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Benzie County is located near the Northwest tip of lower Michigan along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Benzie County has an area of 316 square miles making it the smallest county in the state in land area.
There are nineteen governmental units within Benzie County. These include the communities of the City of Frankfort, and the Villages of Elberta, Beulah, Benzonia, Honor, Lake Ann and Thompsonville. There are also the Townships of Almira, Benzonia, Blaine, Colfax, Crystal Lake, Gilmore, Homestead, Inland, Joyfield, Lake, Platte and Weldon.
Benzie County is abundantly rich in natural resources with many lakes and rivers containing over 546 square miles of water, and over 136,000 acres of forest land. These resources provide the base for Benzies economy with tourism/recreation and agriculture being the two major economic sectors of the County.
Benzie County residents value these natural resources and the undeveloped "Up North" feel, and we work hard to preserve these resources while striving to provide a stable economy and maintain high quality of life for all citizens.
The Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse
The US Coast Guard is in the process of relinquishing to the Bureau of Land Management a great majority of its holdings at the site. The Coast Guard will retain rights to operate the light, as well as ownership of the modern box house behind the lighthouse and the lot on which that “guest” house sits. However, it is the fate of the main building consisting of the turret and the keeper's quarters, the 3+ outbuildings and the undeveloped lot across the road that is of concern.
The process of how the BLM distributes government property is a lengthy and complicated one, with an up to five-year timeline and lots of paper work. After two years, this federal agency has just now reached the point where it will take applications, and Benzie County's plans for submitting application are underway. In turn, the county is going to be supported in its application by us, the Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse.
We will play a vital role in first procuring the site for the county and then maintaining it, with a strong bent towards preserving and promoting its historical aspects. A substantial Friends group that demonstrates broad public support in the community will greatly enhance the county's chances for acquisition; in fact, without such support the County's application doesn't stand a chance.
Other interested parties may seek to acquire the light- house site for their own purposes including private applicants and non-profit groups. We know that definite interest has been expressed by others but at this time we do not know who else will officially apply nor who will ultimately own the properties. Answering the chorus of common concerns that we heard when surveying the community, the Friends group seeks to ensure this landmark will continue to serve and be accessible to the public. Benzie County, in full partnership with the Friends, is currently operating as official caretakers via a historical lease granted by the Coast Guard until subsequent ownership is decided.
The noteworthy Ann Arbor/Washington DC firm of Quinn Evans was recently retained for a feasibility study, such a study being a requirement of our application. There is also a separate engineering study to be done on the concrete apron. This is so everyone involved knows the condition of the site, and both the BLM and our county commissioners are assured we all know what we're getting into. All aspects of the present site, as well as possible future plans for it, will be studied. For example, how structurally sound are the buildings? Is there a possibility of toxic substances stored/spilled/dumped at the site?
How does any future plan for the site fit into the need to maintain ecological and historical integrity? What steps must be taken to assure keeping the site as low-key and non-commercial as possible, but still self-supporting? How significant a worry is beach erosion or the naturally occurring drift of the dunes? As you can imagine, taking on a lighthouse is no small or simple undertaking! The present Friends board members are excited at the opportunity to work with Mike Quinn, who not only is a leading authority on this sort of project but has close personal ties to the area, as well. His company's full report is expected by the end of June and will be highlighted on our Web site. Upon representative approval the results of this study will, in essence, spell out our plan of attack. In the meanwhile, we are very impressed with the team members’ expertise, as well as their passionate commitment to the entire project that is rivaled only by our own.
The Friends believe that the County is best suited to receive the lighthouse properties so that through representational government, both the voting citizens and seasonal residents of Benzie County have the final say in what becomes of Pt. Betsie. It is conceivable that, should we gain ownership, the County would turn around and lease the properties to someone else. Or, it is more likely that the site would be turned into a county park, with a possible art gallery, or a gift shop, or meeting/special event facility, and/or a museum. As you can see, the possibilities are many, and details yet to be determined. But we need your input! Now is the time to join us because now is when these initial critical decisions are being made for Point Betsie's future.