What is Cherry Beach?
Cherry Beach is a Chikaming Township owned park and public beach with approximately 253 feet of lake Michigan shoreline. The Warren Family donated the property to the Township in 1922. Cherry Beach is a local treasure, cherished for almost a century for its secluded beauty and breathtaking sunsets.
What is The Cherry Beach Project?
A large property adjacent to and directly south of Cherry Beach Park (to the left as you stand in the parking lot, facing the lake) has been listed for sale. A group of local residents, second homeowners and community members have launched a campaign to help Chikaming Township fundraise and purchase the property to preserve the area in its natural state. If successful, this project will more than double the size of Cherry Beach Park and accessible lakefront.
How will the project be funded?
The Township has applied for a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant that, if awarded, will cover 75% of the purchase price of the property. The seller is asking over $4 million but the final price will be determined by two appraisals paid for by the MNRTF if the grant is awarded. We should know the grant award decision by early December, 2018. The community is responsible for raising the matching 25%, and as of October 1 that goal was met. The Township contributed a generous donation of $175,000 to the project and multiple foundation grants were secured for over $300,000. The community actively participated in the fundraising by contributing more than $600,000 in pledges. These pledges will become actual donations when a positive award decision is received from the State.
Is my donation tax deductible?All monies will be collected by the Berrien Community Foundation (BCF). BCF is approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(C)(3) tax-exempt organization and all donations are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.
What is the property in question?
It is an approximately 3-acre mature wooded dune that has not faced logging since the 1870’s after the Great Chicago Fire. It is comprised of a woodland, a creek and a large dune just south of Cherry Beach and bordering the current parking lot. The property has more than 400 feet of lakefront.
How will this project impact the size and nature of Cherry Beach?
Cherry Beach is currently 253 feet in length. This project will add 400 feet of beachfront and significantly increase the size of the current beach. Cherry Beach will become the largest public beachfront in the township. There are seven miles of Lakefront in our Township. Only 2% is public. There are plans for a low-impact nature trail, but no other changes are planned.
Will the current parking lot be enlarged?
What type of ecological benefits does it provide?
In addition to being an important bird area and bird-watching location, the property is home to bats, raptors, and endangered plants. It forms an important wildlife corridor with other protected areas.
What is the wildlife corridor?
The creek that flows through the proposed project area starts north of the Prairie Club, and travels through a series of protected wetlands, including the Woods Preserve and a property managed by the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. Protecting the mouth of the creek that flows into the lake on this property is important because wildlife use these riparian corridors to get to the lake from the wetlands preserves.
Who are the partners in this project?
Many important local community groups are joining us to make this purchase a reality. They include The Conservation Fund, The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, The Berrien Community Foundation, The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and Harbor Country Hikers. Other organizations have written letters of support that were submitted with the application for the State grant.
Besides a bigger beach, what are the economic benefits to the community?
Natural beaches and public access are "Pure Michigan." They are the lifeblood of our community and our local economy. Enlarging Cherry Beach makes our area more economically competitive with bigger Michigan spots such as St. Joe and New Buffalo. Beaches are our area’s #1 attraction. According the the Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce, Chikaming Township has the largest number of rental vacation homes in the area. People visit the community to enjoy the amenities of Harbor Country; beach access is at the top of the list. More accessible beach area leads to higher vacation occupancy and more visitor spending at local businesses, restaurants, wineries and breweries. The success of this project leads directly to the vitality of the community.
Who is the Cherry Beach Committee?
The Cherry Beach Committee is an all-volunteer group of neighbors and community members who love our community, the woods and the beach, and who have dedicated serious time to the project. The committee is working closely with the Township and is recognized by both The Township and Chikaming Park Board. Committee members include: Sasha Boersma, Sarah Doty, Deborah Hall-Kayler, Christopher Jabin, Allan Kayler, Peggy McTigue, Susan Phelan, Janet Schrader, and Tom Stillman.
Were there earlier attempts to purchase this property?
Yes. About ten years ago, a group of local people worked very hard to buy this property with the Township. At that time, the political and economic climate was less favorable. Earlier experiences have informed the current venture, and with a reorganized effort, the project is now moving forward.
What is the cost of not purchasing the property?
If we are not awarded the MNRTF grant in December, the property will likely be sold and privately developed. Plans have already been approved by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a large compound to be built on the site. The old growth forest could be lost forever and the beach would become private. While not part of Cherry Beach today, many beach goers have presumed this property was part of the public beach because it has been vacant so long. Public access would no longer be allowed.