HARBERT – Enthusiasm and gratitude were in no short supply during the Dec. 12 meeting of the Chikaming Township Board as supervisor David Bunte announced the good news — the Cherry Beach Project’s second attempt at securing a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant providing 60 percent of the funding ($2.475 million) toward the township's purchase of the undeveloped three-acre lakefront parcel that borders Cherry Beach to the south was successful.
Currently under the ownership of the Reed Beidler Trust, the property features, along with an expansive beach, old growth forest along a critical dune.
The acquisition will increase the size of the popular beach there that was donated to the township by the Warren Family in 1922 from 253 feet to 657 feet and will protect it in perpetuity for future generations to enjoy.
“Without our community’s generous help in raising the 40 percent match to qualify, this grant from the state would not have been impossible,” Bunte said in a news release. “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.”
The first grant application was for a 25 percent match, and this year that match was increased to 40 percent thanks to the generosity of community members, foundation grants, and a $250,000 donation pledge from the township. That $1.65 million in donation pledges is believed to be the key factor in the awarding of the grant.
“I’m so excited and we can finally breathe again because we’ve been holding our breaths so long about this,” Bunte said with a smile. “My hope is that in 50 or 60 years those enjoying the expanded Cherry Beach will be thinking, ‘Thank goodness that back in 2019 people in this township had the foresight to purchase this property.’”
Bunte was effusive in his praise for all of those people and organizations who got behind the Cherry Beach Project, but he gave special commendations to the Cherry Beach Committee members, the Park Board, and especially member Janet Schrader.
“Shortly after I became supervisor Janet came into my office and shared her vision of us somehow being able to acquire this property, and she was the one who got the whole ball rolling,” he related. “We ended up getting over 900 donation pledges, and that’s a credit to Janet’s perseverance and that of her fellow Park Board members.
“I thank Janet for coming into my office that day,” Bunte continued. “This is just an amazing thing to happen to us and our community.”
Trustee Rich Sullivan also had kind words for Schrader and the hard work she has done over the past years to help bring her vision to reality.
“I remember you talking about this for a long time and how fitting it would be to expand Cherry Beach as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2022,” Sullivan said. “You are a dreamer, and you were able to find many others who caught that dream.
“I know that you have a special love for and relationship with our beaches, and that they have been a source of healing for you,” he continued. “My only regret is that Kirk (Schrader’s late husband who recently succumbed to pancreatic cancer) is not around to see this.”
The modest Schrader said it was truly a group effort that got the job done, and she, in turn, gave thanks to many, including the Board members and Bunte.
“Without you this wouldn’t be happening,” Schrader said. “When this adjacent parcel first came up for sale I turned over every rock I could with the hope this could be done. I want to thank everyone involved, especially all the generous members of our community. Without them this never could have happened.”
In his news release Bunte also applauded four other organizations and associates that he said significantly contributed to the project’s success:
• The Conservation Fund, with 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 staff at The Berrien Community Foundation, who Bunte said jumped on board to help manage financial pledges and facilitate the project’s ultimate award of important grants.
The Berrien Community Foundation will be following up with donors who have pledged their financial support in order to convert their pledges to actual donations, and those must be sent to them by next April 15 to make the closing of transaction possible.
Bunte commented that there was still some “heavy lifting” to be done beyond the collecting of donations, including the execution of land surveys and getting a required appraisal.
In other business, there was a six minute video with images of Kirk Schrader and a life well lived.
Shrader was a highly valued township employee for 36 years, and he was always known as a hard worker noted for going above and beyond what his job description required.
One of the images showed him riding a mountain bike, and it was a reminder that it was his vision and enthusiasm that made the development of a popular mountain bike trail at the Park & Preserve a reality. And as he had promised, it was a project totally executed by volunteers.
Janet Schrader said that Kirk knew he was loved by the community, and that love was reciprocated.
“He often referred to the people in Chikaming as his ‘township family,’” she said, adding that there were tentative plans to organize a “Kirk’s Ride” to honor his memory at the mountain bike trail at the Park & Preserve next September, the month of his birth in 1964.
Pat Fisher, the president of the Harbor Country Hikers, has suggested that the trail be named for him as a lasting memory of all he did to develop it.
In a related matter, after discussion on the subject there was unanimous approval on a motion to hire River Valley High School grad Forrest Galanda to fill the Cemetery Sexton/Facilities Manager position that has remained open since the onset of Shrader’s illness.
After the vote Janet Schrader said that when he discussed the possibility of retirement her late husband made it known that he hoped Galanda would be the one to take over his duties.
Finally, the discussion topic for the meeting was the coastline erosion issues caused by the high water level of Lake Michigan that has been exacerbated by storms and gale force winds.
Park Board chairperson Deborah Hall-Kayler said that her members had been dealing with the problem of beach stairs at the township’s beaches and lake accesses being compromised or completely washed away as they had been at Harbert Road where that access had to be closed to the public.
“Homes on the lakefront just north of our Harbert Road access appear to be in danger, and our stairs there are now nonexistent,” Hall-Kayler commented.
She planned to convene a special meeting that would be a walking tour of that area to better assess the damage and to try to come up with some future actions to help remedy what is already a critical situation.
Bunte said that he thought the formation of a committee staffed by members of the township’s various boards and commissions to assess the problems and various solutions would be a good idea.
“That way we would be able to gather different perspectives on this,” he said. “This is a tough discussion to have, and we’ve been approached by people who are in danger of losing their property, and maybe their homes. We need to look at this on a large scale, and the less impactful the better.”
Schrader suggested that aluminum stairways that would sit on the sand and be removable could be a long term solution to repairing and replacing the current wooden ones.
“I’ve also been working on a Harbor Country shoreline cleanup event that would take place in the spring in conjunction with New Buffalo Township and the City of New Buffalo,” she commented. “In my opinion, in order to get this done we may need a barge.”
Sullivan tried to put things in perspective by saying that longtime Chikaming residents had experienced the cyclical rising and falling of the lake water levels over the decades.
“Forty years ago I remember we saw old sets of stairs being uncovered again by the wave action,” he stated. "This is nothing new.”