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Easement legacy a permanent protection for Rogue River

by Beth Altena

One family’s dedication to protecting the land and their generous spirit is good news for those in Algoma Township. The Cok family has preserved 126 acres of property along the Rogue River as a conservation easement through the Land Conservancy of West Michigan—an action that ensures the property will never be developed. Stu Cok was one of the speakers at the annual meeting of the Rogue River Watershed Council (RRWC) and spoke before the group at the Rockford Community Cabin on Wednesday, Dec. 1, describing why a nature easement was the right choice for his family and their land.
Cok said land has been important to him since he was a child in the Great Depression and was in seven schools in three years. As a young man just out of service in the Marine Corps, he drove around Kent County looking for waterfront property. He was determined to find his own homestead and stay put. “I bought the land in 1953,” he said of his property on the Rogue River downstream of Sparta.
Property prices actually slowed the timeline and size of the easement, Cok noted. The easement allows the Cok family to be compensated for some of the value of the land, but with property prices so low it was difficult to get an estimate.
“While we felt it was important to protect the land with a conservation easement for a multitude of reasons, here are just a few that stand out,” Cok stated.

The Cok family protects over 125 acres of forested floodplain.

Cok described the importance of land for his family as well as himself. “We built our home here in 1964 and all of our children, and now our grandchildren, have grown up on the land. We feel that all of us have been able to form a close relationship with the natural world here, and preserving its natural beauty was very important to us.”
“Also, while we have contemplated developing small portions of the land in the past, we have come to the conclusion that even minimal development would do irreparable harm to the beauty and natural values that we hold dear. These forests and wetlands drain into a valley, creating a tributary stream, which flows into the mainstream of the Rogue River, all on our land. We felt protection was important to the long-term sustainability of the water quality of the rivershed to maintain its natural characteristic.”
“Lastly, we were able to continue our sustainable forestry operation under the terms of the conservation easement. We are able to periodically remove trees under our forest stewardship plan, which the conservancy has accepted, and this provides the next generations of our family a realistic opportunity for continued ownership. Future generations will have the ability to maintain the property as we have and this legacy aspect of protecting the property was important. We feel a conservation easement was a ‘win-win’ situation for our family and the natural environment into the future.”
Being a good neighbor was on the list of reasons to offer the land for an easement. The Algoma Township resident has been on the Board of Review and Planning Commission for the township. He said the reason people choose to live in the township is because it is less developed.
“The purpose of a conservation easement is to prohibit development. We ask our residents what they want and they say, ‘To preserve open space.’ They want to feel they live in the country,” said Cok.
Cok said it was exciting news to hear the Rogue River has been chosen by Trout Unlimited as a Home Rivers Initiative, a long-term preservation project with the goal of protecting and improving the quality of the river. He said 40 years ago he and others formed a group to protect the Rogue River from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, who proposed a series of dams on the waterway. The dams would flood large bodies of land to make lakes for recreational use. He said the fight his Rogue River Protection organization faced was long and hard and speculated how the dams would have affected the health of the Rogue. Just one of the proposed dams, north of Rockford by US-131, would have created an 11,000-acre parcel of land.
“We beat them, with the help of Jerry Ford, we beat the United States Army Corps of Engineers and seven other federal agencies,” Cok said.
With the easement along the Rogue of Cok’s property, he has again proven to be a protector of land and water. The conservation of the Coks’ land was completed at the end of August 2010.

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