Saving precious lands
Land conservancy tops 10,000 acres while helping private land owners and municipalities protect lands and waters in perpetuity.
By Howard Meyerson

When Joe Engel’s office phone rings these days, chances are he is getting a call from someone looking to protect their land. They may have wooded acres, riverfront property, lake frontage and wetlands or something else, land they value deeply and never want developed.

Engel is the executive director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan (, a 40-year-old nonprofit that announced in January that it achieved a goal it established years ago — the protection of 10,000 acres of land in West Michigan. An astonishing figure and they are far from done. 

Those properties total 10,600 acres. They include 16 public nature preserves, 108 conservation easements on private property, and 12 government partnerships with municipalities, counties and townships that provide permanent protection for public natural spaces like parks. The organization, which works in an eight-county area, also launched a campaign to raise $1.5 million to protect interspersed private parcels totaling 10 miles of river frontage along the Pere Marquette River, a world renown trout stream, 66 miles of which is federally designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. 

Pigeon River

“There is a lot of pressure on land everywhere in the country now that we have a population that has grown from 200 million to 320 million since our 200-year anniversary,” said Engel, an attorney who left his law firm last year to become the conservancy’s director after years on its board of directors.

“We will get a call from someone who says, ‘My aunt Judy protected 160 acres on the Muskegon River five years ago, and I have a piece of that land I don’t ever want developed. Can you help?’ I say ‘Yes. I’ll come, and we’ll have a cup of coffee and talk about that.’ Our goal is to preserve natural landscapes that ideally reflect West Michigan.”

The conservancy helps private land owners achieve their goal by establishing a conservation easement on their property. In many cases, that results in substantial tax benefits and, in some cases, being paid for the diminished value of the property. See the current issue for complete story.

Howard Meyerson is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of Michigan BLUE Magazine.