Muskegon County’s newest park opens in Norton Shores

Dune Harbor Park has officially been open to the public and a part of the Norton Shores community since March 16, and the initial feedback that Muskegon County Community Development Director Bob Lukens has received is positive.

“It’s been well-received by the community,” Lukens says. “We’re seeing loads of visitors out at the park, and the comments are positive.”

The park’s conception began thanks, in large part, to a Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, which allotted money for the first phase of Dune Harbor Park. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just signed legislation providing another grant, allowing the north side of the park to be fully funded.

“We’re really pleased that the grant has been approved, so that brings the total to over $10 million that we’ve received from the Natural Resources Trust Fund,” Lukens says. “We want to make this a beautiful park for everyone in our community and for those of all abilities.”

Park will grow to 377 acres

The south side of Dune Harbor Park totals 215 acres of property that formerly was the Nugent Sand mining property. The north side of the park adds another 162 acres. The acquisition will officially close in October or November, putting Dune Harbor Park’s area at around 377 acres by the end of 2022.

The first phase of the park is around the south inland lake just east of Lake Michigan off Lincoln Street and Seminole Road, while the second phase of the park is around most of the north inland lake, off Lincoln and between Sherman Boulevard and Winnetaska Road.

“About one-third of the north portion of the land is private property owned by Jackson-Merkey, but the rest will be owned by the county,” says Lukens.

When the second phase is open to the public, there will be a great view of Lake Michigan on the south portion of the property.

“There’s a beach that will become part of the park. However, some of that area is critical dunes, and we’ll have to be mindful of any development,” explains Lukens. “Which means we may not be able to have a path down to the beach as quickly as we’d like in order to protect that dune. 

But we want to have a path to the beach, so that’ll be our greatest challenge going forward.”

Variety of landscapes, wildlife

The current Dune Harbor Park includes a 2.3 mile trail around the small inland lake.

“There are dune landscapes and forest landscapes,” says Lukens. “I’d say it’s closer to a moderate walk than an easy walk, because the east side of the park is very sandy, and the west side is more forested.”

Parking lots are being completed (“We’ve run into a few delays getting those finished,” Lukens says), but community members are welcome to bring kayaks to launch. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash and owners clean up after them.

“People have been really respectful of [the park],” says Lukens. “Sometimes I’ve walked out there and haven’t even seen a piece of trash, which is great.”

There is a plethora of wildlife in the park, too, making it a great destination for those who love nature and birdwatching.

Lukens admits “we had a hiccup” with a bird die-off. “The avian flu hit the area and killed hundreds of birds,” he says. “Thankfully, it seems to be resolving itself now.”

The current park will be more natural in terms of forestry and wildlife because the area has been retired from sand mining for a while, allowing it to return to its natural state more quickly. The north addition will not appear as “natural” in the beginning because it was mined more recently, but the hope is that it will settle into itself with time, allowing the community to enjoy its natural beauty.

“It’s right by our house and it’s beautiful,” says Norton Shores resident Stacey Ruwe. “The trail is mostly sandy, and we love to hike it. There is always lots of wildlife to see.”

Neighbors invited to planning process

Lukens is excited to join the community in planning what the extra acreage will include.

“This coming winter will be our long-term master planning time,” he says. “We want to go through that master planning space before we decide what exactly we want to develop, and we will be asking the community for input on what to develop on the north side of the park.”

Lukens says that the county keeps open lines of communication with the Idlewild and Winnetaska communities, which both have small neighborhoods around the park.

“We want to make sure everyone feels good about what we’re developing and that it’s not interrupting too much,” Lukens says.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.