Saugatuck City Council Hears About Efforts To Secure $500,000 MNRTF Grant
“A lot of excitement” has been generated around the grant application to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) seeking $500,000 to initiate the first step in exploring the possibility of expanding the Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
The overall goal is to keep what is known as the McClendon property pristine and out of the hands of developers by purchasing some or all of the land, report coastal preservation groups.
“There were 10 grants presented that day (Wednesday, October 22). This is the only one that had four people speaking on its behalf,” township resident and preservation advocate Jon Helmrich told the Saugatuck City Council at its Monday meeting.
Helmrich was speaking about the very first hearing the MNRTF board held on the subject. He and other advocates are asking the Saugatuck City Council to pass a resolution in support of the application.
“We had some questions,” Saugatuck Council Member Barry Johnson told Helmrich, referring to a recent workshop where council members discussed the matter.
They told Helmrich they needed to gather more information before writing a letter of support.
The Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has already written one, and Douglas City officials report they are in the process of writing one which will go before that city’s council for a vote at next week’s meeting.
“There was a lot of excitement,” Helmrich reported about the initial MNRTF hearing.
One of the biggest supporters of the grant actually sits on the MNRTF board, Samuel Cummings, a Grand Rapids based-developer who owns a summer home in the City of Saugatuck, said Helmrich.
Studies of the economic impact on the area, conducted by Land Conservancy of West Michigan and Grand Valley State University, estimates conservative figures of $4 million and $6 million in terms of increased revenue if the land can be kept public, highlighted Helmrich.
“It would bring overnight camping in the park which has never been allowed or has never been available,” he added.
Acquisition of the property would change the state park’s entrance so that it would be located off of Blue Star Highway, he said.
The grant application is being submitted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The funding, if awarded, would help initiate a process to try and purchase the property. The application is for 150 acres, but preservation groups see it as a first step toward what could be the full acquisition of 315 acres.
“Adding the entire former Denison land (now owned by Oklahoma City gas magnate Aubrey McClendon) to Saugatuck Dunes State Park was part of the original Saugatuck Dunes State Park Master Plan and is the number one priority of the Tri-Community (Saugatuck, Douglas, Saugatuck Township) Master Plan,” says a statement on the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance’s (SDCA) website.
The coastal preservation group has long fought development proposals on the property, and is now strongly backing the application.