89.1 WEMU

Hidden In Plain Sight: Local Conservationist Helps Preserve Acres Of Land In Washtenaw County

Apr 29, 2019

Barry Lonik near the Huron River
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU

There is a lot of open and green space in Washtenaw County and much of that land will be preserved forever.  89.1 WEMU's Lisa Barry brings you the story of a local environmental activist who has worked several decades to preserve our green spaces and whose efforts may have been 'Hidden in Plain Sight.'

If you listen carefully, you can hear what inspired Barry Lonik to become a self described “earth defender.”  Barry is a local conservationist and environmentalist, who has devoted his life to preserving nature.

“That calling was inside me.  I think it’s inside all of us frankly.  It’s whether or not we recognize it and respond to it.  People in urban environments, you know, don’t have those opportunities often times.  Even with great parks and so forth around, it’s just different.  To be in a much more wild area like this.  Away from the sounds of the world; the modern industrial world anyway.”  

Barry Lonik near the Huron River
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU

Barry first discovered the quiet and freedom that can come from nature as a teenager, riding his bike to spend time by a river a few miles from his Oakland County home. 

Today, we are at the Burns-Stokes County Preserve on Zeeb Road in Scio Township near the city of Dexter.  This is some of the over 7,000 acres of land and over 100 properties he has helped to protect. 

“It’s very satisfying.  Very proud of that and feel like that’s something that contributed to the community.” 

As we walk through wild-growing skunk cabbage, vibrant trout lilies, and remnants of our “water powered past,” Barry proudly notes there are five publicly-funded land preservation programs available in our community.

“Washtenaw County through the Parks Department has the Natural Areas Preservation Program, which works on farmland and natural area preservation.  This is a natural area within the county parks system.  City of Ann Arbor has its Greenbelt Program, which can spend outside of the city limits and the surrounding townships.  And then Scio, Webster, and Ann Arbor have their own dedicated millages.  There’s nothing like that anywhere else in Michigan and not for long ways”

Barry, who lives in in Dexter Township, puts his passion for nature to work with his company, Treemore Ecology and Land Services, Incorporated.  He’s proud to be called a “tree-hugger”

"My nickname is actually Treemore, which is the name of my business also.  And my high school friends still call me Tree from back in the day.  So it’s like I’m hugging myself, right?”  (Laughs)

He’s also proud to share the sustainability efforts he’s put into place by growing food outside his home. 

“Twenty-five something different crops, I think, I have off my property.  From, like, I have a few perennials like horseradish and asparagus and raspberries and grapes, and I plant a lot of other stuff.”

Lonik’s other passion is live music, and he shares that with the community by having local musicians play in his home and in the 1880s era barn on his property.

"You know, I got a barn that people come and play at.  And the last couple years, I’ve been hosting house concerts at my place and selling tickets for it.  And, you know, having the most amazing people come through.”

Lonik recently hosted a concert with musician May Erlewine that sold out – twice! 

“I tell people afterwards that I spend half the time flying like, ‘Oh my God, this is the most wonderful thing in the world!’ and half the time crying because it’s so beautiful!”

View of the Huron River
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU

Barry Lonik, hidden in plain sight, has devoted his life to preserving the nature and history that has given him a strong sense of peace and freedom.  He hopes that others in our community can find some of those feelings he enjoys every day.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu