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How a Lake Michigan community banded together to save their dunes from development

Mar 31, 2017

It’s a classic Hollywood plotline: A powerful corporation wants to develop a large tract of pristine land. Local citizens band together, persuade politicians, raise money, and save the land. Everyone goes home from the theater with a smile on their face.

Except, in the case of the Arcadia Dunes, Hollywood had nothing to do with it. The story is real, and it happened here in Michigan.

In a new book, Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes, author Heather Shumaker tells the story of the grassroots movement that protected thousands of acres of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Shumaker's book spans the 40-year history of the effort to preserve the Arcadia Dunes.
Credit Heather Shumaker

She told us the 6,000-acre tract, which is located partway between Traverse City and Ludington, was once divided among a number of family farms. Decades ago, a regional utility company began to acquire the land in hopes of transforming it into a reservoir where energy could be stored.

That plan never came to fruition. Instead the land remained unused for years, and the area's residents came to appreciate it as a place of natural beauty, where they could hike, camp and swim.

When the possibility that the land could be developed became public, those same residents reacted with horror.

“They were scared sort of to the depths of their soul,” Shumaker told us. “And I think that’s one reason so many people rallied around to help preserve it. It was such a community effort, where we had people from bakers to inn keepers to farmers to bank presidents. Everybody was pulling together.”

Today, thanks to those efforts, the Arcadia Dunes are part of a protected nature preserve, managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

Listen to our full interview with Heather Shumaker, author of Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes, above.

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