For generations, Midwesterners have retreated to the Arcadia Dunes preserve – an oasis along Lake Michigan – to connect with nature, climb the sand peaks and take in the enormity of America’s third-largest lake.
The 3,600-acre property, also known as the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve, offers public access to one of the largest remaining natural areas along Lake Michigan. There, visitors can partake in some of the Midwest’s best opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, birding and snowshoeing.
Back in 2003, the property’s owners planned to develop the land into a golf-course community with hundreds of homes and condominiums.
“That would have had a domino effect,” said Glen Chown, longtime executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, which owns and manages the property. “The development would have led to hundreds of additional homes nearby. Farming would have most likely been pushed out. There would be no public access anywhere.”
The conservancy led a massive campaign to raise more than $30 million to acquire Arcadia Dunes and secure conservation easements on other nearby properties. People rallied to the cause.
Through a combination of gifts large and small, the conservancy and its conservation partners raised nearly all of the required funds. To close the last gap, the conservancy applied for and in 2006 was awarded a $500,000 grant from Acres for America, a collaboration between Walmart and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“The Acres for America grant helped us at a time when we had pretty much exhausted every opportunity,” Chown said. “Acres was our closer.”
Acres for America began in 2005, when Walmart made its first commitment of $35 million to purchase and preserve one acre of wildlife habitat in the United States for every acre of land developed by the company – approximately 100,000 acres as of today. The Arcadia Dunes project was one of the program’s earliest grants.
Ten years after the Arcadia Dunes grant was awarded, Acres for America has far surpassed its original goal with more than 1 million acres protected – an area comparable in size to Grand Canyon National Park. In November 2015, Walmart and NFWF announced a 10-year, $35 million renewal of the program.
By offsetting the land Walmart needs to operate with far more valuable land – both to wildlife and to people – the Acres for America program is making a real difference in the quality of life for local communities across the nation.
The preservation of places such as Arcadia Dunes show why Acres for America has become one of the most successful public-private conservation efforts in American history.