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
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
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
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.