Saugatuck Dunes State Park is a public recreation area located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, five miles (8.0km) northeast of Douglas in Presque Isle County, Michigan. The state park’s 1,100 acres (4.5km2; 440 ha) include two units that straddle the dunes between Little Bay and Big Bay as well as an additional unit to the east of Big Bay. It is one of several protected areas occupying some 700-mile (1,300 km) of coastline along the lake front from Hombach to White Shoal.
Nearly 400 homes are packed into this small area, each containing multiple bedrooms but often lacking basic amenities such as running water or indoor plumbing. Some of these homes sit directly on top of the dunes, completely hidden from view. Although the original intention was for the entire campground to be situated inside the forest reserve, it has been determined that this will cause significant environmental damage to the fragile ecology of the dunes themselves. As a result, an alternative site was selected approximately one mile north of the main camping area.
There are 45 semi-modern campsites divided into three separate sites. Of the available electricity, 20 amps is common, 15 amps is medium current and 40 amps is heavy current. Water is available seasonally from a pump. Campers may use either freshwater or saltwater showers. Modern restroom facilities with hot water are provided during warm weather months. No pets are allowed due to the sensitive nature of the habitat. The primary access point is via Highway 31. Other roads providing access points include Beech Grove Road, Locust Avenue, and Turkey Creek Road. These provide easy parking for visitors arriving from the south on U.S. Route 12/98. Northbound traffic can also enter the park via Mears Road.
Visitors traveling west on US12/98 can easily reach the park via SR76. SR 76 intersects with US12/98 near its intersection with SR53. Access from the north is via SR76. SR 53 provides access from I-75. The park offers swimming, picnicking, boat launch, playground, cabins, 96-room lodge, 144-campground sites, hiking trails, hunting, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, and volleyball. The park contains a Nature Center offering natural history exhibits and programs. The park includes a portion of the Keweenaw National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge protects bird populations and various habitats including woodlands, wetlands, beaches and bogs.
The park lies adjacent to the Wilderness Area, protecting similar ecosystems and wildlife species. The park sits atop the dunes of the Driftless Area of northern Michigan. The Driftless Area is an area of land that remained ice free through three successive ice ages, resulting in very high quality soil. About 450 different kinds of birds nest here, attracted by both the 520 million gallons (2100,000 m3) of fresh water held in the wetland areas and the abundant food supply. Over 250 varieties of flowers bloom here throughout the growing season.
In 1871, George B. Stevenson purchased land bordering the Saugatuck River for $500. He built his home there in 1872. Four years later he sold it to William W. Drummond for $1,000. A year after that, Drummond transferred ownership to John C. Robinson for $1,400. Robinson built his home on the property in 1895. He died soon thereafter, leaving the property to his son, John Alden Robinson. In 1923, John R. Robinson married Mary Frances Denny. They were the parents of four children, including Patricia “Patti” who was born on July 25, 1928 at their home in Saugatuck. On May 15, 1945, just prior to her marriage, Patti gave her father an option to purchase the family home.
Two months later, on September 23, 1945, she deeded the house and 120 surrounding acres to him. She kept only a life estate with the right to live in the home until she turned 21. Her gift was not without strings. If Mr. Robinson failed to pay the taxes or maintained the property, she could take back the title. But if he did what she wanted, then she would let him have the farm. For 50 years, Mr. Robinson paid the taxes and made all necessary improvements to maintain the property.
When he died in 1965, his three surviving children had long since moved away. However, they left behind a daughter named Joan Robinson Rice who lived in California. She contacted the Presque Isle County Historical Society which encouraged the local government to recognize the tax delinquency and turn over the property to the county for sale at auction. On March 13, 1968, more than 300 people showed up to bid on the beachfront property. Local newspaper editor Bill Thomason won the day with a winning bid of $27,000. With interest added, the total amount paid by the county was about $32,000.
At last the county owned 2 square miles (5km2) of pristine white sand beachfront! Unfortunately, the historical society hadn’t counted on the fact that the once financially struggling county now had enough money to make a profit off real estate development. So instead of selling the land to private developers, they decided to hold onto it and see what other governmental bodies might be interested in purchasing the undeveloped property. On October 29,1968, less than six months after the previous auction, 350 people again showed up to look at the beachfront. This time representatives from the city of Douglas, the village of Caledonia, the region’s largest utility company, Northern States Power, and a developer from St. Louis, Missouri were among those present.
An agreement was reached and, just like before, Bill Thomason broke the ice by placing the first stone when the ceremonial signing took place on January 10, 1969. Shortly thereafter, the city of Douglas acquired an initial 320 acres (130ha), Northern States Power bought 160 acres (65ha) and the county retained 60 acres (24ha). Once again, the historical society had miscalculated. This time around they had assumed that the open space would remain unclaimed and undeveloped. Instead, within a few years, every single acre of land was developed. To fill the void left by the departing residents, many mobile home parks opened up throughout the region.
Mammals observed at the park include:
- river otters
- timber wolves
- cottontail rabbits
- Canadian lynx
- snowshoe hares
The rich black loam soils support hardwood forests of:
Common tree species include:
- yellow birch
- American black walnut
- green ash