“For as long as we can remember we have been coming to this area to be with family,” said siblings, David Mattern and Laurie Smith.
“From a very early age we were taught that this Hickory Hill land was ours to care about and care for, to enjoy and share with family and friends and then to pass along to the next generation. We are the fourth generation, beginning with our great-grandfather, to have stewardship of this property, but it turns out that, since we have no children, there will be no next generation in our family. With the Conservancy we can still keep our family tradition alive and make sure what we love about this place is available to another generation.”
Thus, their decision was made to donate a permanent conservation easement on 528 acres of land in Clare County. The family roots go back to the 1870’s, when their grandfather, prominent mid-Michigan entrepreneur Josiah Littlefield established a lumber company and mill in the area. For generations, this parcel has been used for family recreation, and the only buildings on the land are a small cabin and some associated outbuildings. Immediately abutting the 252-acre Central Michigan University Neithercut Woodland, the nearly 100 percent wooded parcel includes 17-acre Russell Lake and will be called the Hickory Hill Conservation Easement.
Laurie said, “Wandering the Hickory Hill woods and glades with my father or grandmother, I learned to pay attention to and appreciate the natural world. The scent of bruised sweet fern, the taste of a wintergreen berry, the call of a whip-poor-will, the sight of a scarlet tanager landing in a sun beam or watching a loon on the lake are all simple common things, not rare or unique. They are, however, wonderful to experience. What I treasure most about the Hickory Hill property is that it provides a home to such a wide range of plants and wildlife still common to Michigan. What I want to protect and share is an opportunity to experience the wonderful simple and common things before they become rare and unique.”
“I grew up walking around Hickory Hill with family, then camping and fishing with friends at Russell Lake,” said David. “After finishing high school I wasn’t ready for college but itching to get out on my own, so I moved into the cabin and stayed nearly a year. With wood heat and no running water it was a fine adventure for a teenager.”
“While I worked part time at the Doherty Hotel in Clare, I had plenty of time to walk the land and watch it change through the seasons. I came to know it, as the phrase goes, ‘like the back of my hand.’ Knowing a place so closely is a gift that taught me about the richness of our world and the part each of us has in it. In other words, it teaches humility and responsibility. I am deeply pleased and gratified to know this land will be protected and that others may know it and learn from it as I have”, he said.
CWC Executive Director Stan Lilley said, “This conservation easement was donated by David and Laurie not just because the land holds a special meaning for the family, which it clearly does, but also because they want to ensure that future generations will have this natural space to enjoy as well. It is an honor to be entrusted with the promise to ensure that it remains protected.”
This land remains privately owned and is not open for public access, but it provides a significant public benefit, nevertheless, because it more than doubles the protected natural space and wildlife habit afforded by Neithercut Woodland, and it also offers scenic views from M115.