Crawford Conservation Easement


by G. Crawford

Many of you have probably wondered over the years what a conservation easement is. Well, when my wife Marlynne and I were looking for a new piece of property we wondered why this piece, our new piece of property could be sliced up as much as it was. My hope is to help answer the question ‘What is a Conservation Easement?’ It will be a long story.

When I was a little boy, I would ride my bike out of town down a dirt road 3 miles or so to Grandma and Grandpa’s house (see photo). I was raised in a small town of around 3,000 people. The farm, around 360 acres, was my Grandparents and was founded by the Crawford family in the early 1830’s and to this day remains in the family. I am about eight generations off the farm there. My mission was to mow the grass for my Grandparents and check out the tractors and cows on the farm. My uncle was running the farm as a self-sustaining dairy farm. He had somewhere around 30-40 milking cows, bulls and 300 acres or so to grow the feed for the cows. I remember large fields of corn and hay. There were times I rode the tractor fender to get hay and other times just watched my cousin and uncle milk the cows. In the fall there was filling the silos and corn crib. After milking there was going up the silos and pitching the silage down the tube to feed the cattle. Now let that settle in for a while….

Now, the Grandparents with the dairy farm were on my Dad’s side. This scenario will be the complete opposite. My mother’s Grandparents (see photo) had a farm as well. I did not get there very often. I remember it being around a section…. 500 acres or so. Now, my Mom’s cousin inherited it and sold it soon after that to some developers. It was all divided up into small parcels and had what I call ‘copycat’ homes built on to fill the whole area. 

Well, when are you going to get on with it…. OK… Now… Marlynne and I first bought property in Oscoda county in 1991. We purchased a cabin on the Au Sable River. We had over 700 feet on the river and a good view from the front window. The property was under the ‘natural rivers act’. The cabin was built to the best of our knowledge back in the 60’s. It was about 65 feet off the river’s edge at the time when we bought it. The cabin sat on a parcel of about 23 acres. The property went back off the river about 2000 feet. Some of the property in the back was cedar swamp. I was told it was good deer hunting. This was a great setting for a sportsman. Fishing right out your front door. Sad to say it was not a setting for retirement. In the winter there was nearly 5 miles of road to plow to meet the county plow, the potential of trees falling across the road, and a very steep driveway. And another 5 miles or so to town. So, we were looking for a different piece of property to settle on.

Now, I am not new to the Mio area. My Dad used to hunt in Hillman and Buckley. I remember as many of you the opening of the trees coming south coming out of Atlanta on M-33. Coming straight south on the flat part of the road and looking out at the upcoming hill, the split in the tree grows as the road traverses through. I have never lost the view of nature 60 plus years later…

Driving back and forth to Mio from our home on the river we watched this house being built on the top of a hill. Wow what a view they must have from up there! Oh, what about the wind? The exposure? After a year or two, there was a for sale sign out front with a phone number. Uh-oh…we called it and made an appointment.

When we met with the owners, they gave us a survey of the property and it showed how it was divided into about nine parcels. This was from a piece of land that was around 80 acres. The parcels were about 5–15-acre pieces. We went ahead and bought four pieces that would form a long piece of property with a tail on one end forming an “L”. There were flat and wet areas as well as some hills. We looked it over some more and returned to the owner a couple of weeks later. We wanted to buy some more, but the owners decided to take the balance of the property off the market. To the east of these four pieces, we looked at another 10-acre parcel. It had a higher elevation adjoining the long end of the “L”. Took some time but we bought that ten acres. Now we had a piece of property that had a great view to the west across all our land. A great setting for a house. A front yard about 2000 feet long and 500 feet wide on the long part of the ‘L’. We ended up getting started with putting a pole barn on the most recent purchase, the 10-acre parcel. We were now looking at selling the river property and building a new house here.

After a year or so, the pole barn was pretty much done. We had upset our neighbors who owned the 10-acre parcel to the east. It was their ‘dream property’ and the construction of the pole barn, we were told, pretty much ruined their view, maybe. So, they thought they should move on so we added another 10 to the roughly 50 acres now.

So, about this time the first people we had bought property from thought they would put what they had taken off the market back on and asked us if we wanted to buy some more. I said sure for I hadn’t started the new house and really didn’t want to go through that again seeing I had just built one. I made the folks an offer of all the left-over property and the house. An all or nothing offer. For I was not going to buy a couple of lots and wait for more. The house had to come with it as well for then I did not have to build another. There was one parcel that had been sold out of the 80 acres and we were willing to live with that. We thought that maybe someday we could pick it up and we did sometime later. The folks had just built the house and thought I was throwing them out of their new house. Well, I said, you called me. I then told them I would rent it back to them for we still had the house on the river. It all worked out. We were on the way of putting the 80 acres and more that had been all split up back together. Now we owned two houses, but that would work itself out.

