“Those dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite to California. They constitute a signature of time and eternity. Once lost, the loss would be irrevocable.”
The Saugatuck Dunes are part of the largest assemblage of freshwater dunes in the entire world. Created from the glaciers thousands of years ago and sculpted by thousands of years of prevailing southwest winds, crashing waves, and stabilizing native vegetation, these dunes on Lake Michigan range from Northern Indiana all the way up to the Straits of Mackinaw with notable dunes accessible to the public occurring at 18 state parks, two national lakeshores (Indiana Dunes and Sleeping Bear Dunes), two natural areas (Saugatuck Dunes Natural Area and Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area), and one wilderness area (Nordhouse Dunes).
The Saugatuck Dunes range from the Presbyterian Camp all the way up to Lake Macatawa near Holland. The most significant threat to the Saugatuck Dunes today remains the specter of out-of-scale housing or even commercial development on the North McClendon property north of the Kalamazoo River to the border of the Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Although historically there has been some development—Broward Marine and the house on the beach along with its gravel access road—north of the river, the vast majority of the original portions of the North McClendon property is relatively pristine and harbors globally-imperiled habitat, critical dunes, several rare and endangered plant and animal species, and the historically-significant ghost town of Singapore.
Development in the Saugatuck Dunes would introduce light and noise pollution along with the potential for new roads and infrastructure fragmenting what is now for the most part healthy habitat. In addition, out-of-scale development in the Saugatuck Dunes north of the pier could destroy one of the last known refuges of the Prairie Warbler—an endangered bird that makes its home in healthy Jack Pine forests. Unlike the introduced Austrian Pine that desiccates the water table and establishes its own mono-culture, this native species of pine tree is suited to extremely dry conditions and has been living here locally since the glaciers retreated—including a significant stand on the North McClendon property.
In addition to a local breeding population of Prairie Warblers that nests annually in the Jack Pine forests of the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area and the North McClendon property, there are several other notable species in the Saugatuck Dunes. The endangered Pitcher’s Thistle occurs on open dunes on both sides of the river and Bald Eagles, Osprey, Northern Harrier, and the Black Tern are all threatened birds that have been documented throughout in the Saugatuck Dunes coastal region.
Another concern for the consideration of proposed zoning amendments and development in the Saugatuck Dunes is the potential negative impact on the extremely fragile nature of this eco-system. Consider Singapore. After ill-advised development destabilized the dunes, Singapore was completely buried by blowing sand. While there are many suitable places for development in this area—including 100 acres that Mr. McClendon added after buying the former Denison that could be profitably developed creating jobs and stimulating the local economy—the Saugatuck Dunes should remain the way they have for last twelve thousand years.
The economic, cultural, educational, historical, ecological, recreational, visual, and even spiritual resources of the Saugatuck Dunes should be taken into sober consideration before decades of community planning is disregarded in the quest for wealth on the North McClendon property.
The West Michigan Strategic Alliance—a group of fiscally conservative business leaders from Grand Rapids and Holland—sums it up very well: “We feel strongly that the former Denison property is a critically important asset worth protecting and consider this regional asset and ‘natural system’ to be of utmost importance for preservation due to its proximity to the Kalamazoo River, abundance of natural features (several of which are only found on this property), nearness to public lands, aesthetic beauty and for recreational and peaceful enjoyment.”