TRAVERSE CITY — Morning light filtered through the second-growth forest at Holiday Woodlands Preserve, the stillness broken only by birdsong and the occasional owl call.
“I need to just come out and sit and close my eyes,” said Jenny Fretland VanVoorst. “There’s so much you can hear just by turning off your other senses.”
The 80-acre property in East Bay Township recently was purchased and protected from logging and development by a small group of Holiday Hills neighbors who rallied others around the cause. Now the group is hoping to spread the word that the property between Holiday and Prouty roads just east of Five Mile Road is open to the public for quiet recreation, including dog-walking, bird-watching, hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
“Our hope is to get people out to the property and they’ll tell other people and they’ll tell other people,” said VanVoorst, a Holiday Hills resident who handles public relations for the group.
The preserve — originally part of the Prouty farm — has for years been used by residents of Holiday Hills, a neighborhood of about 250 homes near the Mount Holiday ski hill, within walking distance of the preserve. But plans by different developers threatened to change all that.
The last called for a development of 90 homes, which would have meant cutting down 90 percent of the forest to bring in utilities and razing or grading many of the hills, said Holiday Hills resident Jim Lamond.
That’s when a group of 11 neighbors — which grew to 13 — decided to save the property once and for all. They raised enough money for a 20 percent down payment on its purchase through donations of $20-$5,000 and a private loan.
“There’s so much growth on this side of town it seems important to lock down some of it for nature,” VanVoorst said.
Initially Chemical Bank wanted $325,000 for the property but the price was negotiated down to $165,000, said Lamond, now chairman for the preserve.
After the bank merged with another, it looked as if negotiations would have to start over. But thanks to a paper trail showing the agreed-upon cost, the original terms were finally honored.
The preserve features five environmental areas, including forest, sand dunes, meadow, wetlands and headwaters for Baker Creek, a Michigan "Designated Trout Stream" farther down, Lamond said. It supports a wide variety of wildlife, from birds and turkey to fox and deer.
Two main trails that cross pass through hardwoods and evergreens, including beech, hemlock, poplar and oak.
Lamond said plans include working with an Audubon club to catalogue the property’s bird species.
“We also want to get an arborist out here to look at what we’ve got and come up with a (management) plan,” he said.
Other plans include installing a sign at the Five Mile access, where limited parking will be available, adding directional signs and a trail map, cutting a few new trails or loops to give visitors access to other parts of the preserve, and perhaps building a bench or two from downed logs.
Otherwise the property will be maintained in its natural state.
“The idea is to keep it and use it the way it was,” said Sue Lamond, treasurer for the preserve.
For now the fundraising effort has been focused on immediate neighbors in Holiday Hills. But with its new 501(c)(3) status the nonprofit is mounting a community campaign to raise the remaining funds to pay back it’s five-year loan, make mortgage payments, and cover insurance and property improvements. It also plans to hold small fundraisers and to seek volunteers for work bees or "cleaning parties."
“It’s not just for us,” Jim Lamond said. “It’s for future generations.”