Saugatuck Dunes State Park is located on Lake Michigan between the beach resort towns of Saugatuck and Holland.
The Felt Family originally owned the land (see more below). Today, the 1,000 acre state park has 2.5 miles of shoreline and about 13 miles of hiking trails throughout the sand dunes.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park is divided into two sections. The main northern section has a pavilion, vault toilet, and a water pump. This is where most of the trails start. The parking area is rather small and fills up quickly on busy weekends.
The shortest trail to the beach is about a half-mile one way. The longer trails will take you out there, as well. This is one of the few state parks that allows dogs on the shoreline, as long as they are on a 6-foot leash and you pick up after them.
Patty Birkholz Natural Area
The southern section is designated the Patty Birkholz Natural Area. This 300-acre parcel of coastal dunes is more wooded and reminiscent of pre-historic times. Former Michigan State Senator Patty Birkholz was an environmental champion from the Saugatuck area. I had the pleasure to work with Patty during my time on staff in the state Senate and knew how hard she worked to protect Michigan’s dunes, waters, and wildlife. Unfortunately, Patty left us far too soon but her memory and advocacy lives on in this park.
Between the two state park sections lies the Felt Estate and Shore Acres Township Park. The township park has a 2-mile mountain bike trail, a disc golf course, and other complementary outdoor recreation opportunities.
A small parking lot at the township park also serves as a trailhead for the natural area, which your GPS might take you to instead of the main Saugatuck Dunes State Park entrance and parking lot.
The Felt Estate has quite a history and is worth a visit if you have time.
Dorr Felt was a businessman from Chicago, and the inventor of the Comptometer, the first key-driven mechanical calculator. He fell in love with the area and developed the dune land into Shore Acre Farm, a 1,000-acre homestead with a farmhouse, beach house, carriage house, and more. From 1925 to 1928, he had a lavish mansion built for his wife, Agnes, and their four children and families. The 12,000-plus square foot mansion features three floors, 25 rooms, and a one-of-a-kind ballroom.
Unfortunately, tragedy befell the family and Agnes passed away only 6 weeks after moving in. Dorr passed away a little over a year later. The children retained the property until 1949.
The next owners were the Saint Augustine Seminary, a Catholic prep school for young men. In the 1970s the state of Michigan used it for a prison and state police office.
In 1990, Laketown Township purchased the mansion and a handful of surrounding acres, while the state retained the rest of the land to create Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Today, the Felt Mansion is open to the public for tours and as a venue for weddings or other special events.
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