Allegan Woods and Waters Protected by the Wray Conservation Easement

Gerald and Susan Wray live on 80 acres of beautiful land in Allegan County’s Watson Township. The estate has been in Jerry’s family for three generations, and he spent his boyhood summers there with his grandmother. Jerry is a luthier, specializing in making guitars, lutes, and other stringed instruments by hand in his workshop at their home. Susan is a landscape painter, and a member of the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan (PAAWM). She learned about the Conservancy when she attended paint-outs on SWMLC easements and preserves. The Wrays have long been interested in protecting the integrity of their homestead, and when they began discussions with SWMLC’s Emily Wilke in 2013, they were immediately excited about the idea of preserving the quality of the land and water through a conservation easement. Emily worked hard to find options that would help them accomplish their goal, and came up with a winner. Working in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited, she was able to secure grant money from the Western Michigan Coastal Habitat Project. The Project is funded by the North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA), and will cover stewardship costs in addition to paying for the property appraisal. Allegan County Woods andWaters Protected by theWray Conservation EasementGerald and Susan Wray.

The Wray conservation easement is predominantly high quality woodland made up of beech, maple, and chinquapin oaks. The headwaters of School Section Brook flow from School Section Lake ( just to the east), winding through their beautiful beech maple forest, and eventually into the Kalamazoo River. These woods provide valuable habitat for wildlife, and are part of a vein of remaining Allegan County forest that includes a 200-acre conservation property owned by the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of the Pottawatomi Tribe just two miles to the north. It is also located within 5 miles of the SWMLC Pritschet-Davis Preserve. There are approximately 15 acres of wetland including tamarack swamp/fen between the arms of the creek, and a grassy field that is still farmed for hay. A copse (thicket of trees) in the field marks the site of the original homestead. The Wrays refer to it as “The Island”, and enjoy seeing wild turkey, deer, sandhill cranes, and coyotes which use it as a refuge while crossing the field. Susan and Jerry’s five children and three (soon to be four!) grandchildren, who make their homes and livelihoods across the country in five different states, are unlikely to be able to “pull up roots” to move back to the homestead in Allegan County. All five fully support their parents’ decision to protect the homestead with us. SWMLC is pleased to have been able to help the Wray family protect a precious part of their family heritage and thanks them for their foresight and strong conservation ethics.

— Cindy Mills
This piece was first published in Landscapes, Vol. 23, No. 2, Fall 2015