I am responding to the DNR’s request for comments to help shape the future management of Warren Dune State Park made at the public open house held on November 28. I live in Harbert, Michigan, just 3 miles south of the Park. I am frequent visitor to the Park. I use the Park for hiking and cross-country skiing.
I have been extremely disappointed in how the Park has been managed over the years. The trails are not maintained. Often trees cover the trails for years. Last winter, many cross-country trails were inaccessible due to downed trees. The nature trail is now defunct as the signage has never been maintained. The foot bridges over the wetter portions of the trail are in disrepair. It is a shame that a visitor’s hiking experienced is spoiled by the lack of care and attention to the trails.
The lack of management was most evident with the failure to repair the only bridge from the campsites to the trails and the beach. It was out of commission for years. It was just recently repaired. Why did it take so long? For those many years, campers and families had to drive to get to the beach and the trails. Many I suppose tried to get over the creek by walking across the downed trees. That was a dangerous condition that was left neglected. This was a relatively simple and inexpensive repair, so I find it difficult to believe that a lack of funding was the issue. My best guess is that the focus is on visitors who use the beach. How else to explain the neglect of the trails?
I am the current President of the Rotary Club of Harbor Country. Our Club, along with Chikaming Open Lands and Chikaming Township, have installed (or are in the process of installing) trail signage according to National Park Standards on trails throughout Harbor Country. I strongly recommend that the DNR do the same in the Park. Pat Fisher of Harbor Country Hikers has been leading that effort. Currently, Hoadley Trail in Three Oaks and Robinson Woods Preserve in Chikaming Township have the new trail signage.
I suggest that the Park try to organize a group volunteers to help maintain the trails and address invasive species. It could be called “Friends of Warren Woods State Park.” They could have stewardship days, say one day per month. Please talk to the people at Chikaming Open Lands. They are doing an outstanding job of maintaining their properties. They build trails and tackle invasive species all over Harbor Country.
I believe Warren Dunes State Park is one of the most visited state parks in Michigan. It is sad that it is has been neglected. There are so many things that could be done to improve it. It would cost little to reinstall the nature trail and to repair the wood platform on the main trail and add a few more wood platforms where wet conditions seem to prevail much of the year. In the future, it would be wonderful to build a nature center to educate the public, particularly students, about the Park’s ecology, geology, and history. I think the Park at present is a lost educational opportunity.
I really hope that the DNR takes immediate steps to improve the Park. It is an amazing parcel of land with over 3 miles of beach on Lake Michigan. In the near term, the Park could be made so much better with not that much money or effort. In the future it could be turned into an invaluable educational resource for the residents of Berrien Country.