Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area

County: Allegan Established: 2009 173 Acres
Features
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Scenic Vista
  • Sensitive Habitat
  • Water Feature
  • Wildlife Viewing
Amenities
  • Parking
  • Restrooms

At a Glance

  • Approximate Street Address: Perryman St., Saugatuck, MI 49453
  • Hiking the trails through the open dune and wetland landscape of the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area can get hot during the middle of a summer day, but all trails lead to the water’s edge on the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, the Kalamazoo River, or the small Oxbow Lagoon.
  • Trail length: 2.5 miles
  • For more information, visit the City of Saugatuck Parks and Recreation.

What to See

Hiking trails loop through the dunes, around wetlands, to the north shore of the Oxbow Lagoon, along the Kalamazoo River channel, and the Lake Michigan shoreline, offering scenic views at every turn. At the beach, look for migratory shorebirds including gulls, plovers, sandpipers, and terns.

Conservation Value

This magnificent dune ecosystem includes an amazing diversity of habitats and resources: Lake Michigan shoreline, populations of at least six rare plant and animal species including the prairie warbler (state endangered status) and Blanchard’s cricket frog (state threatened), open dunes, interdunal wetlands, natural jack pine forest, hardwood-pine dune forest, Great Lakes marsh, an oxbow lake, the south pier of the Kalamazoo River mouth, Kalamazoo River shoreline, and a historic site known as “Fishtown”.

Notably, Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area has interdunal wetlands which are considered to be globally imperiled because of their rarity and because factors such as coastal development make them vulnerable to extinction throughout their range. Protection of these wetlands provided an important impetus for setting aside the surrounding area as a natural area.

History

This area has historic significance as the site of the original mouth of the Kalamazoo River. In 1906, the present channel was constructed and blowing sand closed the original river mouth, creating the Oxbow Lagoon.  Visitors can still see the old pilings from the original river opening extending out into Lake Michigan.

A fishing settlement known as Fishtown was located on the north side of what is now the Oxbow Lagoon. The site was abandoned when the original mouth drifted closed soon after the opening of the present channel.

For much of the 20th century, this area was in private ownership and was not open to the public.

Due to the natural and historic significance, the Land Conservancy partnered with the City of Saugatuck to permanently protect this treasured natural area.  In December 2011, Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area transferred to Saugatuck to become a city park.

For the first time in a century, this area opened to all members of the public for hiking and the enjoyment of its outstanding scenic and natural features. Grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Coastal & Estuarine Land Conservation Program, along with generous donations from more than 600 private donors were crucial in achieving this goal.

Case study: “People & Place, Partnering for Success,” by Heart of the Lakes. (pdf)

Visitor Information

The Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area is best accessed from the City of Saugatuck’s adjacent Oval Beach Park. Please note that during the summer season (Memorial Day to Labor Day) there is a fee charged for parking, There is no charge for those entering by foot or bicycle.

From the north end of the parking lot, walk north along the lakeshore toward the Kalamazoo River pier. About halfway along the shoreline there is a sign on the dunes indicating where the marked trail system begins.

Features
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Scenic Vista
  • Sensitive Habitat
  • Water Feature
  • Wildlife Viewing
Amenities
  • Parking
  • Restrooms

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