Chikaming Township recently announced that it has completed the purchase of undeveloped land adjacent to Cherry Beach, the crown jewel of the Township’s lakefront parks. The acquisition expands and protects the beach park deeded to the Township by the Warren Foundation in 1922, and ensures that the expanded beach and pristine shoreline will remain available for public enjoyment in perpetuity.
The acquisition was secured by the perseverance of a small group of volunteers and by generous donations from more than 800 individuals, private foundations, area businesses and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF).
“We did it!”, exalted Township Supervisor David Bunte. “This community pulled together for a cause we all believed in, something that will benefit generations for years to come. As a park board member, Janet Schrader initiated the effort when I first came to office and kept the public engaged. Special thanks to The Cherry Beach Committee, especially to co-chairs Susan Phelan and Peggy McTigue, and to Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund, who agreed early on to facilitate the transaction with the seller. They never gave up.”
MNRTF contributed 60 percent of the $4.125 million purchase price. Back in 2018, the MNRTF turned down the Township’s first proposal for 75 percent funding but encouraged the Township to re-apply in 2019. To enhance prospects for success, the Cherry Beach Committee then raised $1.65 million or 40 percent of the cost, enough to considerably lessen the State’s share. MNRTF approved the Township’s second grant application in late 2019.
Critical early supporters included the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, which helped secure a $250,000 matching grant from the Carls Foundation, and the Berrien Community Foundation, which served as fiscal agent, tracking and collecting community pledges. Another key contributor, Marcy Hamilton of the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, guided the Township’s development and submission of the State grant applications.
Cherry Beach Committee leaders Susan Phelan and Peggy McTigue credited other members of the Committee – Deborah Hall-Kayler, Tom Stillman and Sherri Curry – for unique contributions to the cause. They also acknowledged project advisors like Joanne Sims, Gary Wood and Bob Beemer, who had previous experience with big fundraising projects and provided coaching and moral support throughout the long effort.
This was an important purchase. There are 7 miles of lakefront in Chikaming Township; expansion of Cherry Beach grows the public’s portion of that total from 2 to 3 percent. The acquisition also protects 3-plus acres of critical dunes as well as woodlands that have not been harvested since just after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
The following celebratory events have tentatively been planned at Cherry Beach: September 11 at 10 a.m. – a symbolic moving of the boundary sign from its existing beach location to the new boundary of the expanded Cherry Beach Park.; September 17 at 5 p.m. – the township will hold a celebratory event for supporters in the parking lot at Cherry Beach. Light refreshments and lots of congratulations to go around.
About the Cherry Beach Project: The Cherry Beach Project is a public-private initiative led by The Cherry Beach Committee in partnership with Chikaming Township. The Committee is comprised of concerned Township residents, assisted by other area volunteers, local businesses and by Southwest Michigan not-for-profit organizations. In addition to The Southwest Land Conservancy and The Berrien Community Foundation, other major Project partners include The Conservation Fund, The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and the Deer Creek Open Space Association. A list of supporters and more information is available at cherrybeachproject.com.