SAUGATUCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Michigan conservationists are seeking to reclaim land purchased eight years ago by an Oklahoma businessman.
The state Department of Natural Resources applied for a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to buy more than 150 acres north of the Kalamazoo River, the Grand Rapids Press reported (http://bit.ly/1sUPwhZ ).
Aubrey McClendon bought 412 acres, more than 300 of which have yet to be developed, spanning both sides of the Saugatuck channel in 2006. The department hopes to buy McClendon’s untouched land near Saugatuck Dunes State Park in an effort to protect the remaining area, even though the land is not on the market.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We don’t want to let it pass without making a real attempt to save that land,” said Vaughn Maatman, director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, which is working closely with the department to carry forth the effort.
The group is working with the department to raise private funds for the Saugatuck channel effort. It ultimately hopes to secure all 315 acres, which includes roughly 1,700 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline and 2,400 feet along the Kalamazoo River.
“We think this really could be one of the crown jewels in the state system,” Maatman said.
The Land Conservancy gave McClendon $19 million for 171 acres on the channel’s south side in 2009.
McClendon, who has been battling with conservationists and government officials to develop the northern section of his land for years, was last known to be asking $40 million for the entire property.
Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said he is interested in preserving the land through a mix of public and private funding if it can be secured.
“There’s nothing more spectacular than the Lake Michigan shoreline through that dune area,” Creagh said.
The department’s application for funding is limited to 150 acres, he said, because the land would buffer Saugatuck Dunes State Park if McClendon is able to continue with his development plans. But the application can be amended later to include more property, according to a department spokesperson.
Paul Yauk, land program manager for the department’s Parks and Recreation Division, said he’s hopeful the land will be available.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed. I think if we come up with the dollars, we’ll have a willing seller,” he said.
Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board members are expected to make final decisions on park projects in December.
Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, http://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids