October 12, 2019

Ann Arbor Greenbelt Bus Tour Celebrates 15 Years of Protected Farms and Natural Areas

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The 9th annual Greenbelt Bus Tour took place on Saturday, with local leaders and the community celebrating 15 years of conservation in the greater Ann Arbor area.

The Ann Arbor Greenbelt Program is an innovative long-term land preservation program that protects farmland, open space and the city’s Huron River Watershed. It also protects land in the watershed that drains into the Raisin River and flows into Lake Erie. The program is funded by the Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage, a 30-year millage approved by Ann Arbor voters in 2003 that also funds the acquisition of parklands for the city’s parks system and raises more than $2 million annually. These funds are often matched by federal grants, including funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through its Farm Bill conservation easement programs, which have the goal of helping farmers and other producers keep their land in agriculture, while protecting critical natural resources. Greenbelt funds are also matched by landowner donations and other locally funded programs.

Their work has a 15-year track record of success linking and protecting city parks, natural areas and working farms throughout the city, while simultaneously curbing the effects of sprawl and ensuring equitable access to parks across the city. Since the Greenbelt’s establishment, Ann Arbor has worked closely with The Conservation Fund to implement the program, with the Fund providing management support and local landowner outreach.

“The Ann Arbor-area’s land conservation success story has been defined by strong partnerships. The most important partner to the Greenbelt Program’s success has been USDA-NRCS through the Agricultural Land Easement program (ALE) and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP),” said Remy Long, The Conservation Fund’s Midwest Program Associate. “We’d like to thank the Greenbelt’s U.S. Congressional delegation for supporting and expanding these NRCS programs. The residents of Ann Arbor had a vision for regional land conservation that protected farmland, safeguarded the City’s drinking water, and increased recreational opportunities, and through strategic partnerships that vision has been made a reality, and serves as a model for conservation at the urban-rural divide across the US.”

Most recently, the Greenbelt Program closed on a deal to conserve the 95-acre DeVine-Koselka farm with funding from Washtenaw County and the USDA-NRCS’s ALE program. The property creates connecting greenspace with Washtenaw County’s DeVine Nature Preserve—a previously established Greenbelt property spanning 157 acres—and protects prime agricultural soils and land that the University of Michigan’s Michigan Department of Natural Resources identified as the best site in the entire state to protect the small-mouth salamander population.

In recent years, the USDA-NRCS awarded the Greenbelt area two significant RCPP funding awards, one in FY2017 for the Huron River Initiative, awarded to Legacy Land Conservancy, in partnership with Ann Arbor Greenbelt for portions of implementation, and one in FY2018, directly to the Greenbelt. The awards are creating further conservation successes and are already oversubscribed. The Greenbelt plans to seek further RCPP funds to help meet the continued and growing demand for farmland protection. NRCS’s RCPP and ALE programs were reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill with the leadership and support of the Greenbelt’s U.S. Congressional delegation: U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and U.S. Representatives Tim Walberg and Debbie Dingell.

This year’s bus tour featured three of the Greenbelt Program’s most successful conservation projects:

  • Slow Farm: Protected in 2009 with help from the USDA, Ann Arbor Township and Greenbelt, Slow Farm is a certified organic U-pick site and farm stand 3 miles north of Ann Arbor growing strawberries, Ark of Taste tomatoes, raspberries, pumpkins and more. They also work with Ducks Unlimited and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make their property welcoming for ducks, deer and other wildlife.
  • Heller Farm: Preserved in 2009 with funding from the USDA-NRCS Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, Webster Township and Greenbelt, the Heller Farm is a family-run farm passed down to the next generation.
  • Fox Science Preserve: Established in 2007 through a partnership with the Washtenaw County Natural Areas Preservation Program, Fox Science Preserve is a 69-acre former gravel pit featuring sandstone, granite, limestone and fossils in a landscape untouched for almost 40 years. Its unique botany and geology make it an excellent insight into how the entire Ann Arbor area might have looked during the Ice Age.


The tour also passed by six other Greenbelt projects totaling nearly 1,100 acres, including Bloomer Farm, Alexander Farm, Whitney Farm, Cares Farm, Smyth Farm, and Nixon Farm.

Since 2007, Michigan has lost an average of two acres and two farms every day. Within 10 years, approximately 35% of all Michigan farmers anticipate retiring and 2/3 of all U.S. farmland will need a new farmer in the next 25 years. Greenbelt has worked to curb these losses by protecting working farms that source foods to local markets, helping farmers secure more affordable land and conserving 20% of active farmland in the Greenbelt District.

About Ann Arbor Greenbelt 
The Ann Arbor Greenbelt is an innovative long-term land preservation program to purchase open space parks and land development rights in eight townships surrounding the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. To date, the Greenbelt Program has protected more than 5,700 acres of farmland and open space, including over 1,500 acres of wetlands that drain into the Huron River and the River Raisin. Since 2003, the program has also created 128 acres of publicly accessible city parks. https://www.a2gov.org/greenbelt/Pages/greenbelthome.aspx

About The Conservation Fund 
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land.

About the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program 
The Natural Resource Conservation Service provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural landowners to conserve natural resources through easements and conservation practices. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) provides conservation assistance to landowners and supports collaborative projects that improve soil quality, water quality/quantity, wildlife habitat and other natural resource values.

Remy Long, The Conservation Fund, 734-276-8387, rlong@conservationfund.org