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Great Lakes Article:

$14 million in grants approved for two Lake Michigan dune areas
Detroit Free Press
Published December 9th, 2004

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (AP) -- A state board has committed more than $14 million in grants to help buy and preserve two large tracts -- 161 acres in Saugatuck and 500 acres near Ferrysburg -- of environmentally sensitive Lake Michigan dunes.

The Ferrysburg-area tract includes no beach but the Saugatuck property features about three-quarters of a mile of lake frontage. Both lands have been under threat of development in recent years.

"These are two key regional park projects that have statewide significance," said an exuberant Julie Stoneman, director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

The money will come from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which each year funnels more than $30 million in oil and gas royalties to buy and develop parks.

On Wednesday, the fund's five-member board offered $3.6 million to help Saugatuck buy long-sought land next to the Kalamazoo River. The board agreed to a three-year grant that gives the same amount in 2005 and 2006 for a total of $10.7 million, in a purchase to cost about $15 million.

The Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Department received $3.9 million to buy 500 acres between North Beach County Park in Ferrysburg and Hoffmaster State Park near Norton Shores.

"We could not have hoped for any better result than this," department Director John Scholtz told The Grand Rapids Press.

For more than a decade, Saugatuck-area leaders have been trying to preserve 412 acres once owned by Frank and Gertrude Denison, then controlled by their separate estates. Together, their lands north and south of the river in northwestern Allegan County has been valued at more than $30 million.

The grant money is for the southern tract.

Negotiations for a sale stalled over complications with the estates and their beneficiaries, but the head of an Oklahoma City energy company may have cleared some red tape when he reached a deal in October to buy a 50 percent interest in the land.

Those leading the preservation effort say Aubrey McClendon, chairman and chief executive officer of Chesapeake Energy Corp., has voiced an interest in conservation and should be easier to negotiate with than several trustees and beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, Scholtz said he expects to close the deal on the 500 acres in northwestern Ottawa County during the next few months. Owner Northern Trails Development already has agreed to sell the land for about $7 million.

Local benefactors have donated $1.3 million to the project.

"I think the fact there was such strong community support for the project really moved it up in the minds of the trust fund board members," Tim Scarpino, a member of the Committee to Acquire North Ottawa Dunes, told the Grand Haven Tribune. "To see that amount of support in such a short time I think really made a huge difference."

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