Stories of Support

Timeless Landscape, Perpetual Care

August 14, 2018

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation Provides Major Stewardship Gift for Arcadia Dunes


Though many years have passed, Bill White still vividly recalls the stroll he and his late wife took along the beach underneath the towering sand dunes in Arcadia on a beautiful summer day.

White, longtime Chairman of the Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, took the walk in 2001 as his foundation weighed a substantial lead gift to GTRLC for preservation of what is now known as Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve.

For more than 75 years up to that point, the Mott Foundation had given generously to scores of great causes in Flint and far beyond, enriching countless lives through a wide variety of charitable efforts. But the Foundation at that time had done very few land protection projects, so GTRLC’s request wasn’t a sure thing.

Glen Chown and Bill White

It was Bill’s late wife, Claire – granddaughter of C.S. Mott himself – who impressed upon Bill the enormous opportunity that presented itself. Here was a chance to forever protect one of Michigan’s signature landscapes – a chance that doesn’t come along all too often.

“She said to me, ‘Well, you’re always going to have requests from this organization or that, and while those are important, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to save something like this for all time,” he said. “This is a major legacy.”

The 3,600-acre Arcadia Dunes preserve exists today only because of Mott’s lead commitment and the hundreds of local supporters who rallied to the cause during the Coastal Campaign, which also protected the fabulous Green Point Dunes and the Betsie Dunes preserve further north.

Now, as part of the Campaign for Generations, the Mott Foundation has provided $4.5 million for a stewardship endowment to ensure that Arcadia Dunes remains beautiful for many years to come.

“The maintenance aspect is vital. Just buying property and not being able to maintain it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” White said. “If we’re going to really preserve land for future generations, we have to keep it beautiful, useable and available.”

GTRLC Executive Director Glen Chown is “enormously grateful” for Mott’s gift to the Campaign for Generations.

“What a wonderful way for the Mott Foundation to reinforce and strengthen its commitment to permanently protecting this special place,” he said. “We are thrilled with this gift, which will allow us to give this tremendous and diverse property the care it deserves for generations to come.”

Sam Passmore, who directs the Mott Foundation’s environmental program, said the Foundation is proud to have played a role in saving Arcadia Dunes. The diverse project protected a wide variety of landscapes beyond the stunning beachfront and resulted in several thousand acres of protected, working farmland.

“It’s really easy to understand the value and reasons to protect that property when you’re standing on the beach or you’re looking at the dunes from a distance, but what I don’t think we fully understood at the time was what a valuable opportunity it was to protect all the parts of the property off the beach – the grasslands, the farmland, the forest,” he said. “It has tremendous conservation value, and it’s a great model for what can be done throughout the fruit belt of west Michigan.”

The Mott Foundation has always put a premium on long-term vision, particularly in terms of building the capacities of the organizations it supports. It has regularly given GTRLC operations grants in the years since the Coastal Campaign, in part to ensure proper stewardship of Arcadia Dunes.

“The endowment gift was another, larger expression of that desire to make sure that what we helped the Conservancy do (in the Coastal Campaign) would be taken care of well into the future,” Passmore said. “We want the organization to be strong and enduring, and we want the organization’s commitment to that property to be strong and enduring.”

GTRLC’s stewardship tasks on any given property are significant, but perhaps no property is as demanding as Arcadia Dunes, in part because of its sheer size, length of trail and diversity of habitats. White said the Foundation understands the importance – and urgency – of balancing public use with protection of valuable natural features.

“Increasingly, every place and every ecosystem you look … is facing pressure. As we all know, there’s pressure on Torch Lake, Lake Michigan, there’s pressure on all of these beautiful spots,” White said. “We’ve got to figure out how to accommodate the demands of people who are currently enjoying these places, but also maintain these places for their grandkids. And that’s pretty important. This is one of the few things where you can’t afford to kick the can down the road.”

White also hopes that facilitating the excellent care of Arcadia Dunes will advance GTRLC’s land protection efforts throughout the region.

“(Stewardship) is an important part of the mission. If parks and preserves are available and accessible to people, and are well maintained, that’s really the best way to increase your work and acquire other pieces of property,” he said. “If people see a great job is being done, and really enjoy it, they might be more inclined to provide more money or support.”

Mott’s stewardship gift was the latest in a relationship with GTRLC that dates back to Mott’s very first land protection grant, which helped create the Antrim Creek Natural Area in 1995. Passmore and White said GTRLC has shown a demonstrable ability to deliver on promises, building Mott’s confidence in GTRLC.

“It’s great enthusiastic leadership, and not just leadership, but leadership with a vision and a proven ability to get results and implement the vision,” White said.

“Part of our theory of change is that if we want to protect or restore a resource, there needs to be strong and enduring organizations whose mission it is to protect or restore the resource,” Passmore said. “The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is one of those organizations we’ve identified as being key in order for natural resources to be protected over time.”

In addition to its generous stewardship gift, the Mott Foundation also provided $500,000 for a Universal Access (UA) trails at Arcadia Marsh and Arcadia Dunes. For more on that and GTRLC’s other UA efforts, see the story on page 22.

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