Dune Harbor Park: Protecting a lakeshore haven for all
Warm sand between your toes, bright sun on your skin, the whisper of the breeze blowing through marram grass—these are just a few of the ways a walk along the shore of Lake Michigan awakens the senses. These qualities of the shoreline have made it in high demand for developers. When a large and beautiful property like the former Nugent Sand mine in Norton Shores goes up for sale, there is always a risk that the land will be subdivided and transformed into private parcels, barred from public enjoyment.
But there is also always a chance that, in working with community partners and a supportive landowner, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan can help preserve the landscape so that anyone can enjoy the restorative benefits of a walk along the lakeshore. Thanks to the commitment of Muskegon County and a few early donors, that is what is happening to the 377-acre former Nugent Sand mine in Norton Shores.
The property contains 1,662 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline. The County’s acquisition and protection of the Nugent Sand property would preserve a critical migratory corridor for birds, waterfowl and butterflies. It would also sustain habitat for rare plant and wildlife species and provide abundant recreational opportunities for residents and tourists.
With enthusiastic support from the community, this project is on the road to success. Last December, the County was awarded a $5 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) to purchase the southern 214 acres of the property. The project was the highest-scoring among 37 applications for land acquisition from across the state. A crucial factor in its success is that the landowner, Bob Chandonnet, has generously agreed to donate one-third of the property’s land value as a private match to state grant funds. This spring, the recommendation will be considered by the state Legislature and Governor Whitmer. Once approved, this once-private piece of land will open to public exploration as Dune Harbor Park within just 90 days.
Next, the County will await the MNRTF’s approval on a second $5 million grant to acquire the remaining acreage on the north side of the property. The Land Conservancy of West Michigan has been working with the County and donors to raise funds to be used to open the property to the public and sustain the park for future generations to enjoy. To date, private donors have committed approximately $350,000 to the project.
Among those donors are the Boerigters, owners of SoundOff Signal—a lighting and controls manufacturer in Hudsonville. The family recently embarked on an organized effort to give back to the West Michigan community, and the protection of Dune Harbor Park is the first cause they have pooled their resources to support.
Jim Boerigter, a Muskegon High School alumnus, remembers moving to the town when he was in fourth grade. He recalls biking to the beach, walking along the lakeshore and even serving as a lifeguard at Pere Marquette Beach. To him, Muskegon’s ample public access to Lake Michigan beaches was a point of pride.
“I probably walked every inch of it at some point,” Jim said.
Boerigter family vacations were spent in nature, whether the family was road tripping cross country, heading up north to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes or just taking a day trip out to Pere Marquette Beach. To Jim, those memories are part of the motivation behind his family’s support of the protection of Dune Harbor Park.
“Parks and open areas were important because that is what we could afford and had the opportunity to do,” Jim said. “Setting aside this property allows that to happen for someone else.”
Ensuring that everyone who lives in Muskegon, regardless of income, can enjoy the benefits of the lakeshore is important to Jim.
“I would hope that a young family who is living in downtown Muskegon who can’t afford to take a vacation and fly to Florida for two weeks—that they might be able to pack a lunch, go for a walk and spend a day enjoying the beauty of West Michigan and what nature and God have given to us,” Jim said.
Though they now live in all different parts of the country, the family’s ties to West Michigan are strong. Those experiences away from the scenic coast of Lake Michigan bring its specialness into sharp relief.
“Having traveled and lived in other places, no one outside of West Michigan understands its beauty and significance,” Jim said. “I don’t want that to disappear without people having the opportunity to live it and share it and breathe it.”
The Land Conservancy of West Michigan is grateful to have the generous support of the Boerigters alongside the other donors who have supported this effort. Stay tuned for more about this project later this summer.
Until the property is acquired by Muskegon County and made open to the public, it remains private and closed to public access. Please respect the landowners and do not visit the Nugent Sand property at this time.