Wawatam Township, Emmet County
an assist project between Emmet County &
the Little Traverse Conservancy
(from Summer 1996 newsletter)
Here’s the good news: the Little Traverse Conservancy now holds a conservation easement permanently protecting the Headlands, a 600-acre wooded area with about two miles of frontage on the Straits of Mackinac. Here’s some even better news: the land now belongs to Emmet County, which will operate the area as a public park.
The property was acquired from the Chauncy and Marion Deering McCormick Foundation of Chicago through a $3.375 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and a generous gift of $200,000 from the HCS Foundation, a Cleveland-based charitable fund established by the late industrialist Harold C. Schott. With this funding in place, the McCormick Foundation then contributed over $1.3 million in property value to complete the transaction.
In a series of transactions which indicate the complexity of the acquisition, the property was purchased by the Village of Mackinaw City, which gave the conservation easement to the Conservancy and then transferred the property to Emmet County. The Village Council in Mackinaw City had initially applied for funding to purchase the Headlands, but later concluded that the property would best be managed as a county park. The Emmet County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed, and with the help of the Natural Resources Trust Fund staff and approval of its board, the arrangement was complete.
“This is an outstanding example of partnerships at work,” said Conservancy executive director Tom Bailey. “The Village of Mackinaw City did a very courageous thing in taking on a $5 million project, and a variety of people and groups emerged along the way to make it happen.”
Bailey thanked the DNR’s Natural Resources Trust Fund program, which made the Headlands its top priority in the 1994 funding cycle. He also thanked the DNR Real Estate Division staff, which cleared the way for the Headlands to become the first project in Michigan history which involves a partnership of the Trust Fund’s financial resources, a local unit of government’s ownership, and a non-profit land conservancy’s conservation easement. This has allowed protection of a significant property while ensuring its continuing availability for public recreation.
A key to the successful completion of the project was the grant from the HCS Foundation. As Bailey recalls, “everyone involved with the Headlands knew that we had to have someone step forward with substantial funding to reassure the McCormick Foundation that the community really wanted the land and would support the creation of a park.” A large-scale public fund raising campaign was out of the question due to a number of factors, so the Conservancy sought help from HCS, which had previously expressed interest in the Conservancy.
SOME FACTS ABOUT THE HEADLANDS:
THE PROPERTY: Approximately 600 acres with 12,000 feet of rocky frontage on the Straits of Mackinac. Encompasses a good variety of forest types, according to Edward Voss of the University of Michigan Herbarium: mature upland hardwoods, upland conifers, swamp hardwoods, swamp conifer, mixed upland conifer/hardwoods and mixed swamp conifer/hardwoods. Plant communities are relatively undisturbed with some weed invasion along a gas pipeline that traverses the east side of the property. There is also one bog lake which is a fine example of this type of ecosystem.
ECOLOGICAL VALUE: The property represents the largest and least disturbed forest tract in the Mackinaw City vicinity. Its plant communities include a great deal of variety, and the lack of major disturbance over the years has allowed it to remain relatively intact. The property is a very important resting stop and staging area for birds migrating across the Straits of Mackinac. Raptors and neotropical birds alike make use of the Headlands in their migrational movements. The property hosts the endangered Dwarf Lake Iris and is thought to include the threatened Lake Huron Tansy and Pitcher’s Thistle.
BUILDINGS: There are two buildings on the site: one known as the Pool House which Roger McCormick intended as a small outbuilding of his estate and which serves the in-ground pool.The basement of the Pool House has been converted into an apartment where the current caretaker lives. The Guest House is another structure, which houses people for meetings, conferences, and retreats. The garage of the Guest House was used for laboratory work in connection with an American Indian medical school preparation course which was offered onsite until the mid 1990s.
RECREATION: The principal value of the property to the community is for recreation. Cross-country skiing, hiking, birdwatching, mountain biking could all be offered along with picnicking. Its proximity to the straits is critical and, it should be noted, it will be possible to travel from the Headlands to Wilderness State Park entirely on public land with only three road crossings.
OWNERSHIP: The County of Emmet owns the land and will operate it as a public park. A conservation easement held by the Little Traverse Conservancy will help to assure that the property is not excessively developed and that it will remain available for public recreation.
Year protected: 1996
Total acreage today: 600 acres
Total shoreline: 2 miles Lake Michigan/Straits of Mackinac
(Note:a half-acre addition to the property was donated by Richard and Nancy Turchi in 2005)
link to more photos and maps