Hiking trails at Porter Legacy Dunes Preserve take a step forward with $100,000 grant

The creation of new public hiking trails in the Porter Legacy Dunes Preserve along Lake Michigan near South Haven took a step forward thanks to a $100,000 grant from Entergy Corporation, owner of the Palisades Power Plant in Covert Township.

With the contribution from Entergy-Palisades, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy will be able to design and develop trails on the property that enable visitors to safely see the spring wildflowers and enjoy spectacular views of Lake Michigan. 

“We have begun working with a trail consultant to design access for people to get up into the top of the dune without damaging it, but the consultant is not available until next year,” says the Land Conservancy’s Executive Director Pete Ter Louw. “So most of the design work will begin in 2023, with some trails developed at that point, but probably no access to the top of the dune until (perhaps) 2024.”

Located adjacent to the Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, the Porter Legacy Dunes preserve was purchased in the fall of 2020 by the South Haven Area Recreation Authority with assistance from Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, as well as generous donations from many individuals, partners and community members. 

The two nature preserves total 75 acres and protect 2,000 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan. Owned and managed collaboratively, the two properties will have more than 1.5 miles of trails and serve as the northern end of a proposed hiking trail system between Van Buren State Park and Pilgrim Haven Natural Area.

The land abounds with wildflowers in the spring. Species there include bellwort, trillium, trout lilies, hepatica, spring beauties, dutchmen’s breeches, yellow violets, downy solomon's seal, false solomon's seal, blue cohosh, squirrel corn, and wild licorice.

“The wildflowers, in late April to mid-May, are incredible,” Ter Louw says.

The 50 acres of pristine backdune forest includes a stretch of Dyckman Creek that flows north from Van Buren State Park and through Porter Legacy Dunes and Pilgrim Haven before flowing into Lake Michigan.

“Entergy-Palisades is pleased to provide this legacy gift that protects dunes and makes them accessible for public enjoyment,” says Palisades Site Vice President Darrell Corbin. “The work of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy provides a real and lasting benefit for our community. Entergy is proud of the partnership we have formed with them on several projects over the years, which will be enjoyed for generations to come.”

“We greatly appreciate all of Entergy-Palisades’ support of our work during the past several years, which has served as a critical catalyst in acquiring and developing public access at several of our nature preserves,” Ter Louw says. “This final gift will allow us to explore the creation of additional trails along the dunes, moving forward on a vision that will further South Haven as a destination for people who love the outdoors and nature.”

The long term vision is to create a trail that would link all of the publicly owned greenspaces between Porter Legacy Dunes and Pilgrim Haven (across 18th Avenue).

“The potential is there,” Ter Louw says, “but there is work to be done.”

The trail access will promote South Haven as a tourist destination, and also increase awareness of the importance of protecting special places like these for the long-term health, resiliency and distinctive character of the region.

The two-mile corridor of forested sand dunes between Van Buren State Park and Pilgrim Haven Natural Area is identified in the land conservancy’s recently-completed Climate Resiliency Strategic Conservation Plan, which identifies those landscapes that are the most important to conserve to ensure our region is resilient in the face of climate change. 

For more information on Porter Legacy Dunes, please visit the SWMLC website at https://swmlc.org/porter-legacy-dunes-protected/.

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is a nonprofit land conservation organization founded to protect southwest Michigan's wild and scenic places for the benefit of wildlife and future generations of people. Serving the nine counties of southwest Michigan since 1991, SWMLC has protected more than 18,000 acres of forests, wetlands, savannas, prairies, dunes, lakeshore, farms, and vineyards in our area.

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Read more articles by Rosemary Parker.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years, most of that time in Southwest Michigan.