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Michigan Land Use Institute Opposes South Fox Island Land Swap

Group urges alternative that balances private ownership with hunting, recreation

October 11, 2000 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

BENZONIA — The Michigan Land Use Institute today announced its opposition to a private landowner’s plan to turn 1.2 miles of state-protected shoreline on South Fox Island, off the northwest shore of Leelanau County, into a private beach. The proposed deal would also transfer to the island’s only private landowner, Petoskey’s Bay Harbor developer Dave Johnson, an additional 92 acres of public land. In exchange for giving up the land and the beach, which includes a safe harbor and historic lighthouse, the state of Michigan would consolidate several of Johnson’s parcels on the northern third of the island under public ownership.

In testimony before the Michigan Natural Resources Commission today, the Institute’s Great Lakes Shoreline Project coordinator Anne Stanton said the swap would severely limit hunting and recreation on the island and leave the endangered piping plover at long-term habitat risk.

The proposed land exchange also violates a decades-old agreement to keep the island’s lighthouse point in public ownership. The state of Michigan made this commitment when it used a federal grant, from tax revenues on the sale of guns and ammunition, to purchase land, including the beach, on the southern tip of the island. "By law, the state cannot dispose of those lands without replacing with property of equal wildlife value," Ms. Stanton said.

Proposal supporters suggest the deal is a good way to clear up problems that the current patchwork of private and public lands on the island causes hunters, hikers, and others. But Ms. Stanton encouraged the Natural Resources Commission, a governor-appointed citizen council that oversees the Department of Natural Resources, to develop an alternative plan for consolidating public and private holdings on South Fox Island.

"A new plan should meet important principles for managing the public trust," she said. These principles include preserving or improving public access to the island; maintaining or increasing public use of the island for hunting, boating, hiking and other recreational uses; and conserving habitat for threatened and endangered species.

The Institute presented a three-part plan to exchange lands so that Mr. Johnson and the people of Michigan each own a single block of property. The Institute’s proposal includes transfer of the lighthouse point to the Grand Traverse Band or another government entity along with continued family member access to a native american burial ground.

The Institute also urged the Commission to take steps to provide Mr. Johnson with immediate relief from his concerns about trespass during the upcoming hunting season. These include:

  • Accept Mr. Johnson’s offer to sell North Fox Island to the state for its current appraised value using additional federal funds for recreation and habitat conservation or funds from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust.
  • Remedy the trespass situation this hunting season by flagging private lands and offering an orientation to new hunters on the island.
  • Offer to purchase the most heavily trespassed portions of Mr. Johnson’s current holdings.

About the Institute
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, non-profit research, educational and service organization founded in 1995. Since then, more than 2,200 households, businesses and organizations have joined in support of the Institute's mission is to establish an approach to economic development that strengthens communities, enhances opportunity and protects Michigan's unmatched natural resources.

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