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Great Lakes Article:

Shoreline project may get $2.5 million
Federal funds would help buy 413 acres along Lake Michigan to expand area parks
By Zac Anderson
Holland Sentinel

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 the request.

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.

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