The Dunes are an Economic Asset and Support Michigan’s Tourist Economy

By Dave Dempsey

From my earliest memories, Lake Michigan has been a friend.

Sometime in the 1960s, my parents introduced me to this magnificent body of water and its remarkable shoreline.  As a student at Western Michigan University, my friends and I frequently made a 40-mile trip to South Haven to escape our studies in the calming presence of something far greater than ourselves.

Later, as a young man living in Lansing, I would head west a few times a year to find refuge and renewal.

It was only later that I acquired the statistics to support the feelings:

  • The Great Lakes contain almost 20% of the world’s surface freshwater.
  • Lake Michigan is the sixth largest lake in the world.
  • The shoulders of the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Michigan, feature the largest freshwater sand dunes on the planet Earth.

The work of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance is the latest chapter in this rich heritage.  Motivated by wonder and love but also by a long-term understanding of economic, ecological, historic, and aesthetic values, the Alliance has rendered citizens of the region, the state, and the nation a service of inestimable worth.

An entire community spanning Michigan and the nation now knows about, and is eager to defend, this community of dunes.

Clearly, the battle is not yet won.  There are those who will always try to punch loopholes in zoning laws, community norms, and democratic processes that protect the Saugatuck Dunes.

We hear from some about “win-win” solutions that foster development of Saugatuck Dunes.  A more durable “win-win” would be the conservation of the dunes and job-creating development elsewhere in Saugatuck. The Dunes are already an economic asset. Tourists come from hundreds of miles away to enjoy them and to find their personal connection to the eternal.

Interconnected with a compelling human history that reaches back millennia to the first inhabitants and continues to the present day, the Dunes are, in fact if not in law, a national monument.

I commend the work of the Alliance and look forward to its ultimate success—a win for all of us, and those who will come long after us.

The Saugatuck Dunes and Kalamazoo River mouth