A Brief History

Beginning in the 1980’s, this land was the playground for the local Montessori Schools.  Every day, no matter the weather, kids would race from their classrooms into these woods.  They played in the creek, they sat on its bank eating lunch, telling stories, dipping their toes in the cool clear water, wading on the sandy bottom, balancing on fallen logs.  They built teepees – one by boys and one by girls – which still remain.  They played games and searched for treasures, found morel mushrooms, jack in the pulpits, garter snakes and animal tracks.  They had fights and disagreements; they formed alliances and made peace, learned to negotiate and resolve conflicts.  They made lifelong friendships.

Thornhill photos 3-2
Leo Creek Preserve, 1993

One of those kids, a young girl named Hilary, played here every school day for over ten years.  She loved the creek and the woods and being there with her friends.  At that time the Leelanau Trail was not developed and so, to her, the land seemed a huge wilderness to explore.  The friends she played with in these woods remained her very best friends – as she grew up, went to college, moved to New York City where she explored an urban environment. Her first “adult” vacation was with her Montessori days friends. One day in 2013, in her Brooklyn apartment, she died unexpectedly at age 25 from an undiagnosed medical condition.

Hilary’s family acquired this nine acre parcel in 2016, put it into a not-for-profit organization named Leo Creek Preserve.  It is protected forever from development – both by the Leo Creek Preserve nonprofit and also by a conservation easement held by the Leelanau Conservancy.  It is open to the public.

Leo Creek Conservancy Map
Access is ONLY from the Leelanau Trail so everyone has to walk or bike in. Leo Creek is located in the Village of Suttons Bay between Fourth St. and Richter Rd. If you are driving, park at the Trailhead on Fourth St. (just west of Hansen Plaza) and walk/bike south about 100 yards.
There are more than 80 heritage blueberry bushes on the Preserve that are over 50 years old. The blueberries were harvested many years ago by a family of 11 kids and sold in Suttons Bay and Traverse City. Between 1980 and 2016, the bushes were not attended. In 2016, we began a rejuvenation project and most bushes are now productive. The berries are gathered by volunteers and donated to Leelanau Christian Neighbors. Visitors can(and do) snack on a few.
Leelanau Montessori planting hugel kulture
Montessori class building a hugelkultur (growing mound).
Cutting flowers to bring to Medilodge
Parenting Communities of Leelanau come Tuesday mornings

Leo Creek is beloved by many students and teachers who explored its woods. Some of their formative experiences and happy memories can be read below

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Leelanau Montessori planting flowers