Saving a Pristine Lakefront Woodlands at Chikaming’s Cherry Beach

This time of year lots of people are in a race to get to the beach. For Chikaming Township it’s actually more like a race against time for the beach. Cherry Beach. While Township efforts to acquire pristine Lake Michigan lakefront woodlands adjacent to Cherry Beach recently got a big boost, the clock is ticking.

The project’s big boost came from two important Southwest Michigan foundations: a Carls Foundation $250,000 challenge grant in partnership with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy; and a $50,000 challenge grant from The Upton Foundation.

The Township is essentially in a race for time and by October 1st they must raise about $1 million in order for the project to qualify for a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant that, if awarded, would provide 75-percent of the roughly $4 million needed to complete the purchase.  Chikaming Township has pledged $175,000 towards the effort.

Cherry Beach is a beautiful Lake Michigan beach park open to the general public that has been owned and managed by Chikaming Township ever since the Warren Foundation deeded land to the Township nearly 100 years ago, back in 1922. The adjacent parcel now for sale carries a permit for development of a large residential compound. Instead, the Township is working with the property’s seller to buy the land and keep it in its natural state for future generations.

Chikaming authorities have pegged the project as an important purchase. There are 7 miles of lakefront in Chikaming Township, yet only 2-percent of that mileage is public. The acquisition would protect approximately 3 acres of pristine dune and woodlands that have not been harvested since just after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The Project would extend the Park’s lakefront from 253 feet to 657 feet, a 250-percent increase.

If the Township succeeds in securing the State trust fund grant, the final purchase price will be determined by two appraisals paid for by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund after project approval in December, 2018.

The Township and a grassroots group of concerned citizens, The Cherry Beach Committee, plans to initiate public fundraising efforts within the next week. No donations will be collected now, but pledges for the Trust Fund matching funds must be received no later than October 1st. The Berrien Community Foundation is acting as the repository for pledges c/o The Cherry Beach Project.

David Bunte is Supervisor of Chikaming Township. He is heralding the Carls and Upton Foundation actions,  by expressing confidence that the community will come together to complete this preservation initiative. He says, “It is wonderful to see these prestigious foundations support this private/public collaboration. Our beaches are a main attraction for visitors to Harbor Country. This project is good for the economy, good for the environment, and good for everyone who just enjoys spending time on Michigan’s beautiful lakefront.” He notes, too, that an information meeting to rally support for the Project will be conducted at the Township Center on June 30th, from 10-11 am EST.

The Cherry Beach Project is a public-private initiative led by The Cherry Beach Committee in partnership with Chikaming Township. The Committee is comprised of concerned Township property owners and is being actively assisted by other area volunteers, local businesses and by Southwest Michigan not-for-profit organizations. In addition to The Southwest Land Conservancy and The Berrien Community Foundation, other major Project partners include The Conservation Fund and The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. More information is available by clicking this link: http://cherrybeachproject.com