MSU Social Scientists create first comprehensive map of Michigan’s coastal sand dunes

April 10, 2019 - Liz Schondelmayer

Michigan State University researchers have created the first ever comprehensive map of Michigan’s Coastal Dunes, which collectively form the largest concentration of freshwater coastal sand dunes in the world.

MSU Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences professor and department chair, Alan Arbogast, is an expert on the formation and evolution of Michigan’s coastal dunes.  Recently, he worked with the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) on a project called “Valuing Michigan’s Coastal Dunes: GIS Information and Economic Data to Support Management Partnerships.”

Arbogast and MSU graduate student Clayton Queen used high-resolution satellite and radar imagery to identify 163,000 acres of coastal dunes, which is more than twice the 74,000 acres previously mapped as the so-called “Critical Dunes” by the State of Michigan.  The map will be included in the Dunes Geographical Information System (GIS), as well as made available to the public for future use to aid with future research, local planning, and dune conservation efforts.

According to Arbogast, “the genesis of this project was that many misconceptions still exist about the dunes, including their true geographical distribution and overall economic value”.  This project was designed to tackle some of these issues and involved a great collaboration between the MEC and Dr. Robert Richardson in the Department of Community Sustainability at MSU.

This research also sought to further understand the social, cultural, and economic importance of the dunes and how people interact with them. By employing the #HowYouDune online survey, the team found that almost all participants agree that the scenic beauty of the dunes is extremely important, as are efforts to preserve the dunes scenic beauty.

According to the survey, the dunes also generate economic growth, as visitors spend an average of almost $400 per visit and tend to visit local restaurants and grocery stores during their trip. Visitors come to the dunes not only to go to the beaches and sight-see, but also to hike, camp, and dune-climb.

Throughout the completion of this project, the team established a stronger relationship the dunes’ stakeholders, including recreational users, tourism professionals, business leaders, and local planners. The team contends that this is extremely important for future research, as a strong network of concerned and engaged individuals will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of future projects.

More information on this research can be found here