Rare ecosystem will be protected by South Haven Area Recreation Authority

Porter Legacy Dunes has been unspoiled for over 150 years and as part of a chain of freshwater dunes that line Lake Michigan’s coast, it is one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. Now the property has been acquired by the South Haven Area Recreation Authority, which will protect them.

The acquisition was made possible with a $2.262 million grant announced in December 2019 by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) Board announced a $2.262 million acquisition grant to South Haven Area Recreation Authority to protect Porter Legacy Dunes.

Located right across the street from Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, this 48-acre property on Lake Michigan has been owned by the Porter Family since the 1880s. Earlier in 2019, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) joined in a public-private partnership with the South Haven Area Recreation Authority (SHARA) to seek the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant to assist in acquiring the unique property. Such grants are awarded to local governments and the Department of Natural Resources to purchase land for natural resource protection or outdoor recreation.

“We are so pleased and thankful to the DNR staff and the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board for awarding funds to purchase this extraordinary property to expand natural areas and public access on Lake Michigan,” says South Haven Area Recreation Authority Chair and South Haven Charter Township Supervisor Ross Stein.

Porter Legacy Dunes not only has a 120-foot dune that overlooks Lake Michigan, but the property also offers a stunning beech-maple-hemlock-oak backdune forest with what the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy describes as seemingly endless carpets of spring wildflowers, and a quarter-mile of winding Dyckman Creek. It provides a critical habitat for many rare and unusual plant and animal species, including resident birds and aerial migrants such as cerulean and hooded warblers, scarlet tanagers, and monarch butterflies.

Porter Legacy Dunes boasts over 1,100 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan, which, when combined with that of Pilgrim Haven totals almost 2,000 feet of publicly-accessible Lake Michigan shoreline.

“Porter Legacy Dunes provides the perfect natural complement to Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, where all the visitor amenities such as parking, bathroom facilities, and barrier-free trails and walkways have already been implemented,” says Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy President and Executive Director Pete Ter Louw. “This public access infrastructure will also serve the Porter Legacy Dunes property, minimizing impact to the sensitive coastal dune habitat, where the only additions we envision are low-impact trails and trailhead, a stream crossing, some benches, and backdune stairs to protect the dune and dune face.”

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is working with South Haven Area Recreation Authority to raise the rest of the funds needed to complete this $3.3 million project. Because of a generous donation from the Porter Family and with the MNRTF grant award, in December it was announced there was only $350,000 left to raise and it appears some of those funds have  come in since then according to the SWMLC website. The funds will cover the cost of the minimal trail system as well as providing for long-term care and stewardship of the property.

The almost-10-year-old South Haven Area Recreation Authority is a partnership of South Haven Charter Township, The City of South Haven and South Haven Public Schools, and provides a regional approach to managing and advancing community recreation needs.

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy serves the nine counties of southwest Michigan and has worked with regional landowners to protect over 16,000 acres since its inception as an all-volunteer organization in 1991. The Conservancy currently has nine staff and 150 active volunteers and is supported by over 1,250 household memberships. SWMLC is active in maintaining over 50 nature preserves, enforcing over 100 conservation easements, and convening regional partners to create conservation plans and engage people in the natural world. 

Source: Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy