By Caitlyn French | firstname.lastname@example.org
TAWAS CITY, MI - Nearly one mile of undeveloped Lake Huron coastline near Tawas City is slated to become home to a public park.
The nonprofit northern Michigan conservation group Huron Pines purchased the wooded, 145-acre parcel of property along U.S. 23 from the U.S. Gypsum Co. for $2.5 million in a project dubbed the “Lake Huron Coastal Preserve.”
The plan calls for Alabaster Township to assume ownership of the property in 2022 and turn it into a township park, with Huron Pines remaining in the picture to support the care and stewardship of the land.
“It’s an extremely rare event when a small community is presented with such a remarkable opportunity,” said Stephanie Wentworth, Alabaster Township supervisor.
The property is situated just south of Tawas City and includes nearly a mile of Lake Huron frontage. The purchased acreage is split between U.S. 23, with the lakefront parcel coming in at about 68 acres and the remaining land sitting across from U.S. 23.
The natural shoreline, mature hardwood forest and wetland ecosystem work together as a filter to help protect the water quality of Lake Huron and support diverse plant and wildlife species, according to Huron Pines.
“The vision right now is that the park would remain for relatively passive use, like hiking and walking trails; perhaps some access to Lake Huron. That’s not been well fleshed out yet. I think that’s something the township is interested in being able to offer,” said Heather Huffstutler, land protection director at Huron Pines.
USG is still mining in the area and has an active plant to the west and north of the property. Over the past 3-5 years, USG has been trying to shed unneeded properties in the area.
“As a large landowner in Iosco County, USG takes tremendous pride in its land management and stewardship efforts,” said USG Plant Manager Matt Craig. “We protect public access to parcels we don’t need for gypsum production, and whenever possible, we work with local government to release parcels we’re no longer using for the benefit of the community.”
The trailhead and parking area for the Alabaster Township Bike Path and Arboretum are located on the property’s south side and there is potential for future walking trails and public access to Lake Huron, said Huron Pines.
Alabaster Township will seek funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to purchase the property from Huron Pines. The fund uses royalties from oil and natural gas leases on public lands to support land protection and outdoor recreation efforts. Huron Pines plans to help Alabaster Township submit the grant proposal in April.
“If we want to ensure a future with healthy water, protected places and vibrant communities we need to work in collaboration with communities to build trust, identify shared goals and develop solutions that everyone can support and sustain,” said Huron Pines Executive Director Brad Jensen. “This opportunity, to protect precious shoreline in the heart of a residential and commercial area, is a way to engage the community and its visitors in conservation for decades to come.”
The next step in the funding process is the collection of public comments on the proposal for property acquisition, through an Alabaster Township Public Hearing set for 5 p.m. March 8 online.
In the meantime, Huron Pines is assessing the property so that it can be open for public use this spring. Public use outside of the bike trail will be restricted to foot traffic to ensure visitor safety and protect sensitive habitat, according to Huron Pines. The organization also plans to host a birding hike to experience the spring migration along Tawas Bay and introduce the public to the space.
“The connection from the bike trail is really important as well,” said Huffstutler.
The Lake Huron Coastal Preserve project is the newest environmental development and change happening at USG’s Iosco County location.
A large rock conveyor system that used to sit offshore in Lake Huron to load lake freighters was demolished in 2020. The structure was originally built in the 1920s to serve gypsum freighters and had sat dormant since 2000.
USG Corp. is a manufacturer of building supplies and solutions across North America, with 38 plants and several offices in the United States, according to its website.
The Alabaster quarry was one of the first locations that joined USG Corporation at its founding and is one of only three original locations that have operated continuously for the past century, according to USG.
MLive reporter Garret Ellison contributed to this report.
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