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Tangible and Intangible Values

A resident’s view of the Lake Michigan coast

March 15, 2007 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Mike Shaw

"I have returned to those dunes countless times for the solace only the dunes can give. I implore you, do not let anyone destroy that peace."

SAUGATUCK -- Lakeshore living is a gift. It deserves an understanding of its tangible and intangible value. It’s easy to recognize the motives of developers who see the tangible value of waterfront property. However, there is much more to consider than temporary monetary return on investment for the development of Saugatuck Dune coastal lands.

My father is a builder, and when I told him of my disappointment about the potential devastation that may soon befall the McClendon/Denison parcels, forever altering the last undeveloped river mouth to Lake Michigan along our coast, he suggested the developers take a longer view.

The numerous homes now on the market serve as a foundation for the development of a much bigger dream. By allowing the community to purchase the Denison parcels from them, Aubrey and Katie McClendon might then choose to reinvest their return into the whole of the community and reap an even larger long-term value.

The community as a whole would enjoy the benefits of the conserved lands, while allowing the investor to use that conservancy as a selling point to the same market intended for the dunes development. As an added bonus, the culture of the community would be enhanced, having attracted newcomers who appreciate the intangible value of place that for so many years has been thoughtfully invested in, and protected, here.

Note to McClendon’s: Please Listen
Aubrey and Katie McClendon need to know that we seek investors who are willing to invest in the character of our culture as well as the improvement of its natural heritage. We need to invite them, please, to understand what it is we’ve come to love about our lifestyle here. We need to share with them our desire for their investment here in a way that is suited for, not simply expedient to, an involvement in this "last great place."

If there are 80 or 300 units of housing in the most beautiful open space in the area — no matter how sensitively done -- is not suitable development.. The stewards who preceded us — including the late Frank Denison — deserve our respect for their foresight, wisdom and integrity to generations who would follow in preserving natural wonders like the one now in question.

Let us not forget the intentions of those who have invested in the preservation of the intangible value of our natural world. Sometimes the win-win-win solution can be found in a simple redirection of focus. Lead the McClendons and their attorney, Stephen Neumer, to take a longer view of their investment opportunity here that will not harm our natural treasures.

A 9/11 Connection
For me the issue is very personal. I was on the shores of Oval Beach, bordering the Denison South parcel, on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was a blue sky beautiful morning filled with birdsong and the whisper of the breeze through the dune-grasses. As I walked north to the beach that morning an old man was throwing a driftwood stick to his frolicking dog in the cool light Lake Michigan shoreline surf. The dog was obviously beside himself with excitement and didn’t notice our proximity.

I was enveloped in that instant by a sense of family, of that place, even by the universe as a whole. I was completely happy walking the shoreline, standing to watch seagulls soar, and then sitting there, near the old wooden pier pilings, just listening to ducks and gulls and the effects of wind.

When my chosen time there was filled, I returned to town to learn our country had been attacked, and my world had been dramatically changed. I have returned to those dunes countless times since for the solace only the dunes can give. I implore you, do not let anyone destroy that peace.

Joe Wilkinson is a resident of the Saugatuck Dunes coastal region. This commentary is adopted from a letter he wrote to the Saugatuck Township Planning Comission, which is preparing to review a development proposal for the former Denison property in Saugutuck.

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