By Carol Drake, Friends of Jean Klock Park
The Lake Michigan shoreline and its adjacent coastal resources are a global wonder and an irreplaceable natural resource to those who revere these amazing habitats. Unfortunately the majority of the Michigan shoreline has been lost to commercial, industrial and residential development. But scattered between these privately owned developments are extremely special public lands. They are “Places that Matter.” And because the public has so little of the shoreline left to enjoy, these remaining places are in dire need of protection. Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor, Michigan is one of these increasingly rare and very special places.
In 1917 John and Carrie Klock deeded 90 acres of Lake Michigan frontage to the City in memory of their daughter Jean. The park’s land has been a public haven for 91 years and has served nearly five generations. The park consists of three globally rare communities; Great Lakes Open Dunes, a Great Lakes Marsh and interdunal wetlands. The park also hosts the largest and most viable population of the endangered plant species rose pink in the State of Michigan, along with other native plant species of special concern.
Through the years the park has been threatened with development proposals and survived but in 2003 came the beginning of a new, and at the time, unseen threat. The City announced an interest in selling a portion of the park’s property for a lakefront residential development. A lawsuit, settled out of court, allowed the development in exchange for permanent protections of the remaining 73 acres of the park. Within a matter of months a far bigger development idea was uncovered, a plan for a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in the dunes and wetlands of Jean Klock Park.
Over the past twenty years the City of Benton Harbor applied for and received more than 1.74 million dollars in State and Federal Grants including a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, approved by the National Park Service for park improvements and a 1989 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant for the “preservation of fragile dunes and wetland wildlife habitat”; valuable habitat that the City now promotes for the purpose of a golf course development.
Now, nearly four years later, the Friends of Jean Klock Park and collaborating nonprofit environmental organizations have been successful in protecting the special area within the park. However, the park is still at risk of approval of the project. We ask that you join us in the quest to preserve this irreplaceable public land, a “Place that Matters”, because once it’s gone, it will be lost from us forever.