Pere Marquette Conservation Park holds grand opening

August 13, 2021

Pere Marquette Conservation Park holds grand opening

By Joan Young, MCP Correspondent. 

PERE MARQUETTE TOWNSHIP — On the 300 acres of former Dow Chemical property south of Ludington the new Pere Marquette Conservation Park staged a grand opening on Friday, August 13, 2021. Pere Marquette Charter Township has taken the lead on this immense undertaking. The property was purchased from Dow by the township in 2017 with the aid of a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. Additional funding for the purchase was supplied by Pennies from Heaven Foundation, Tom Paine of Metalworks, and various community foundations. Kelly Smith, Pere Marquette Township parks manager said the application for this grant scored the highest of any submitted that year. 

Studying the 12 large easel-board panels which visually describe the plans for the property, it’s easy to see why the project received top scores for recreation and habitat preservation. The possibilities proposed are stunning. Naturally, it will take some time for all the facilities to be constructed. Meanwhile, the property is now officially open to the public, and it can be explored in anticipation of the wealth of future recreational structure. Currently, there is a former haul road that can be walked, and several mowed pathways. 

The acreage is bounded by Pere Marquette Lake, Pere Marquette Highway, Iris Road and Lakeshore Drive and area approximately 1.3 miles wide and 1/2 mile deep. It includes frontage on Pere Marquette Lake, the Pere Marquette River, and a small portion on Lake Michigan. Adjoining township park, Buttersville Park, provides additional Lake Michigan frontage and camping. The location is exceptional.

Participating in the ceremony were the township, representatives from Dow Chemical, Ludington Mass Transit Authority, The Land Conservancy of West Michigan, and the National Park Service Michigan and Senator Curt Vanderwall/ Local law enforcement was also represented, and Pere Marquette Township Fire Department flew their super-sized American Flag. Lakeside Wiener Wagon served hot dogs, chips and cold drinks. Many attendees showed up with leashed pets. Perhaps all that was missing to make it an all-American event was the apple pie and a brass band.

The excitement and hoopla are not misplaced. Future plans include trails dedicated to hiking and bicycling, in addition, a multi-use trail may follow the bed of the former Mason and Oceana Railroad, an already-leveled berm that extends along the south shore of Pere Marquette Lake. A water trail for paddlers has been planned, which will include several launch/docking sites. A boardwalk trail passing through a wetland will bring walkers close to the many waterfowl and wetland plant communities. 

David Dister, perhaps the best-known Mason County naturalist said, “The birding community is very interested in this effort.” He also stated that he was looking forward to inventorying the plants on site. There are opportunities for the various trails to connect with other regional trails—always good news for those who like longer hikes or rides.

Day use areas with plenty of parking and rest rooms are planned. Picnic areas, playgrounds, sports fields, a swimming beach, and a winter sports activity area are shown on the master plan.

Anglers, who have long appreciated the Pere Marquette River flats and Lake, will be better served with additional parking and improved boat launch sites.  

There are various ecosystems present on the property, and there are plans to preserve these and improve others by the removal of non-native plants. An active effort will be made to restore portions to native prairie.

If this all sounds too good to be true, take heart. Although the township realizes it will take many years to put all of this infrastructure in place, funding is already being sought to get things rolling, and a Friends group is being formed to aid in various ways. The National Park Service Rivers Trails & Conservation Assistance program will assist with forming the Friends group.

Senator Vanderwall made a special effort to attend, despite a delayed flight. He described this park as one of “unbelievable vision and opportunity” to serve the community and Michigan into the future. 

Dow Community Relations representative, Heather Gallagos, was enthusiastic, stating that collaboration was a part of Dow’s heritage. The company is pleased to support healthy activities and environmental sustainability. Dow Remediation Strategist, Steve Lucas, participated. Small portions of the property are still in the final stages of being made ready to turn over to the township.

Township Supervisor Jerry Bleau, speaking to Mason County Press, said, “Today is a very special day for Pere Marquette Township and Mason County. The visions of everyone involved from conception has been amazing. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

The park is open daily, and can be accessed from Iris Road, or from Lakeshore Drive just north of White Pine Village. To receive information about becoming a Friend of the park, contact Kelly Smith at [email protected]

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