In 2003, residential development and suburban sprawl was jeopardizing crucial agricultural land, fragmenting open space and wildlife habitat, and threatening Ann Arbor’s Huron River Watershed. The city determined it needed to act in order to maintain public health, agricultural economic resilience and the rural heritage of southern Michigan. That same year, Ann Arbor residents overwhelmingly voted for a decades-long property tax to acquire, manage and protect land inside and outside the city. That city tax was then matched with grants, donations and funds from neighboring townships and the county to leverage local taxpayer dollars.

Since 2003, the total fair market value of all properties protected with Greenbelt funds is over $64,188,393 by the City’s direct expenditure of about $23 million, a significant leverage of public dollars. The initiative has also spawned other conservation efforts as well. Since the Greenbelt was started, three local townships and the larger Washtenaw County have instituted their own land protection programs, making this area of Southeast Michigan a trailblazer in collaborative partnerships to advance land and water conservation.

Our role

The Conservation Fund has served as program manager for the Ann Arbor Greenbelt since the program started. Our work has ranged from individual property transactions to overall strategy. We also help the Greenbelt program leverage city funds, including more than $10 million in federal matching funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement program (formerly Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program) and Regional Conservation Partnership program.

Why This Project Matters

The Ann Arbor Greenbelt has a 15-year track record of success. Today, thanks to the visionary efforts of civic leaders, dedicated funding has protected and linked 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.

Protecting farmland and natural areas outside city limits has provided many benefits to Ann Arbor residents. Not only has this project protected the scenic rural vistas of the area, but also supported the local agricultural economy and preserved important land within the Huron River watershed. A recent University of Michigan study concluded that the Greenbelt improves local water quality, promotes social resilience, benefits the local food system and agricultural businesses, and is valued by residents well above what they pay towards the Greenbelt per household on an annual basis. After 15 years, public support for the Greenbelt remains strong.

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