An official dedication ceremony for Pere Marquette Conservation Park is coming up as Pere Marquette Charter Township nears the home stretch of its years-in-the-making acquisition of several parcels of land from Dow Chemical.
The celebration will take place at the former Dow Activities Club Park, starting at 1 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 13. Township Supervisor Jerry Bleau said the area is “unofficially” open now, but only to foot traffic. The gates will remain closed to vehicles until the event.
“The day of the dedication, we’ll open the gates and people will be able to drive back into the Activities Club Park,” Bleau said.
Currently the property can be accessed via Iris Road or by using a driveway on Lakeshore Drive used by ice-fishers.
Bleau said the dedication will give people an opportunity to explore the property, learn about the future development plans and find out how they can help support the project.
Those who are planning to attend are asked to register by calling (616) 451-9476 or by visiting www.naturenearby.org/events/pmcp so organizers can ensure there are sufficient supplies on hand, such as light refreshments that will be served.
The driveway into the property is across from 1477 Lakeshore Drive. Attendees can turn right onto the driveway, then right again at the first intersection, follow the road to the next intersection, turn left and on to the parking areas and the park.
Parks Manager Kelly Smith has replaced the Dow signs with Pere Marquette Township signs. Signage will direct people from the entry area to the parking areas.
Bleau said he’s excited to see years of work begin to come to fruition. During the event, he’ll welcome the public to the property and explore some of the extensive plans for the park’s future.
“It’s been a lot of work and many before me have done the bulk of this,” he said. “We get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”
Not all of the parcels involved in the acquisition have officially passed over to P.M.’s ownership, but the dedication ceremony is a requirement of the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund grant process the township used to acquire the 300-acre property.
“Part of the grant process is to have an official dedication,” Bleau said. “We were kind of waiting for this whole COVID thing simmer down … but Parcel 5 — north of the north bridge on P.M. Highway — is in the final stretch of being closed, so we decided we’d better (have the ceremony).”
He added that he’s not sure precisely when that closing will take place, but it should be happening soon.
“We are waiting on an appraisal from Dow, and then a closing date from our title company, and then we’ll be ready to close,” Bleau said. “We have to close prior to Sept. 30.”
The dedication will be held in cooperation with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan (LCWM) and Dow.
The 300-acre property was acquired by the township through a Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund grant. The land conservancy partnered with the township on the 2017 Trust Fund grant application and Dow donated 50 percent of the property value to the township to support the grant proposal.
“A great deal of time and effort on the part of many individuals has been put forth to make this park a reality for the citizens of Pere Marquette Township, the surrounding communities and the many people who visit the area,” Bleau stated in a press release. “The collaboration with our project partners at LCWM, the community-minded generosity of Dow and strong local support all came together to enable the township to benefit from Michigan’s outstanding Natural Resource Trust Fund program. This event provides us an opportunity to say thank you for all of the hard work that’s gone into the project and to introduce the public to the park property and our future development plans.”
In the release, LCWM Executive Director Kim Karn stated the township’s acquisition of the property “protects vital natural land” on the Pere Marquette River shoreline “so that it can be restored and enjoyed by Ludington’s residents and visitors.”
LCWM has worked with the township for the past eight years on the project, providing advice and assistance on the trust fund acquisition process and leading fundraising efforts.
The park includes Lake Michigan frontage, approximately 1 mile of Pere Marquette Lake shoreline and 1/2 mile of frontage along the mouth of the Pere Marquette River.
In addition to a walk-through of the former Dow Activities Club area and a presentation about the park, the dedication will feature displays of the plans for the park, as well as information about the establishment of a Friends of Pere Marquette Conservation Park.
The township closed on Parcels 1-4 of the property in November 2020.
A master plan for the park was completed in April. It included cost estimates of various sectors of the project, totaling “a little over $12 million,” according to Smith, who told the Daily News at the time that the project would take “years and years” to develop.
The opening on Aug. 13 will mark an important step toward the end goal, however, and it will be the first time the former Dow Activities Club Park will be open to the public since a fall 2020.