Valuing Michigan’s Coastal Dunes

Joint report mapping dunes' GIS and economic data to support management partnerships

In late 2016, the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program, through NOAA and the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, funded the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) project, “Valuing Michigan’s Coastal Dunes: GIS Information and Economic Data to Support Management Partnerships.” The results described here represent an exciting new chapter in the history of Michigan’s understanding and management of a true global treasure—the largest collection of freshwater coastal sand dunes found anywhere in the world.

The project is part of an ongoing effort to advance the collective awareness and understanding of this resource. The first effort, also funded by the Coastal Zone Management Program, began in 2014 with the project “Bringing the Latest Science to the Management of Michigan’s Coastal Dunes,” which compiled a wealth of existing information about the history of dune management in the state, and focused heavily on improving our understanding of the ecological aspects of the coastal dunes. Results of that project can be found in a series of written reports housed online at

The new project, which kicked off in late 2016, emerged directly from that earlier work. A new project team was assembled including: academic experts Alan F. Arbogast, Sarah Nicholls, and Robert B. Richardson (Michigan State University); community partners Elaine Sterrett Isely (West Michigan Environmental Action Council), Jonathan Jarosz (Heart of the Lakes) and Alek Kreiger (Ducks Unlimited); and an engaged set of dune stakeholders from other organizations and the general public.

This team focused on delivering three specific products that improve our understanding of and ability to manage coastal dunes in Michigan:

  1. A clearer definition and a comprehensive digital GIS map of coastal dunes
  2. A fuller picture of the true social, cultural and economic importance of the dunes, with specific data about how people interact with and value the resource
  3. More engaged dune stakeholders empowered with connections and tools to support future science-based efforts, improve management decisions and engage policy discussions

Download the Report

Download the Appendices

Download the ArcGIS Digital Map Package file


Financial assistance for this project was provided, in part, by the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program, Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), under the National Coastal Zone Management Program, through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Project Management

Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization created in 1980, functioned as project coordinator and fiscal agent for this effort. However, the project is first and foremost a partnership of academic experts willing to bring their specific knowledge of coastal sand dunes, tourism or environmental economics to bear on the issue, and non-governmental organizations and stakeholders from across Michigan who care deeply about the future of Michigan’s dunes. MEC developed this project to bring the science of natural assets—both physical and social—more fully into the ongoing conversation about how best to manage the coastal sand dune system. As an organization, MEC is committed to advancing the state of scientific knowledge about dunes and supporting the State of Michigan and local communities as they work to protect, preserve, restore, and enhance the world’s premier freshwater coastal dune system while also providing access and public enjoyment.

While conducting this original research, MEC developed two individual Quality Assurance Project Plans (QAPP) to guide each portion of the project, and served as QAPP manager for both. MEC also met with the researchers, stakeholders and other interested parties periodically to review and refine research methodologies, manage timelines and expectations, and to develop plans for the final work products. MEC hopes and believes the relationships and collaborations formed or strengthened through the course of this and other related dunes-focused projects will have a lasting impact by improving scientific knowledge and bringing it to bear on governmental and societal decisions about dunes.

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