Acquisition of a 680-acre parcel of public land in Southeast Michigan was announced Thursday. The piece of land will be open to hunting, fishing, trapping and other recreational opportunities.
At the May Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Dan Eichinger announced his intent to move forward with the acquisition of The Crystal Waters Tract.
The Crystal Waters parcel, located in northern Monroe County, will soon be added to the state’s public land inventory after years of back-and-forth discussions between the property owner and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The $3.675 million for the acquisition was provided by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) and Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC).
In 2016, MUCC spearheaded a sign-on letter garnering 27 signatures — including national and regional organizations as well as MUCC clubs — of support urging the MNRTF Board to approve the proposed Crystal Waters land acquisition. Later that year, the board approved the project, and the legislature appropriated the money for acquisition in 2017.
The MNRTF collects oil and gas royalties from extractive industries that utilize state land. Passed in 1976 and championed by then-Gov. Milliken, MUCC was an integral part in helping to get the legislation across the finish line and bringing the different sides of the argument to the table.
Through the acquisition process, issues with the Crystal Waters project arose during negotiations between the landowner, Crystal Waters, LLC, and the state. The total appraised value of the Crystal Waters parcel is $6.2 million, according to Crystal Waters, LLC owner Mark Brant and appraisals the company commissioned. This appraisal value is representative of the mineral reserves still available on property.
Crystal Waters, LLC donated the remaining $2.5 million in property value to the state as a philanthropic gesture.
In order for the acquisition to happen, MUCC contributed more than $330,000 earmarked for this purpose in funding to fill the gap on state-allowed spending and the closing value of the property.
MUCC is proud to have contributed to such a historic public land acquisition, said MUCC Executive Director Amy Trotter.
“Access to quality public lands for hunting, hiking, trapping and outdoor recreation is a keystone policy issue for MUCC and its members,” Trotter said. “With this purchase, Southeast Michigan residents will now have more opportunity to pursue their passions on land and water that will be managed with conservation in mind for generations to come.”
Acquisition of the property will provide public access to hunting and fishing opportunities, seven inland water bodies, a potential shooting range and more than six miles of hiking trails, according to the MNRTF application submitted by the DNR Wildlife Division. The property will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Currently, there is no other public hunting land within 30 miles, and approximately 23 percent of the state’s population live in one of the counties bordering this acquisition.
After four years of negotiations, Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) applauded the land acquisition and looks forward to promoting its recreational benefits to his constituents in the area.
“Public land access and recreation has proven to be beneficial for Michigan citizens’ health and wellbeing,” Zorn said. “This acquisition provides much-needed recreational opportunities in an area that is, essentially, without public land for families to use.”
“Crystal Waters will be the most significant creation of an outdoor recreation area since the opening of Sterling State Park. The 680 acres will provide us with public outdoor activities not ever seen in this area,” said Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe). “I am especially proud to say MUCC helped get this project over the finish line. This purchase is a wonderful public-private partnership”.
High-quality recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat betterment are only two of the many reasons the department is excited to undertake state management of the Crystal Waters Tract, DNR Director Eichinger said.
“Creating a new state game area on the Crystal Waters property will add access to high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities for people in Southeast Michigan,” Eichinger said. “These 680 acres are a natural treasure, offering diverse cover types and water resources and excellent habitat for deer, turkey, waterfowl and many other wildlife species.”
In the DNR Wildlife Division’s application to the trust fund board, a timeline of amenities and offerings was outlined: the hiking trails will be established within one year after closing; a boat launch and access drive will be “expanded and improved” on the property’s 85-acre lake, including security lights and a parking lot within two years; 300 acres of agricultural and fallow fields will be worked and planted with warm-season prairie grasses within three years; and construction of the small shooting range is proposed within five years.
Amenities, offerings and timelines are subject to change as funding becomes available and the public becomes more engaged in the planning process.
MUCC’s award-winning On the Ground program will be partnering with the DNR to establish and coordinate a volunteer network of public land stewards in the area.
Currently, the program plans to host at least three formal workdays once a volunteer network is established in hopes of creating a shared stewardship ethic among local residents and users of the property.
Former MUCC Region 8 (Southeast Michigan) Director Kris Matthew has championed the Crystal Waters project for the better part of a decade, and he led MUCC’s efforts appealing to the trust fund board and department.
“This was a group effort. The DNR staff in the region never gave up hope that this would go through,” Matthew said. “There are so many people and organizations excited to see this go through; but, I hope this is just the beginning and that this may help facilitate more purchases of public hunting land in Southeast Michigan.”
Public access to the acquired property will not be immediately available. The DNR will still need to close on the property and inspect it before opening it to public use. No timeframe was provided by the department in regards to when the gates would open.