Now, I have mostly talked about land to this point. The most important thing is to keep the land together and preserve it for the generations to enjoy. Do not misuse or abuse it. Secure a conservation easement.

Wildlife one might think would take care of itself if you take care of the land. I would say indeed it should and that is a step in the right direction. We have various kinds/types of wildlife. We have enjoyed them all one way or another. The white-tailed deer, red and grey fox, rabbit, coyote, opossum, badger, groundhog, hog nose snake and garter snake. Many birds large and small. Bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, harrier, kestrel, cooper’s hawk and sharp-shinned hawk. Many songs birds like mourning dove, bluebirds, blue jays, evening and rose-breasted grosbeak, chickadees, Baltimore oriole, goldfinches, barn and tree swallows, sparrows, pine siskins, downy, hairy, pileated, red-headed, red-bellied, woodpeckers and flicker. Some game birds like the turkey, pheasant and woodcock. Just about every year we have had a pair of kestrels and sandhill cranes nest here in the late spring. They have, on most occasions, had offspring. The list goes on. Marlynne has logged a number of the animals, mostly birds in a log composed of 3 by 5 cards in a small wooden box. The date is logged when they arrive in the spring. There weren’t any birds here when we came. There were no trees up on top of the hill here for them to perch in.

So, I joined the bird club. Learned how and what bird nesting boxes to build and put up bird feeders. The birds came in droves. Must have told their friends. I also built a kestrel nesting box 20 feet up on a pole. The kestrels come almost every year and produce 1-2 offspring on a consistent basis. Also built a 3-foot square platform nearly 20 feet in the air to load with meat scraps to feed the raptors. Last and not least, we have grazed cattle here. I have had as many as 60 heads. Sometimes heifers with their newly born babies. This is where I have discovered most of the snakes walking the complete farmland moving the cattle.

I also made a wooden adapter that allows you to mount a bird box on the top of a ‘tee’ post that we use for cattle fencing. You can mount a bluebird box on the top just like the bluebird is looking for. Blue birds in the past used the hollowed out top of the old wooden fence post for their nest. This makes it just like ‘old home week’. The adapter mounts to the ‘tee post’ with a couple of hose clamps and you mount the box right to it. Years ago, the population of the bluebird was falling off. They have made a great comeback due to conservation efforts.

There is another feeder that I have made for woodpeckers. I took a wooden cedar fence post 6-7 foot long. Hollowed out the center for a foot or so at the top. Drilled a one-inch hole in the side at the bottom of the hollowed-out part. Put some hardware cloth on the side to cover the hole. And now the woodpeckers can get on the side of the pole and feed on the seeds in a natural state. Very interesting watching the woodpeckers in how they handle the seeds.

There are a couple of things that I would like to mention about conservation before I close. We have a plot of about 5 acres or so of red pine. We have been approached a few times over the years by loggers for them. There is a practice of thinning out trees for promoting the growth. We have declined both efforts of clear cutting and thinning out the trees. We wish to maintain this plot of trees for both the conservation effort and the sound and sight barrier of the state highway.  

Next, we have installed what I call a solar generator. The purpose is to try to lower the so-called carbon footprint from the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity. It has only been in operation for about 6 of the worst solar production months of the year (fall to spring). We have been able to reduce our electric bill from 50 to 75 percent for a couple of months where we have had a good amount of sunshine. Now you ask when will it pay for itself? My response is never. Also, we have a huge problem with the disposal of plastic in the world. A good quality solar panel has a life expectancy of about 25 years. Think what our landfills will look like 20 to 25 years from now when all these solar panels, 90 plus percent plastic, need to be turned over.

Enjoy your land. Preserve your land. Live with the animals that occupy it. They were here first. Enjoy their presence. We are responsible for our land. Be responsible. My definition of a Land Conservancy.

Support my cause….

This permanently endowed fund was established in memory of former Crawford County Sheriff Kirk Alan Wakefield. Scholarships from this fund will be used to support Crawford County graduates (current or former students) who will study in the Criminal Justice Program and the Kirtland Regional Police Academy at Kirtland Community College.

“Enjoy your land. Preserve your land. Live with the animals that occupy it, they were here first. Enjoy their presence. We are responsible for OUR land. Be Responsible.”

Gerry Crawford