There has been a persistent sixty-year effort to protect the Saugatuck Dunes Cultural Landscape – 3500 acres of shifting dunes, wetlands, marsh and river mouth and beaches, and the endangered species that flourish here. This landscape is very lightly settled with historic and archeological sites including the buried ghost-town of Singapore, one-hundred-year old camps including the Ox-Bow School of Art, and summer cottages.
Local efforts have included land acquisitions, conservation easements, progressive zoning districts and master plan, as well as the establishment of Saugatuck Dunes State Park. There have been a handful of attempts in the past ten years to acquire the 300 acres separating the Saugatuck Dunes State Park from the Kalamazoo River known as the North Denison, or the McClendon property.
The local effort to fully protect this rare Cultural Landscape has cost tens of millions of dollars, pulled local elected officials into a federal lawsuit, engaged the vocal support of national and state organizations as well as governors and senators, and it has also launched several generations of community activists. In fact, in 2016 the revised Tri-Community Master Plan clearly stated, “Public acquisition of the Denison property on both sides of the Kalamazoo River is the top priority for the Tri-Communities.”
In August 2016, a Public/Private partnership, that included the Coastal Alliance, the conservation community, and West Michigan philanthropists, put together a bid to acquire Aubrey McClendon’s Singapore Dunes property. This conservation bid was rejected.
Jeff and Peg Padnos, knowingly disrupted this sixty-year effort by moving forward with their purchase of the 300 acres sandwiched between the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area and the Saugatuck Dunes State Park Natural Area; the heart of this Cultural Landscape. The Padnos’s met with representatives of the public/private partnership two months before closing on the property. The developer hired by Padnos knew of the conservation effort during the open bidding process, five months before the closing.
The Padnos’s have hired Brian Bosgraaf, of Cottage Home, to build a gated-community. They have proposed a row of houses to be built on the undeveloped channel facing the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area – a 177-acres natural area locals paid $20 million to protect. They are also proposing to dig a trench through the buried ghost-town of Singapore so deep and so long it would require moving more than 160,000 tons of sand – so much sand it demands a sand dune mining permit. The proposed marina, 18’ deep and 1500’ long, would destroy the fragile hydrology of the interdunal wetlands – the arteries that feed this wild heart of Saugatuck.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Saugatuck Dunes Cultural Landscape as One of the Most Endangered Places in America because of the threat of a marina development.
Look at the map posted on our facebook page of the dunes and beaches and forests locals have invested tens of millions of dollars to protect to quickly understand what the Padnos proposed marina would disrupt. Public lands are shaded green, camp & private recreational lands are shaded yellow, and the Padnos property is shaded red.