Porter Legacy Dunes is Protected Forever!

Thank you for helping to protect this special place!
Spectacular 120-foot dune at Porter Legacy Dunes, South Haven. Photo by Peter Ter Louw.

Porter Legacy Dunes is one of those southwest Michigan landscapes that is so magnificent, so unique, and so ecologically important that anyone can see that it must be protected.

The 48-acre lakeshore property is certainly appreciated by migrating raptors and songbirds navigating the Great Lakes Flyway, its rich backdune habitats offering food, shelter, and fresh water to migrating birds. Part of a two-mile natural corridor stretching from Pilgrim Haven Natural Area through Van Buren State Park, Porter Legacy Dunes is an oasis for exhausted avian travelers.

A quarter mile of Dyckman Creek flows through the Porter Legacy Dunes property before crossing the road, winding through Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, and emptying into Lake Michigan. Photo by Peter Ter Louw.
SWMLC stewardship staff will soon begin exploring the design of a trail system that allows enjoy the exceptional carpets of wildflowers without damaging this extremely sensitive dune habitat. Photo by Carlos Mejia Lopez.

The Porter Family loved and protected this beautiful land for nearly 140 years – all the way until Catherine Porter Arini passed away a few years ago and left it to her fiancée, Scott Royle. Living far across the country, Scott knew he couldn’t keep it and searched for the special property’s next guardian. Owning the adjacent Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy seemed the obvious choice. What was less obvious was how we would be able to acquire the very expensive property. Perhaps a partnership . . .

A few years ago, SWMLC worked with the South Haven Area Recreation Authority (SHARA) that manages the facilities at Pilgrim Haven, to apply for the grants that built the preserve’s barrier-free walkway, restrooms, and parking lot. SWMLC staff talked with Scott, describing how, by working with SHARA, we might secure another Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant that could provide the lion’s share of the purchase funding – but that it would take some time. Scott agreed that it was worth the wait.

The backdune forest is carpeted with trilliums in the spring at Porter Legacy Dunes. Photo by Amelia Hansen
Hikers appear tiny as they approach the forested slope on the backside of the dune backdune at Porter Legacy Dunes. Photo by Amelia Hansen.

Working with SHARA’s Chairman Ross Stein, we took a chance and asked the state if we could submit an application,
even though we knew that the deadline had already passed. The Trust Fund staff were so pleased by the project that they said “yes” and approved our request to submit an out-of-cycle proposal. Ultimately, the Porter Legacy Dunes project received the second highest score in that cycle and was awarded $2.26 million by the state.

One of the key ingredients in the project’s success is Scott Royle himself, who graciously made a significant reduction in the property’s purchase price as a testament to his love for Catherine, and respect for her family and the land. Other important contributions came from the Carls Foundation, the J.A. Woollam Foundation, the Esther & George Jaruga Charitable Foundation, and several private donors. Finally, there were the donations made by regular folks like you, who saw the property’s ecological worth and physical beauty, and generously stepped up to meet our $350,000 fund-raising goal.

Porter Legacy Dune's unspoiled backdune forest offers an exceptional display of spring wildflowers. Photo by Amelia Hansen.
Wood betony growing atop the dune at Porter Legacy Dunes. Photo by Mitch Lettow.

Altogether, the campaign raised over $3.4 million for the purchase and stewardship of the property. With Pilgrim Haven’s parking and other visitor amenities just next door, we plan to leave Porter Legacy Dunes mostly natural and have entered into a 20-year Memorandum of Understanding with SHARA (who will officially own the preserve) that defines our role in managing the preserve’s natural habitats.

This winter, SWMLC stewardship staff will explore the design of a trail system that allows people to cross the creek, enjoy the exceptional carpets of wildflowers, and marvel at the lake views without damaging this extremely sensitive dune habitat.

Beech-maple-hemlock backdune forst at Porter Legacy Dunes. Photo by Amelia Hansen.
Sunset at Porter Legacy Dunes. Photo by Miko Dargitz.

We ask that people please wait to visit Porter Legacy Dunes while we continue to develop trail designs that will offer a superior hiking experience while still protecting the preserve’s delicate dune forest habitat.

We appreciate your patience — please stay tuned for more news!

This is what we do. SWMLC protects habitats, supports biodiversity, and connects people with nature. As a community-supported organization, YOU make this possible. Your desire to conserve special, natural places in Michigan has protected over 17,000 acres in the last 29 years. Together, we are making a difference. Learn how you can help.