Couple Conserves Treasured Tree Farm

On perhaps the coldest day of December 2016, Sally Hightower rushed out without a jacket to welcome staff members of Little Forks Conservancy to the Twisted Oak Tree Farm. Before going inside the house she shares with her wife, Linda Caldwell, Sally led us to one of her favorite spots – a high ridge overlooking the Tittabawassee River.

Sally had made the decision to purchase her 37.5 acre property after standing in almost that exact same spot in 1979.

Sally hadn’t been looking for this beautiful property with acres of forest and 600 feet of the West Branch of the Tittabawassee River. She said, “I was looking for ten acres on a trout stream. When I stood on this ridge and looked down at the river, I had this feeling of peace come over me. I knew this was where I was supposed to be.”

On that brisk December morning, she brought our staff back to that spot before signing a conservation easement with Little Forks Conservancy.

“Conservation easements are permanent legal agreements that are tailored for each property,” said Elan Lipschitz, Little Forks’ director of land conservation, said. “The agreement will vary based on the property and the landowner’s goals for conserving their land.”

A Chicago city kid with a love of nature, Sally’s teaching career brought her to Michigan. “There was a reason I was sent places,” she said. After starting her teaching career in the Appalachian Mountains, Sally moved to Clare and then was offered a position in Gladwin.

Sally recalled, “A couple years later, I found this place and said, ‘This is it.’”
Shortly after purchasing the land, Sally was approached by Dow Corning Corporation. She said, “They had a wood-burning generator, and they wanted to take the poplar and the birch off the property.” The Dow Corning forester contacted her about the property, and also introduced her to the American Tree Farm System certification program.

Since purchasing the property, Sally has devoted herself to learning about forest management and caring for the tree farm. “I had to learn. I was a city kid, but you read and you ask people questions. You find out and you educate yourself. Being a teacher, that’s what we do.”

Sally took the same approach when considering a conservation easement for her land. She said, “Elan has answered a whole lot of questions of mine.” She also consulted Dave Spencer, Kernie Gilliam, and Dick Shellenbarger and Bill Shellenbarger, who have worked with Little Forks to conserve their properties.

“They’re on a different river system, but we all go into the Tittabawassee River, and on down to the Saginaw River and out to the Bay,” Sally said. “Through them, it got me thinking. I thought about it for years.”

Elan has worked with Sally since she first contacted Little Forks. He explained that it’s common for landowners to carefully consider what a conservation easement means for them, their family, and their land. He said, “We work closely with each of our landowners to make sure the agreement reflects their vision for the future of the land they love.”

Sally said the process “gives you the time to really think through every step. It’s not cut-and-dried; you’ve got to do the whole thing at once. It gives you the time to make those decisions.”

Sally now hopes that she can help other people considering conserving their land. She said, “I want to be the seed in this area to start and say, ‘This is what I’ve done. You could do something similar with your property. You still have control over it, but you can keep what you like about it.’”

To learn more about conservation easements, click here or contact our office at 989.835.4886.

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