Initiative focused on preservation of Tower Hill Camp

Published 9:22 am Thursday, October 29, 2015

Submitted photo

Submitted photo

SAWYER, Mich. — Deer Creek Open Space Association Chikaming Open Lands and Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy have partnered to place a conservation easement on 32 acres of high-quality forest that is a part of the Tower Hill Camp in Sawyer.

More than 300 neighbors and community members participated in the Save the Woods Campaign, which was kicked off in the summer of 2013 to raise the funds needed to complete the purchase of the property and protect the open space in perpetuity.

Nested near the dunes along the lakefront, the woodland boasts upland forest dominated by red oak, maple and beech trees, and lowland forest featuring tulip poplars and paw paw trees. It is also part of an open space corridor stretching from Warren Dunes State Park to Cherry Beach Road, including COL’s recently acquired Jens Jensen Preserve, located just to the south of Tower Hill.

These corridors provide uninterrupted canopy for migratory bird flyways, allowing natural habitat for the birds to rest and feed during their journeys up and down the lakeshore in the spring and fall.

This past August, DCOSA successfully raised the necessary funds to purchase the conservation easement on the property, which is held by COL. Upon the launch of the fundraising campaign in July 2013, COL stepped forward as the lead donor on the project, pledging $125,000. DCOSA’s Save the Woods campaign raised more than $530,000 from individual donors and grants from The Carls Foundation, Upton Foundation, Berrien Community Foundation, Donnelley Foundation and Heart of Cook.

“This has been a great opportunity to protect a large wooded parcel near Lake Michigan and to help our friends at the Tower Hill Camp,” said DCOSA president Bob Beemer. “The community has been very supportive and we appreciate our partnership with COL and SWMLC…. with a conservation easement in place now, the Tower Hill Camp woods and trails will remain a natural woodland forever.”

The Tower Hill Camp is owned by the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ. The 60-acre summer camp has been providing nature experiences for youth and families for 90 years. The land on which the camp is located was donated in 1923 by the E.K. Warren estate, whose generosity also created Warren Dunes State Park and Warren Woods State Park. The conservation easement is on the southern 32-acre natural area of the camp. Tower Hill Camp, DCOSA and COL are dedicated to maintaining the forest at Tower Hill Camp as an outdoor sanctuary in perpetuity.

In 2006, DCOSA approached the Illinois Conference with the idea of protecting the property.

“We promoted the idea of a conservation easement to raise funds for the Tower Hill Camp, and to preserve an important part of their facility, this amazing back-dune woodland,” Beemer said.

After several years of meetings with the Conference board, they decided to move forward with DCOSA’s plan, at which point DCOSA reached out to SWMLC and COL for additional assistance and support.

“The Illinois Conference and the Outdoor Ministry is deeply grateful to DCOSA and COL for their generosity and great work,” said Illinois Conference minister Rev. Dr. Jorge L. Morales. “This will be a part of the legacy we leave — future generations; children; and people of all ages and races will benefit from this act of love.”

Chikaming Open Lands is the local land conservancy dedicated to preserving the open spaces and natural rural character of southwest Berrien County. COL works to protect and restore native plant and animal habitat, improve water quality, and permanently preserve ecologically significant forests, prairies and wetlands, as well as prime farmland and other open spaces in this area. COL serves nine townships in southwest Berrien County, and has been instrumental in preserving 1,605 acres of open space since its founding in 1999.

Deer Creek Open Space Association is a land conservancy organized to protect open land through property donations, conservation easements, and property purchases. Its secondary goal is to promote an appreciation and understanding of the distinctive character of our natural environment in Southwest Michigan.