Renewal in a land of 13 springs

Land trusts working in the Great Lakes basin understand that protecting fresh water means protecting the land. Here is one more way they are helping keep the Great Lakes great.

By Laura Eklov June 8, 2021

Land trusts working in the Great Lakes basin understand that protecting fresh water means protecting the land. Here is one more way they are helping keep the Great Lakes great.
In Van Buren County, Michigan, there is a little-known land of springs, hidden seeps and gushers that are eternally transparent and cold. The springs lured owner Jerry Portman to this 188-acre Lime Lake property in the 1980s as a quiet place to hunt and fish. While studying the site’s flora in 2008 with an award from Defenders of Wildlife, the accredited Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy chose this biodiversity-rich area as a conservation priority. The organization leveraged an impressive network of federal, state and local partners to create Port-man Nature Preserve. Publicly accessible since 2017, the preserve boasts a large parking lot to accommodate buses from a local school district that uses Portman as a K-5 outdoor classroom. The preserve may feature a barrier-free loop trail in the future.

Portman Nature Preserve protects 13 springs in southwest Michigan, including one that locals call the “Blue Hole.” It features frontage on three undeveloped lakes, eight natural habitat types and 447 plant species. As part of the Paw Paw River headwaters, Portman is essential to providing clean, abundant water to the local watershed region and Lake Michigan.”

“Botanists say this site has the best opportunity for restoration of any they’ve seen in southwest Michigan,” says SWMLC Stewardship Director Mitch Lettow. “Usually, it’s about what species we have to bring in to make a place whole. With the Portman property, they’re all here. We just need to revive them.”

“Portman truly is the community’s preserve. We never could have taken on a project as large and complex as this one without the time, money, soul and expertise of so many caring people,” he says.

The community is fully engaged in protecting its special place. Mattawan Later Elementary School students raised money to build a science observation deck. Local winery Cody Kresta is dedicating profits to fund stewardship. Over 350 community donors, catalyzed by a $75,000 matching grant from The Carls Foundation, raised $500,000 of the $2.3 million needed to create and maintain this preserve. This amplified larger contributions from energy company Enbridge’s mitigation funding through The Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Program and the USDA Forest Service Community Forest Program.

Learn more at www.swmlc.org/project/portman-nature-preserve. Don’t miss out on the other ways land trusts are making a difference. Click here to read other reports from the Great Lakes basin.