HARBERT — The long-awaited Cherry Beach project moved a step closer to reality this week thanks to a $2.475 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Chikaming Township Supervisor David Bunte said this means the township will now have the financial means to buy the three acres of pristine wooded shoreline next to Cherry Beach Park. Some $1.65 million in pledges from 900 community members, added to the matching grant, will give the township the estimated $4.125 million needed for the project.

The existing Cherry Beach Park was donated to Chikaming Township by the Warren family in 1922. The adjacent three-acre parcel contains old growth forest along a critical dune with more than 400 feet of beachfront, Bunte said. It has never been developed and is being sold by a private individual. The acquisition will increase the Cherry Beach Park’s public beach from 253 feet to 657 feet.

“Without our community’s generous help in raising the 40 percent match to qualify, this grant from the state would not have been impossible,” Bunte said in a news release. “There are still some important items to complete that come with finalizing a real estate transaction this large and complex. But if everyone honors their pledge and no major surprises arise, we expect the acquisition to move towards closure in 2020.”

Bunte credited the Cherry Beach Committee for its dedication and perseverance in securing the grant. 

“This is our second attempt at applying for the grant. With the committee’s tenacious fundraising efforts, our qualifying match grew from 25 percent in 2018 to 40 percent in 2019, thereby almost ensuring the grant award,” he said.

Bunte also applauded four other organizations and associates that he said significantly contributed to the project’s success:

• The Conservation Fund, with Peg Kohring, who managed negotiations with the seller;

• The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission’s Marcy Hamilton, who guided the committee through multiple grant submissions;

• The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and its executive director Pete D. Ter Louw, whose early belief in the Cherry Beach Project enabled it to qualify for a $250,000 matching grant from The Carls Foundation;

• The staff at The Berrien Community Foundation, who Bunte said jumped on board to help manage financial pledges and facilitate the project’s ultimate award of important grants.

“This collective effort demonstrates what can be achieved in a public/private partnership,” said Lisa Cripps-Downey, president of the Berrien Community Foundation. “We are thrilled to be a part of this project to expand public access to our community’s beautiful beaches. It took an incredible volunteer force to make this seemingly impossible dream possible.”

BCF will follow up with individual donors who have pledged financial support in order to convert those pledges to actual donations. Those must be sent to BCF by April 15, 2020. Timely receipt of those donations makes the acquisition possible, Bunte said.

The Cherry Beach Committee is a grassroots group of citizens who organized to help the township and its park board raise public awareness and funds for the purchase of this three-acre land site.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund exists for the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. Final grant recommendations are made by the MNRTF Board to the state legislature each fiscal year for final funding approval.