Conservancy defends development along South Haven lakeshore

Neighbors upset about project to improve public access at Pilgrim Haven

South Haven, Pilgrim Haven
Construction at Pilgrim Haven in South Haven. (Oct. 31, 206)

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Bulldozers and cement trucks are working to develop a piece of land in South Haven now owned by a conservancy that neighbors thought would maintain the area’s natural state.

But with plans in the works to build a 50-space parking lot, new bathrooms and a cement access to the beach, some neighbors say that’s not what they’re getting.

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy acquired Pilgrim Haven several years ago. Sue Parish, the original owner, willed the property to the conservancy as part of her estate. SWLC officials say they spoke with Parish’s family before accepting the donation and that they were aware that the land would be developed for public access.

Some of those who live nearby have grown frustrated by what they see happening to the property.

“How is this considered conservancy?” one neighbor wrote on Facebook, referring to the construction currently underway. “Shame on you … for letting the Sue Parish gift be bulldozed to destruction.”

Peter TerLouw, president and executive director of the SWLC, told 24 Hour News 8 he was aware of those criticizing the project but said only a few people have voiced opposition. He said the current plans will provide barrier-free access to the Lake Michigan beach — something he says is in line with the conservancy’s goals.

“Less than 13 percent of Lake Michigan is publicly accessible and that includes state parks,” TerLouw said. “Anytime we can create new public access, especially barrier-free public access, that is the greatest gift the conservancy can give.”

Critics have also suggested that the plan presented to the public was not the plan being implemented now. TerLouw admitted that there were changes made but insisted they were only minor, impacting the access point at the beach. He said the conservancy made changes after concerns about lake levels crumpled the original plan.

Work on the project will continue into the fall and resume in the spring.

“I think that that is a fundamental core value of our organization now, is to be able to share these places and get people out in nature,” TerLouw said. “I just think it’s the greatest thing we can do.”

The property in question is not protected land, the conservancy says.