The Thumb Land Conservancy recently acquired its third nature preserve in the Great Lakes coastal forest north of Port Huron, the Bidwell Property. The Community Foundation, Franklin H. and Nancy S. Moore Donor Advised Fund, and other major contributors like Consumers Energy Foundation helped to provide match funds for the project.
“The Bidwell property provides another critical connection to the northern most points of our regional trails systems,” said Sheri Faust, Chair of the Regional Trails Board. The 42-acre Bidwell Sanctuary is part of a nearly continuous line of a dozen preserves stretching from Fort Gratiot Nature Park, north almost to Norman Road in Burtchville Township.
Public access to many of the local preserves is difficult and they are currently disconnected from one another, but not by much. The plan is to connect all of the preserves and create a Southern Lake Huron Coastal Park, a nearly 4.5-mile continuous park with a trail connecting to the Bridge to Bay Trail at Lakeport State Park.
Bill Collins, executive director of the Thumb Land Conservancy, said that once established, the Southern Lake Huron Coastal Park is likely to become a regional destination for birders and other naturalists, enhancing local tourism and increasing sustainable recreation business in the area.
“The coastal forest is a big part of what makes the Blue Water Area a beautiful place to visit, yet few understand its character and significance because there is so little public access. This is why the Thumb Land Conservancy and its partners want to give the public more access,” said Collins.
The Coastal Park will protect most of the remaining beach ridge and swale forest along the eastern shoreline of the Thumb. This unique Great Lakes landscape is very limited in Michigan, as the remaining formation north of Port Huron is the only significant occurrence from Ohio to the Saginaw Bay.
The Bidwell Property provides an opportunity to link the chain of nearby preserves with the Bridge to Bay Trail that began in the early 1990’s. The Bridge to Bay Trail stretches from Lakeport State Park on the north, to Anchor Bay along the shores of Lake St. Clair on the south. In 2018, the Community Foundation began a multi-year focus on regional trails, working with a coalition of stakeholders to explore the opportunities to utilize the region’s trail systems to better connect key waterfront assets and the downtowns throughout the Blue Water Region.
“Providing this grant was an opportunity to connect the work being done by our regional trails board on the Bridge to Bay Trail to the Bidwell Property and chain of nearby preserves,” said Honorable John Tomlinson, chair of the Community Foundation Grants Committee.
The total project cost for the Bidwell Preserve was just over $300,000, which includes the land purchase and a $20,000 endowment to partially fund initial park development and long-term maintenance of the preserve.
The Bidwell acquisition was made possible by a $150,000 match grant from The Carls Foundation of Bloomfield Hills. To help reach the match, the Community Foundation provided a $20,000 grant joined by the Franklin H. and Nancy S. Moore Donor Advised Fund with an additional $20,000 grant.
Other major gifts to the project included:
The conservancy and Blue Water Indigenous Alliance of Port Huron will hold a public dedication ceremony on October 3, 2020 at the Bidwell Sanctuary and give the preserve an Anishinaabe name to honor the original Native American inhabitants of our region.
The Thumb Land Conservancy was founded in 2008 and owns six nature preserves in St. Clair County. They also own the historic North Street rail station and post office, which they are working with the Clyde Historical Society to restore. All preserves are open to the public. To volunteer labor, donate or help with long-term up-keep and planning, call 810-346-2584 or email mail@ThumbLand.org.