project may get $2.5 million
Federal funds would help buy 413 acres along Lake Michigan
to expand area parks
By Zac Anderson
An effort to preserve a coveted stretch of Lake Michigan
duneland in Saugatuck is set to receive a major boost
from $2.5 million in federal funds set aside for the project
in a pending appropriations bill.
The announcement Tuesday by U.S. Rep Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland,
that the conservation grant sought by the city of Saugatuck
had made its way through House-Senate conferences and
into the final bill was greeted with joy by those working
to buy the 413-acre Denison property.
"This is just tremendous," said Peg Kohring,
Midwest director of the Conservation Fund and negotiator
for the land purchase. "It couldn't have come at
a better time."
Conservationists are competing with developers to purchase
the land, which includes 1.25 miles of shoreline, from
the estate of Frank and Gertrude Denison.
Local volunteers organized the Saugatuck Save Our Shoreline
group to raise funds for the project. The city is working
along with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources,
the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and other agencies
to acquire 161 acres south of the Saugatuck channel and
252 acres north of the channel with a total value of about
$25 million to $30 million.
The city and shoreline group are focusing on the property
south of the channel, valued at about $15 million, which
would add three-quarters of a mile of shoreline to city-owned
Oval Beach park. The DNR is leading the effort to preserve
the acreage north of the channel, valued at about $10
million, which would add about half a mile of shoreline
to Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
The sale of the Denison property is a rare opportunity
to preserve a large piece of duneland, Hoekstra said.
"It would just be amazing to have all of that land
be accessible to the public forever," he said.
The $2.5 million federal appropriation, which is part
of the Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Program,
comes on the heels of two anonymous $1 million donations
to the shoreline group in September. In addition, the
Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund pledged $6 million
to the DNR for the project last year. Kohring said she
and representatives from the city and the land conservancy
are asking for another $10.7 million from the trust fund,
whose board of directors will meet Dec. 10 to discuss
Saugatuck City Manager Gordon Gallagher is optimistic
that all the pieces will come together and said the federal
grant was a major victory for the project.
"It comes at exactly the right time," Gallagher
said. "People are really getting close to making
this a reality."
Federal lawmakers are expected to vote on the appropriations
bill Monday and Hoekstra said he believes it will pass
without a problem.