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Great Lakes Article:

Once again, effort on to save Saugatuck dunes

July 16, 2002, 1:22 AM
Detroit Free Press

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (AP) -- A plan once dead has gained new life -- preserving 420 acres of pristine Lake Michigan dune land at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River for public use.

The city and the state Department of Natural Resources are behind the latest effort to buy the site once owned by the late Saugatuck yacht builder Frank Denison and his wife, Gertrude.

"What we're looking at is preserving it as a natural area for future generations," said Saugatuck City Manager Gordon Gallagher.

The land is split by the Kalamazoo River channel. It features a freshwater dune ecosystem with abundant wildlife, woods and some wetlands. Some dunes are considered "critical dunes" under state law, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported Monday.

Saugatuck and the DNR plan to apply for grants from the Natural Resources Trust Fund on Aug. 1 to help buy the property, which could cost more than $25 million. Two appraisals, expected to be finished by August, will determine how much the two organizations seek.

Under the latest plan, Saugatuck would try to buy the 160 acres south of the Kalamazoo River as an addition to its existing Oval Beach property. The DNR would buy the land north of the river and add it to the 900-acre Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

The properties would offer the public 3.5 miles of continuous beachfront, including 1.25 miles on the Denison land.

Local environmentalists say the deal would benefit everyone in West Michigan.

"The value of it, in my mind, is the fact that it's relatively untouched land," said Alison Swan of Saugatuck, who has been fighting a plan to build a water-treatment plant near Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

"It's really very beautiful," she said. "I can't think of anything better for southwest Michigan than to have that much open land."

Saugatuck officials expect to set a July 29 public hearing on their grant application.

Gallagher estimates that $2 million to $5 million in privately raised funds will be needed as a match for any grant from the Trust Fund to buy the southern part of the property. The Trust Fund typically pays 75 percent of a parcel's cost.

"We're hopeful we'll get the opportunity to acquire it," Gallagher said. "The problem is we just don't know right now. All we can do is put forth our best effort."

The Denison property is controlled by two estates, one on behalf of Frank Denison and the other for Gertrude Denison, and their beneficiaries. The Denisons had three sons, including one who owns a home near the channel.

Until recently, legal battles over the estates stalled public efforts to buy the land. But now the property is being marketed, with considerable interest from developers and attorneys. Many have sought zoning information from Allegan County's Saugatuck Township.

The latest effort by Saugatuck to buy the southern 160 acres comes six years after it organized a committee to seek a Trust Fund grant. The effort ended months later after Saugatuck found that Gertrude Denison, who died in 1997, was unwilling to sell.

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