Maplehurst Natural Area Opens To Public
By Beth Milligan | Jan. 2, 2019
Nearly 400 acres of once-private land are opening to the public for the first time in over a half-century, offering access to 150 acres of hardwood forested bluffs, rolling meadows, cherry orchards, a 60-acre lake, and picturesque views of Torch Lake, Elk Lake, and Grand Traverse Bay.
The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) officially transferred the Maplehurst Natural Area property to Milton Township Friday after successfully reaching the organization’s fundraising goal to cover the estimated $3.9 million cost of the land. With the transfer complete, the park is immediately opening to residents and will remain dedicated for public use in perpetuity going forward.
“We are extremely excited to preserve Maplehurst, and to leave its almost 400 acres unspoiled is monumental,” says Milton Township Treasurer and Parks & Recreation Committee member Liz Atkinson. “We recognize the importance in preserving what is special about our region for future generations, with the added bonus of supporting the economic health of our community.”
The project was several years in the making, with township officials and GTRLC partnering to acquire the former Camp Maplehurst property after the popular summer camp closed its doors in 2011. The camp had operated on the site since 1955. When the property hit the market, it drew attention from multiple potential buyers – including builders and developers. Milton Township approached GTRLC to ask for help in acquiring the land – one of the largest intact and undeveloped parcels still remaining near Torch Lake – to protect it for public use. “A project of this size would have been impossible for us to handle on our own,” Atkinson says.
GTRLC assisted Milton Township in applying for a $1.9 million Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant to cover 70 percent of the $2.8 million cost of the property, a request that was approved by the state in 2016. The conservancy also agreed to fundraise the remaining 30 percent local match and to cover costs for improving the property and creating an endowment for its maintenance – bringing the project total to $3.9 million. In order to immediately buy the property before it could be snapped up by someone else while waiting for the grant funds to come through, GTRLC donors Don and Jerry Oleson loaned the organization $2.8 million to buy the land. GTRLC had until the end of 2018 – approximately two years – to raise the nearly $2 million needed to cover the part of the project not paid for by the grant.
In December, GTRLC hit its fundraising goal – a milestone Executive Director Glen Chown credits community members and supporters for helping achieve. “We are beyond thrilled to complete the protection of such an important and exciting project,” he says. “I can’t say enough thanks to the hundreds of donors who supported this project and helped us get it to the finish line.”
While fundraising the last two years, GTRLC has overseen the demolition or relocation of 30 former camp buildings on the property to transform the site into a natural area. The organization also coordinated several clean-up and remediation projects, and held a series of public hikes to spur interest in donating to and protecting the property. A $100,000 endowment was established through the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation to provide for ongoing maintenance at the site.
With the property now open to the public, GTRLC will help to oversee Maplehurst as Miltown Township develops a long-term management plan for the site. Officials plan to explore recreational opportunities at the natural area, including starting construction on a planned six miles of new hiking and biking trails in the spring. Other improvements could also be on the horizon to encourage more recreational usage, says Township Parks & Recreation Committee Bob Kingon, who adds the public will have a say in what happens at the property. “Input of the township residents will be included as we move forward,” he says.