Posted: Jun 6, 2018

Patty BirkholzPatty Birkholz is my inspiration.

In 1977, when the DNR announced a 1,500-car parking lot on the beach at what is now Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and a dune buggy scramble area in what is now the Patricia Birkholz Natural Area, many thought it was a done deal. Not Patty. She fought. She fought hard. And she encouraged the rest of our community to fight as well.

Patty led our community to stop the proposed development. Patty successfully lobbied the state to establish a low-impact State Park focused on nature study and to preserve 300 acres as a legally-binding Natural Area – one of only twenty in Michigan.

Last year, Patty joined the lawsuit against Jeff Padnos and his North Shore of Saugatuck development, as a member of the Coastal Alliance. In her signed affidavit she detailed the science of how the wetlands in the Patricia Birkholz Natural Area would suffer as a result of the 18’-deep boat basin proposed for within 500 feet of her sacred place. She described how the natural resources of the Saugatuck Dunes drive our local tourist-based economy. She wrote about the cultural importance of the Kalamazoo River Mouth Neighborhood — Singapore, Ox-Bow, Oak-Openings, Fishtown, various Potawatomie sites. Patty also stated that the proposed Padnos marina would be an insult to our communities’ $20 million investment in the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.

Even when others had given up hope, Patty never did. And she has inspired me to never give up.

The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance will fight the proposed Padnos marina with every ounce of legal muscle available to us. And like our mentor Patty, we will always welcome discussion across the aisle to find alternatives and solutions – -that’s why the Coastal Alliance hired renowned landscape architect Richard Shaw to walk the Padnos property with the Padnos development team in January 2017.

The proposed Padnos marina violates local anti-funneling ordinances, violates state environmental protections, violates state law regulating sand dune mining, violates federal protections of significant archaeological sites and navigable waterways. It disrespects our landscape.

I recommend walking the south trail at the State Park through the Patricia Birkholz Natural Area to the highest parabolic dune facing south toward the proposed Padnos marina. In the distance you will see Mount Baldhead and Tallmadge Woods, the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area and Lake Michigan. If you are there are night you will see how magically dark this river mouth neighborhood is. At the foot of the dune you will hear an array of birds, amphibians, and insects in the interdunal wetlands. You will then understand how Patty’s legacy and vision, and our local investments, are threatened by the proposed Padnos development.

Please join us, the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, and the many other local, state, and national organizations, as well as the three federally-recognized tribal nations as we work to stop the proposed Padnos marina and to protect the legacy of Patty Birkholz.

David Swan