Crystal River Forever Preserved

From our Fall 2005 Newsletter

The journey to preserve the beloved Crystal River near Glen Arbor is over. In mid-October, 2005, federal funds appropriated for the river’s transfer into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore came through. Closing documents were signed on October 20, and the river – 104 acres and 6,300 feet of river frontage–is now and forever under the wing of the National Park Service (NPS).

The majority of the land and its accompanying river frontage that is being protected is sensitive “dune and swale” topography. The area is recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “globally rare habitat.”

The journey to protection took nearly 20 years and had as many twists and turns as the river itself. When the Homestead Resort proposed building a golf course along the river back in 1986, a group called Friends of the Crystal River formed that would tenaciously oppose the course for nearly two decades. Many other individuals and groups joined in the effort to save the river, from politicians to units of government to the Leelanau Conservancy.

The transfer of the river was a complicated transaction that took nearly two years to negotiate and complete. Congressmen Dave Camp and Senator Carl Levin helped to pass legislation that expanded the Park’s boundaries and pushed to acquire the needed funds for the National Park Service (NPS). Twenty-two acres, including one of the most scenic stretches along County Road 675, was purchased by the NPS in November 2004. Six weeks later, the NPS acquired an additional 23 acres. But because the NPS couldn’t fund all 104 acres, the Leelanau Conservancy stepped in to buy and hold 59 acres until federal appropriations were available. That meant taking out $4.85 million in loans – not an easy task, and not without substantial risk.

“It’s been a group effort to protect this fragile resource,” says Conservancy director Brian Price. “The Friends of the Crystal River, the Conservancy and the Park Service each had a distinct piece of the puzzle. And within each group, key individuals worked tirelessly and often behind the scenes to make sure that, one day, this stretch of the river would be protected. The Conservancy’s role was to bring people and resources together to bring about this final solution.”

“I didn’t think I would ever say this, but seeing the last 59 acres transferred to the Park was well worth the wait,” said Congressman Camp. “I can’t thank the Leelanau Conservancy’s Brian Price and Sleeping Bear Superintendent Dusty Shultz enough for their leadership on this effort. Their dedication to the land deal coupled with the federal funds we were able to secure in Washington guarantees this pristine tract of land will be enjoyed by generations to come. It was tough to imagine Sleeping Bear getting any better than it already was, but I have to admit that I think we improved it quite a bit.”

“The National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is very excited that the remaining 59 acres of the Crystal River property have been acquired from the Leelanau Conservancy,” says Park Superintendent Dusty Shultz. ”The lands harbor a variety of habitats and species, and provide a natural setting for recreational river users. We sincerely appreciate the assistance of all who helped make this purchase happen. It is especially remarkable that the entire transaction, from legislation to receiving the funds and closing on the property, happened so quickly, thanks to the dedication and perseverance of those involved. The Lakeshore plans to schedule a spring cleanup on the newly acquired tracts.”

“Friends of the Crystal River are delighted that the River is finally where it belongs, in the Park, preserved forever!” says Vik Theiss, vice president of the Friends group. “We are most grateful for the extraordinary efforts of the Michigan Congressional Delegation, the National Park Service, the Conservancy and most especially for the perseverance and dedication of our own loyal members in making this a reality. I still pinch myself from time to time to be sure I am not dreaming.”

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