- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (AP) - Conservationists recently launched a letter-writing campaign to support a plan by Michigan officials to buy dune land along Lake Michigan.

The state Department of Natural Resources has applied for a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to support purchasing 150 acres of the 315-acre private property in Allegan County north of the Kalamazoo River. The land would expand the neighboring 1,000-acre Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

“The Saugatuck Dunes are to Grand Rapids as the Marin Headlands are to San Francisco, as the San Juan Islands are to Seattle, as Cape Cod is to Boston; public open space on the water that acts as the glue for an engaged, well-educated workforce and for tourist dollars,” said David Swan of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance.

A large grassroots campaign could sway the trust fund board to approve the grant later this month, Swan said.

Supporters who hope to acquire the land so it can be used for public camping and a boat launch for water recreation on the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan. It would also offer trails and protection of the ecosystems throughout the dunes, according to the state.

“There’s a large community growing around this,” said Rachel Hood, executive director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

The Saugatuck Township property owned by Oklahoma billionaire Aubrey McClendon hasn’t been on the market for almost seven months. Dick Waskin, a realtor for McClendon, told the Holland Sentinel his company will re-evaluate what to do with the land.

“The owner of this property has not decided which direction he will go in … There’s no specific plan on how to move ahead.”

The state trust fund board plans to meet in a few weeks to review the grant application. A final decision is expected by the end of the year.

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