Along the banks of the Grand River, just upstream from Grand Haven’s famous musical fountain, along a cut-out in the river known as “the sag,” is a mile of shoreline that has been privately held for many decades.
The 345-acre property sits between green space owned by the cities of Grand Haven and Ferrysburg and North Ottawa Dunes. The site has long been used for sand mining but has been inactive in recent years. The property includes forested dunes, an 80-acre, and riverfront land with wetlands.
This fall, the public will have the opportunity to experience the natural beauty this property holds for the first time.
This property is now co-owned by Ottawa County Parks and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan (LCWM). It will open to the public on October 15, 2018, following boundary marking, safety improvements, sign and trail marking installations.
A partnership seeking permanent conservation
The Land Conservancy purchased half the property by securing a loan from The Conservation Fund and has leased its portion of the property to Ottawa County Parks for management. Once the funds have been secured to pay back the loan used for the purchase and additional expenses, the property will be transferred to and fully owned by Ottawa County Parks.
“In order to secure this property for the public, the purchase needed to happen in full, but we only had grant funding for just over half of the property. The Land Conservancy really stepped up and for that, we are very grateful. Without them, the opportunity to purchase this land would not have been possible,” said John Scholtz, Ottawa County Parks Director.
Now both organizations are working to secure the remaining funds needed to protect all of the property. Ottawa County Parks submitted a 2018 grant application to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and a decision on that request will be made in December of 2018. The Land Conservancy will need to raise a minimum of $200,000 to cover costs related to the loan.
“The Trust Fund grant is critical to the success of this project, and they will be looking to see how much the community stands behind it,” said Land Conservancy Executive Director Joe Engel. “Strong public support is crucial; the more we are able to raise before the final grant decision, the more likely the trust fund is to approve the grant.”
Anyone interested in making a contribution to help save this property for public enjoyment and nature preservation can visit: naturenearby.org/ottawasands
“Since the addition of this property to the county parks system was unexpected, funds are not available for its immediate development,” said Scholtz. “The first step toward long-range improvements will be to create a master plan for the site. The master planning process will include multiple opportunities for public participation and comment.”
If grant funding allows Ottawa County Parks to acquire the remainder of the property in the summer of 2019, the master planning process could begin as early as fall 2019.
“For now, the site will remain undeveloped and there will be very limited amenities — basically just opportunities to view and hike the property. Actual park development is likely several years away,” said Scholtz. “We also have some surveying and studying to do and we ask that visitors respect the rules we have set for the lake. When we open in October we will be allowing only catch and release fishing and prohibiting live bait. Once we study the current fish populations that rule may be revised.”
Swimming and watercraft will also be prohibited on the inland lake.
How the purchase came together
Last fall, the owner of the property approached Parks and with an offer to sell, creating an opportunity to link together public land in a corridor stretching six miles from PJ Hoffmaster State Park nearly to Grand Haven’s North Pier. The owner made a limited-time offer to donate 25% of the total $11.22 million land value.
With the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant deadline already long past, Ottawa County Parks was given an opportunity to present the project at the MNRTF board meeting last December. The board came back in favor of the project, recommending that $4.2 million be allocated for the acquisition of the property. This covered roughly half of the funds needed to acquire the whole property. The board encouraged Parks to submit a grant for additional funding to complete the purchase the following year.
One of the owner’s conditions for the sale was that the property be purchased this year, in its entirety. Without $4 million dollars to spare in its budget, Ottawa County Parks approached the Land Conservancy for help. The Land Conservancy secured a $4 million, short-term loan from The Conservation Fund, a national organization that provides low-interest loans for conservation projects.
About the property
- 219 acres of state-designated critical dunes
- 5,585’ of Grand River frontage
- 80-acre, man-made inland lake
- 2,400-acre Lake Michigan coastal corridor
- Bordered by public land
- The potential for an inter-park trail along the Lake Michigan coast