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Field Trip Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area

  • 690 Perryman St. Saugatuck, MI 49453 (map)

Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area:  A Multiseral Open Dune Landscape

Saugatuck, Allegan County

Leader:  Suzanne J. DeVries-Zimmerman

Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area (SHNA) was purchased by the City of Saugatuck with the assistance of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and numerous donors.  The preserve occupies a unique setting, extending from Oval Beach north to the current Kalamazoo River channel, east to Oxbow Lake and west to Lake Michigan. The diverse topography of this 173-acre preserve hosts an equally diverse set of open dune ecosystems, including sandy beach, foredunes, migrating and vegetated small parabolic dunes, sedge meadows, and globally imperiled interdunal wetlands or “slacks.”  We will examine the ecosystem on the open, migrating dunes and discuss its adaptations to withstand the rigors of this harsh and demanding environment.  We will also explore the interdunal wetland which has transitioned from an area dominated by upland dune vegetation to one dominated by wetland vegetation with the rise of Lake Michigan’s water levels.  The dominant species in the wetland is now Cladium mariscoides (twig-rush), with Spiraea tomentosa (steeplebush) scattered throughout.  Hypericum kalmianum (Kalm’s St. John’s wort) rings the wetland area.  Numerous other sedges and rushes are found within the wetland, their presence depending on the depth of the water present.  Open dune vegetation includes: Ammophila breviligula (marram grass), Calamovilfa longifolia (sand reed grass), Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry), Lithospermum caroliniense (hairy puccoon), and Prunus pumila (sand cherry).

Bring sturdy footwear for hiking through the sand.  We will not be trekking through the wetlands so as to avoid damaging the emerging vegetation.  Unfortunately, there may be ticks at this time of year.  So, insect repellant, sunscreen, as well as suitable clothing are suggested.  The trip difficulty level is rated moderate due to the loose sand on and the inclines of the dune trails.

Trip Leader Biography:  Suzanne J. DeVries-Zimmerman is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Hope College, Holland, Michigan.  She earned a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Geology from Hope College and a M.A. in Geology from Princeton University.  Prior to employment at Hope College, she spent over 10 years working for environmental consulting firms in New Jersey and Michigan, specializing in Superfund, RCRA, and Clean Water Act projects, including wetland delineations and environmental/ecological assessments.  Having spent years dressed in personal protective equipment working on toxic waste sites and hazardous waste landfills, she now relishes regularly going to the beach and dunes with students and colleagues under the guise of conducting scientific research.   She is part of the Hope College Dune Group, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Hope College, studying multiple aspects of Lake Michigan’s coastal dunes.  Suzanne specializes in the relationships between coastal dune dynamics and the ecological systems living on the dunes and is currently studying the ecohydrology of the slacks at SHNA.   

 Logistics: We’ll meet at 10:00 AM at the north end of Saugatuck’s Oval Beach parking area.  There should be no parking fee this time of year.  The Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area (SHNA) lies north and east of the parking area.  The SHNA address is: Oval Drive, Saugatuck, MI 49453.  Drive time from the west edge of Kalamazoo County is approximately an hour.

Google Maps and car navigation systems provide detailed directions (either to Oval Beach or SHNA), but here are general driving directions:

From the Kalamazoo area take M-43 west to South Haven; take 73rd St or Blue Star Highway (CR A-2) north about a mile and a half to reach the Phoenix St. interchange for I-196; go north on I-196 (also badged as US 31) nearly 16 miles to Exit 36 [CR A-2 (Blue Star Highway), Douglas/Saugatuck];  go north (right) on CR A-2 about one mile to Ferry St., which forks off to the left; take this left fork onto Ferry St.; in a half-mile Ferry becomes Park St.; continue north another half-mile to Perryman; turn left on Perryman, which goes up and  over a wooded ridge for one-tenth of a mile to Oval Beach (Oval Drive); drive to north end of parking area.

An alternate route takes M-43 west to M-40, then north through Allegan to M-89 west through Fennville.  M-89 meets I-196 at its Exit 34 interchange.  Then go north on I-196 to Exit 36 and follow the route described above.

If anyone wishes to carpool, please contact Becky Csia via e-mail by Wednesday, May 15.  Her e-mail is  The carpool meeting place will be the Park & Ride at the SE corner of the M-43 & M-40 intersection (north of Paw Paw and south of Gobles). We will depart the carpool lot by 8:40AM.

By the way, cellphone service is unreliable at Oval Beach and SHNA.

Earlier Event: April 27
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