Leonard Nature Preserve
Have you heard? There’s a new nature preserve in town!
Just northwest of the village limits, the 237-acre Leonard Preserve is located within walking distance of downtown
The Leonard Preserve is the largest natural area under the guidance and control of the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission, acquired through its Natural Areas Preservation Program (NAPP). NAPP funds are used to acquire unique natural areas to ensure their preservation for the benefit of all county residents. NAPP was established in 2000 by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners through the passage of Natural Areas Ordinance No. 128. The county-wide ¼ mill tax (millage) that funds the program was approved by a majority vote in the November 2000 election. This millage will generate approximately $27.5 million during the 2002-2011 period.
On a wintry walk in 2002, the County identified the 245-acre property of Frank Leonard as a very high priority for acquisition due to its ecological value: nearly a mile of River Raisin shoreline, rolling hills, woodlands, wetlands, and former pasture land. In addition to the land, there was a farmhouse with outbuildings that had been unoccupied for a number of years. However, the owner of the property wanted to sell the property as one piece or not at all. At the time, the acquisition of the land seemed unlikely, as NAPP funds cannot be used to purchase the buildings, nor maintain them.
Later, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) approached the county with a plan to acquire the property. TNC had begun an initiative to protect the headwaters of the River Raisin and saw an opportunity for collaboration. The plan called for a simultaneous purchase with TNC purchasing a 40-acre portion of the property with the buildings, while the County would purchase the remaining property. In 2004, the purchase was made, and subsequently, TNC sold the smaller property (with a conservation easement) with buildings to a family that now lives there and raises horses.
In 2005, an additional 32 acres along the southern boundary were purchased from the Beaudoin family. This addition slopes to the west, providing lovely scenic views of the western skyline and bringing the total acreage to 237.
In terms of restoration efforts, the county has many projects that are ongoing. These include a riparian (water’s edge) forest planting, a prairie planting, and three prescribed burns (two in the prairie and one in the woods along the river). This past winter, work crews spent many hours removing invasive plant species such as autumn olive. Also in collaboration with TNC, an extensive survey of ecosystems and native plants is being planned.
Today, visitors can hike the trails and explore old railroad tracks and embankments. Other activities include bird watching, fishing and cross county skiing in winter. The site offers a wonderful opportunity to see wildlife such as deer and wild turkey. So come on out, and enjoy some time in a natural and beautiful place…
To learn more about the Leonard Preserve and other NAPP preserves, please visit the Washtenaw County Parks website : parks.ewashtenaw.org Or contact Shawn Severance, Parks Naturalist, at (734) 971-6337 x 327.
Rich Bailey is a resident of