Scio Township completes final step in unique land conservation project1

A land conservation project that began with a chance conversation three years ago recently reached its conclusion when Scio Township purchased two conservation easements from the Frederick Andres Trust.

While stacking wood at his house with the farmer neighbor who delivered it, Scio’s land protection consultant Barry Lonik learned that the historic 160 acre Aprill farm was available for purchase.  Previously a site plan for estate residences on large lots had arrived at the township hall and it was thought the property was slated for development.  Lonik googled the owner Alan Aprill and found that he had passed away the previous October.  In prior communications Mr. Aprill stated he was letting his children decide the fate of the scenic farm just over two miles from the City of Ann Arbor boundary.

Lonik learned the farmer working the Aprill property had a lease for 2019, a signal that the development proposal was not a certainty.  He tracked down Mr. Aprill’s obituary which listed his six kids (all daughters) and contacted one.  They all met, Lonik told them of Scio’s dedicated land preservation millage and made an offer to purchase the property.  That July Scio purchased the farm for $2.3 million, the first of two unprecedented visionary actions by the Board of Trustees.

Being entirely agricultural, it was not a property the township wanted to own long-term.  In the second unprecedented action, the following March Scio sold the property to the Frederick G. Andres Trust for $600,000.  Coupled with the sale were mortgages totaling $1.7 million held by the township and purchase agreements to sell conservation easements when funding was assembled.

Funds to purchase the easements came from two federal grant programs and the City of Ann Arbor Parks and Greenbelt program.  Together with Scio’s millage, the conservation easements were purchased on February 18.  The proceeds were used to retire the mortgages so the Andres Trust owns the property free and clear, subject to the perpetual agreement preventing division, construction, surface alteration and any other activity that would impair the property’s conservation values while allowing for agricultural use.  The Trust is employing organic practices and restoration agriculture to build soil health with native plants, creating habitat to attract pollinators and songbirds, planting fruit and nut trees and offering upick strawberries and raspberries.

The property is located at the northwest corner of Scio Church Rd. and Zeeb Rd. on the township’s southern boundary.  It has a mile of paved road frontage two miles south of an Interstate 94 interchange.  The property features a high percentage of prime agricultural soils and one of the few long-distance views in the area, being situated atop a glacial moraine.  It is adjacent to a 66 acre farm property under different ownership protected by a Scio conservation easement.

Scio Township’s land preservation program is funded by a dedicated millage which voters passed initially in 2004 and renewed in 2012, both by large margins.  The township has attracted over $10 million of matching funds from other sources.  Scio’s program has been involved in protecting 1,583 acres, with more projects set to close in the coming months.