A Place to Share

Working with land owners and conservation partners to protect the Myron Perlman Nature Preserve.

The land owners generously donated their property to our conservation partners at Chikaming Open Lands to own as a public nature preserve and placed a conservation easement on it through Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

Land is like a library. It offers valuable resources to its users. It offers peaceful respite and exciting challenges. It anchors the surrounding community, providing a place and reason for everyone to gather. And like a library, with its thousands of books that anyone may borrow, “land is too big to hoard for oneself.”

That quote comes from Jerry Herst. He and his wife, Julie Dorfman, and their friend Anne Krantz, recently donated their beloved Berrien County property to our conservation partners at Chikaming Open Lands and placed a conservation easement on it through Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. The beautiful 45+ acres, now called the Myron Perlman Nature Preserve, include farm fields, a woody wetland, and a large and lovely beech-maple forest that bursts with spring wildflowers. Spectacular as that is, this property’s best feature may be its ability to bring people together.

The story starts with Chicago-area friends Myron and Barb Perlman, Carolen King, and David Zverow, who dreamed of a cabin in the woods. They fell in love with the woods on a beautiful parcel in southwest Michigan that included a healthy beech-maple forest that had been only lightly logged in the past. The most recent owner, a biology professor from nearby Andrews University, had been sharing the land with his students as an outdoor classroom. Pooling their funds, the four friends made the purchase in 1981. Good friends Jerry Herst and Julie Dorfman joined the partnership a few years later.

Sadly, Barb Perlman died in 1986, on the eve of starting construction of a cabin. The group of friends spent several summers building a small house on the wooded property. Myron, a professional carpenter, led the project. Costs were kept low and materials environmentally-friendly by reusing found building materials and high-quality scrap salvaged from his professional work. He enlisted carpenter friends to help with the framing. Meanwhile, he patiently and generously taught the land partners new skills, so that everyone had a hand in building the house. The land welcomed people to come together through the project.

Anne Krantz joined the land partners when she and Myron married. Over time, the three families, now with children, enjoyed the beauty of spring, summer, fall and winter at the land. With family and friends, they enjoyed hikes in the woods, learning new species of flowers, trees and birds, and exploring the beauty and bounty of southwest Michigan. Visits to the land were punctuated with shared food and laughter.

Wendy Jones, head naturalist at nearby Fernwood Botanic Garden and Nature Preserve, was a valued resource as the group learned about nature. Noting the property’s excellent biodiversity and “spring society” of wildflowers, she remarked, “This is a gem and should be protected”. Thus, the idea for formal protection of the woods was planted. Wendy also noted the presence of invasive species, and helped create management strategies to address them.

Myron Perlman passed away in 2017. As the owners now pondered the future of the land, an idea to protect the land and share it with others began to take shape. “Turning it into a nature preserve was very appealing,” Jerry recalls. They also did not want to see the property logged off or divided, and recognized that a conservation easement would protect their beloved beech-maple forest forever.

Once again, the property’s ability to gather people who care is highlighted by the many individuals and organizations involved in nature conservancy in southwest Michigan who visited the land and consulted tirelessly with the owners on a framework for new ownership and protection of the land. In the end, Jerry, Julie, and Anne expressed their desire to share by generously donating the property to Chikaming Open Lands (COL), another land trust that is based in Sawyer, Michigan – with SWMLC holding a conservation easement that will protect that lovely beech-maple forest forever. Plans are underway for COL to open the property as a public nature preserve.

When asked about why they protected their land in this way, Julie displayed her community-minded conservation spirit, “This has been a very positive experience around people making a difference. And by making it into a preserve, we can still use it as part of the general public. That wouldn’t happen if it were sold to a private buyer.” To which Jerry added, “We want to do whatever we can, in our own small way, to protect biodiversity for future generations.” Then he repeated the famous quote, “We don’t inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Thank you, Jerry, Julie, Anne, David and Carolen.

You’ve made a lasting difference that counts!

Click here to keep up with Chikaming Open Land’s ongoing plans to open the trails at Myron Perlman Nature Preserve on their website.
Photos, Justin Gish     |     Story, Amelia Hansen