SOUTH HAVEN — Five years ago, South Haven acquired four prized parcels of property on Monroe Boulevard overlooking Lake Michigan.
Now city officials want to make the bluff more accessible to residents and visitors while ensuring its stability environmentally for future generations to enjoy.
The view, located across the street from Kids Corner Park, overlooks Lake Michigan and the city’s South Beach and lighthouse, and is a popular destination for visitors.
“It’s the focal point when people come to South Haven,” former Mayor Bob Burr said when the city purchased the property in 2015. “They park and they look over the bluff.”
South Haven residents will get a chance to see improvements envisioned for the popular overlook when the Monroe Bluff Beach Management Plan is unveiled at the March 16 city council meeting. The meeting and public hearing will begin at 7 p.m., at city hall, 539 Phoenix St.
The $677,500 Monroe Bluff Beach Management Plan was developed by Edgewater Resources of St. Joseph, following two years of public visioning sessions.
In 2016, the Public Works Department began the effort of creating best management practices for maintenance plan of the dune habitat on Lake Michigan, west of Monroe Blvd., between Van Buren and Chestnut Streets, according to Department of Public Works Director Bill Hunter.
Improper disposal of grass clippings and yard waste on dunes; erosion of sand by wind and uncontrolled foot traffic; and growth of invasive plant species were all issues noted by the city’s maintenance crews.
To protect the bluff and make accessibility to it safer for the public, the city asked Edgewater Resources to develop a plan based on public input.
The plan includes safer pedestrian access to and from the bluff with bump-outs and crosswalks at three intersections leading to Monroe Boulevard and the bluff; bike lanes on both sides of Monroe Boulevard; an 8-foot wide paved trail along the top of the bluff, extending from St. Basil Church Park south to Orchard Street; seating areas; retaining walls to protect the bluff from erosion; designated paths leading from the top of the bluff to the lake; stroller and wagon parking for people with young children; and a bike rack.
Maybe of more importance is the portion of the plan that addresses the bluff itself.
Erosion, caused by high-water levels on Lake Michigan over the past several years, is occurring at the bottom of the bluff. It hasn’t affected the top of the bluff – yet.
To ensure stability of the bluff, the plan calls for two clearly marked designated roped off paths leading to the beach to prevent use of the many paths that have been made on the dune’s slope over the years. By reducing the number of paths to two, erosion can be mitigated.
“These barriers, coupled with informational signage about the fragile nature of dune plant and animal life, will help locals and visitors alike to become stewards of this natural resource,” Edgewater Resources wrote in its proposal for mitigating erosion of the bluff.
The plan also highlights two areas along the bluff’s slope where invasive plant species will be removed and replaced by native dune species to help with stabilization of the dune.
“The Monroe Bluff Beach Management plan was put in place with the idea of if you can manage the access from the top of the bluff, you can decrease the erosion potential at the toe of the bluff,” said Deb Davidson, city communications director, grant writer, and Downtown Development Authority director.
To offset the cost of the improvement plan for Monroe Boulevard Bluff, the city has the option of applying for two $300,000 grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, and the federal government’s Land & Water Conservation Fund, administered through the DNR.
If by chance both grants are approved, the state would choose which one to award to the city, according to City Manager Brian Dissette.
Council members are expected to vote on whether to apply for the grants following the March 16 public hearing.
Back in 2015 when the city bought the four privately owned parcels along the bluff, the DNR’s trust fund contributed a $650,000 grant toward the $800,000 purchase price.