From Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to Warren Dunes State Park, Great Lakes coastal dune systems are found along Michigan’s coastal shorelines. Dozens of unique plant and animal species, like the endangered Piping Plover and Pitcher’s Thistle, make their homes in these coastal dune environments. We are fortunate to have so many of these unique ecosystems in Michigan, as they provide excellent opportunities for exploration and recreation. However, despite their abundance on Michigan’s coastal landscape, little is known about how these dunes socially, economically, and ecologically impact the communities that have grown up around them. A project currently underway is working toward a better understanding these coastal dunes systems and their relationship with surrounding communities. This project is being led by Michigan Environmental Council, with partners WMEAC, Heart of the Lakes, and Michigan State University, with funding from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of the Great Lakes, Coastal Zone Management Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Determining where natural areas begin and end can be difficult; political boundaries, mixed definitions, and classifications, and different land use interests can often lead to disjointed management and inconsistent definitions. Coastal dune systems are especially challenging because they are dynamic ecosystems with several unique sub-ecosystems within them. To get an accurate reading of the impacts of coastal dune systems on surrounding communities, it is important to accurately define and map the geologic extent of Michigan’s these dunes. There currently isn’t an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand resource to delineate the geologic extent of Michigan’s coastal sand dunes. Creating a more precise definition of coastal dunes, based in science and free of political bias, is necessary to facilitate future research and more productive dialogue with communities about the value of the dunes systems.
“Michigan’s coastal sand dunes are truly a world-class natural asset, as anyone who has stood at the top of Sleeping Bear or Grand Sable looking out across the blue waters of our inland seas can testify. As a state, we need to pay more attention to these kinds of special places, listening and hearing from the people who appreciate and enjoy it, measuring and valuing the outdoor recreation businesses and tourism base that rely on it, and figuring out the best ways to protect and enhance the resource,” said Brad Garmon of the Michigan Environmental Council.
It is clear that the dunes are a very much a part of Michigan’s coastal communities; people interact with them widely and often through sightseeing, hiking, beach going, and other activities. What is less clear is exactly what they mean to the communities tied to them. To gain a better understanding of the social and economic impacts of the dunes, an engaging outreach and survey development program will be created. This will provide details about the regional economic impacts, user demographics, and community and user values tied to Michigan dune destinations. This information will offer a complete picture of the social, cultural, and economic impact of these natural resources; and it will show where more local interest and planning is needed in regard to dune management.
“Western states have turned their natural assets into a way of life and a brand identity — the Rocky Mountains, Canyonlands, the Pacific Northwest. I would like to see Michigan and the Great Lakes States do the same with our Great Lakes assets, and our coastal sand dunes are a great place to start,” said Garmon.
To connect with the dunes community at large, it is necessary to identify and engage those individuals with personal or business interests in the dunes themselves. Engaging and partnering with a broad constituency of dunes “stakeholders” will allow the project partners to deliver meeting and event information, important findings, and other dunes-related news. “It is important to bring together the members of these communities who already have an interest in the dunes, regardless of whether that interest is personal, public, spiritual, or commercial. Everyone’s opinion counts,” said Elaine Isely, the Director of Water Programs at WMEAC. With a more informed and attuned audience, there will be more public understanding of the role that the dunes play in their communities’ future prosperity and quality of life. Among those being identified during the outreach process have been the dune recreation industry, tourism professionals, local business leaders, and outfitters.
To kick-off this project and raise awareness of its efforts, Michigan Environmental Council, WMEAC, and Heart of the Lakes are proud to invite you to the Freshwater Dunes Summit in Muskegon, Michigan on May 7-8. This event is meant to foster connections with other individuals and organizations who promote, advocate for, and research our coastal dunes systems, while getting an opportunity to see firsthand the beauty and science behind the dunes. Registration for the event, lodging information, and the full details of the event can be found at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/freshwater-dune-summit-registration-32067319215.