natural state.

Some of the features listed by COL that make the Sugarwood Forest property special include: A high-quality, mature beech-maple forest (one of the last remaining old-growth forests in Southwest Michigan); Its location next to Warren Woods State Park, which will provide an open space corridor along with nearby protected properties like Chikaming Township Park & Preserve, and COL's Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve, the Merritt Family Preserve, and Younger Family Preserve; a corridor that runs adjacent to a river system provides critical habitat for native plants and animals, promoting biodiversity and a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

The opportunity to open the property to the public, building a trail system through the preserve and providing a new place where the public can enjoy the beauty of the forest. There is also potential to connect the trail to the existing system in the State Park.

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