Saugatuck is part of a cluster of four small communities on Lake Michigan: Saugatuck, Douglas, Saugatuck Township, and Fennville. Approximately 7000 people live within our towns’ 25 square miles. Ten miles of shoreline provide natural sandy beaches, dunes to hike, and a harbor for watercraft.
Originally, Saugatuck was a lumber town and a port for commercial ship traffic on the Great Lakes. After economic decline early in the first part of the twentieth century, it reinvented itself as an artist colony and tourist destination. Today, tourism is a strong component of its vitality all year long. Ox Bow, the summer home of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1910, even has a winter program for its students. Fruit farms are also part of the near landscape with blueberries, peaches, apples, and grapes grown and harvested.
Lake Michigan is often described as the “Third Coast” of the United States, with no salt or jellyfish. December 2019’s Conde Nast Traveler Magazine selected Southwest Michigan as one of the top twenty places in the world to visit in 2020, stating, “These are the destinations we are most excited about in the new decade.” Big Seven Travel named our Oval Beach tenth in the United States, just behind Ka’anapali Beach in Maui. The natural 200-foot-high sand dunes adjacent to Lake Michigan provide interesting places to hike, such as Mt. Baldhead (302 steps to its pinnacle). The Kalamazoo River is the waterway for boats to travel from Lake Michigan into Saugatuck’s docks. The activity level is robust in the summer and serene all year.
Tourists are permitted to take a step into the past. There are no malls, food franchises, or big box stores for fifteen miles (except one Burger King on the edge of town). Shops and restaurants are locally owned and operated. “Art,” “farm to table,” “craft brew,” and “Michigan made” dominate the local scene. Charming bed and breakfasts surpass the number of hotels. A ride on the Star of Saugatuck, a two-story paddleboat, glides visitors around Lake Kalamazoo into Lake Michigan. Old fashioned dune rides take travelers on a fast excursion over dunes that were created during the Ice Age. The downtown area features four ice cream shops, a mecca for creating family vacation memories.
Most importantly, our towns are great places to live for everyone. We have:
- Interesting, giving people. Rarely will you find such a diverse, well-educated and open-minded community. Many LGBTQIA call Saugatuck home. It has also become an area for active, engaged retirees. Professors from area colleges add to the dynamics. Rotary International, Christian Neighbors, Saugatuck Douglas Garden Club, and Cow Hill Yacht Club (a local service club) have active volunteer rosters that impact and improve our towns.
- Award winnings schools. Our towns are part of an excellent school of choice system and have strong community support. Saugatuck High School was named one of America’s Best High Schools by US News and World Report in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Saugatuck-Douglas Public Schools earned academic “state champs” recognition from Bridge Magazine in 2018 for achieving the highest student growth rate between 3rd and 8th grade in the state of Michigan.
- The Saugatuck Center for the Arts (SCA) https://www.sc4a.org/, once an abandoned pie factory in the center of town, is a community spark plug bringing local people together for professional live theater as well as films, lectures, concerts, and a host of exhibitions of community value. They also provide “Growing Young Artists,” a program for children of migrant workers. A weekly Farmer’s Market is held in its parking lot during the summer.
- Many Music opportunities. In addition to the SCA, the Saugatuck Chamber Music Festival https://saugatuckmusic.org/ completed its 32nd season in 2019. On Thursday and Friday nights in July and August, sold-out performances are held in the historic Women’s Club in downtown Saugatuck. In the summer, Fenn Valley Winery holds concerts on Tuesdays, Wicks Park hosts local talent on Wednesdays, and the Felt Mansion offers events on Thursdays. Many bars and restaurants have live music on weekends.
- The Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Center http://sdhistoricalsociety.org/ plays a vibrant role in the social-cultural life of these communities, with members deeply interested in their past as well as its future. Monthly lectures draw large, enthusiastic audiences. The organization owns and operates the “Pump House Museum” in Saugatuck and the 1866 “Old School House” in downtown Douglas. Both structures are on state and national registers of historic places.
- An excellent public library https://www.sdlibrary.org/ is located in Douglas. In August 2018, the local residents approved a millage proposal for construction of a new library. The library is part of a large library system that serves most of Western Michigan and materials can be ordered from any of its locations.
- Parks. There are fifteen local parks. The largest is Saugatuck Dunes State Park, which has a thousand acres and two and a half miles of shoreline.
- Winter. Yes winter! Snow is part of living here. Cross country trails, snowmobiling, and skiing are near. South Haven, another beach community, fifteen miles south, hosts an annual Ice Breaker Festival in February.
- Holland, Michigan https://www.holland.org/, a vital city of about 113,164 residents is only twelve miles away. Many people are familiar with Holland because of its annual Tulip Festival. The city embraces its Dutch heritage and plants five million tulips each year!
- Proximity to real cities. Chicago is only a two hour and fifteen-minute drive (or a three- hour train ride from Holland on Amtrak), and Grand Rapids, Michign is forty-five minutes away, and has an international airport.
In conclusion, our towns are “choice” towns, as most residents have chosen to live here. The people are attracted to the natural beauty of Lake Michigan, and have built a community that honors the wonder of the earth. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” All four seasons in our towns offer natural beauty and time for heralding God’s glory. There is a deep sense of community while respecting individuality. There is an opportunity to serve each other and all mankind.