Tenacious Cherry Beach Project Committee Succeeds on 2nd Try

Reason Number 2.475 why you should never give up. Organizers of the Cherry Beach Project in the Harbor Country community of Harbert refused to give up when their first attempt at a large state grant fell short. They plowed ahead, re-filed the application and have learned this week that they will, indeed, get a grant of nearly $2.5-million from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Chikaming Township has learned that The Cherry Beach Project will proceed thanks to a trust fund grant totaling $2.475-million and the match of $1.65-million provided by more than 900 members of the community who pledged to make that match.

According to Township Supervisor David Bunte, the Township will now have the financial means to acquire the pristine wooded shoreline next to Cherry Beach park that it has long wanted.

Bunte says, “Without our community’s generous help in raising the 40-percent match to qualify, this grant from the State would have been impossible.” He adds, “There are still some important items to complete that come with finalizing a real estate transaction this large and complex, but if everyone honors their pledge and no major surprises arise, we expect the acquisition to move towards closure in 2020.”

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The existing Cherry Beach Park was donated to Chikaming Township by the Warren Family in 1922. The adjacent 3-acre parcel contains old growth forest along a critical dune with more than 400-feet of beachfront. It has never been developed and is being sold by a private individual for an estimated project cost of $4.125 million. This acquisition will increase the park’s current public beach from 253 feet to 657 feet.  There are 7-miles of lakefront in Chikaming Township, however only 2-percent is currently public.

Bunte contends, “We would not have succeeded in securing this critical grant without the perseverance and dedication of The Cherry Beach Committee,” and adds, “This is our second attempt at applying for the grant. With the committee’s tenacious fundraising efforts, our qualifying match grew from 25-percent in 2018 to 40-percent in 2019, thereby almost ensuring the grant award.”

Bunte also applauded four other important area organizations who each significantly contributed towards the project’s success:

  • The Conservation Fund and Peg Kohring who managed negotiations with the seller…
  • The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission’s Marcy Hamilton, who guided the committee through multiple grant submissions…
  • The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and its executive director Pete D. Ter Louw, whose early belief in the Cherry Beach Project enabled it to qualify for a $250,000 matching grant from The Carls Foundation…
  • The entire staff at The Berrien Community Foundation (BCF), who enthusiastically jumped on board to help manage financial pledges and facilitate the project’s ultimate award of two other important grants.

Berrien Community Foundation President Lisa Cripps-Downey says, “This collective effort demonstrates what can be achieved in a public/private partnership,” and adds, “We are thrilled to be a part of this project to expand public access to our community’s beautiful beaches. It took an incredible volunteer force to make this seemingly impossible dream possible.”

BCF will follow up with individual donors who have pledged financial support in order to convert those pledges to actual donations. Those must be sent to BCF by April 15, 2020. Timely receipt of those donations makes the acquisition possible.

The Cherry Beach Committee is a grassroots group of concerned citizens who organized to help the Township and its Park Board raise public awareness and funds for the purchase of the 3-acre land site.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund exists for the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. Final grant recommendations are made by the MNRTF Board to the state legislature each fiscal year for final funding approval.