New state game area could become a reality

Published 11:51 am Monday, February 14, 2022

BUCHANAN – A new state game area looks poised to become a reality in the next year or two, thanks to funding from a state grant.

The 800-plus acres lie along the St. Joseph River in Berrien and Buchanan Townships, and is currently owned by Andrews University.

The land is roughly bordered by the U.S. 31 freeway on the north, the St. Joseph River on the west, Range Line Road on the east and Lake Chapin Road on the south. The bulk of the acreage, 620 acres, is in Berrien Township, while the remaining 218 acres are in Buchanan Township.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been working with Andrews to buy the land for some time and applied last year for a $4.7 million Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to do just that.

That application appears to have been successful with the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board recommending the awarding of the grant for the project. It is one of 117 land acquisition and development grants being recommended for $45.6 million in funding in 2022.

Michigan DNR Public Land Matters Biologist Valerie Frawley reported that once the trust fund board’s recommendations are approved by the legislature and signed into law, the DNR can start the formal acquisition process which includes getting an appraisal and making an offer to Andrews University.

If the DNR’s offer is accepted by Andrews, the state DNR Director will be asked to formally approve the acquisition at a Natural Resources Commission meeting, she said. The DNR will also post notices in local newspapers to give residents and local leaders the chance to ask questions or make comments.

Frawley estimated that the whole process could take one and a half to two years before the project could be completed. She noted that the public will have more access to the land when it becomes a state game area.

The land now owned by Andrews is already enrolled in the state’s Hunting Access Program and has become a popular destination for hunters. Once the project is complete, it will be the newest state game area in Michigan and will be managed for wildlife and wildlife-related recreation.

“Habitat management on this property would benefit numerous wildlife species, and this property would provide recreational opportunities for the public, such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, and mushroom hunting,” she said.

Frawley said that the DNR becomes involved in these types of projects when a private landowner approaches them. Her department then investigates to see if the property in question would be a good fit for the state to manage.

“This property has river frontage,” she said. “It’s a gorgeous piece of land. I think it will be good for the people of the area. It would be a great state game area and provide the public with more access to the area.”

The project already has the support of the Berrien Township and Buchanan Township Boards. Buchanan Township Supervisor Malinda Crocker-Cole said the new state game area would benefit wildlife and provide public recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, bird watching and mushroom hunting.

Andrews officials said they are also looking forward to having the project move forward. They too noted that the next steps would include finalizing the funding, getting appraisals, and having the sale approved by the Andrews University Board of Trustees.

Andrews Media Relations Manager Jeff Boyd noted that the land purchase is connected with a large piece of property donated to Andrews University in 2014 by the Benson family with the idea that the sale of the land would eventually provide funding for endowed scholarships for Andrews University students.

“Andrews University welcomes the opportunity this proposed sale represents to help our students invest in their university studies,” he said. “We are also pleased to further strengthen our partnerships and collaboration with this local community that has been our home for more than 120 years.”