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History Lives Here Text

Information about Baldhead

In 1929 residents of Saugatuckbecame concerned that Mt. Baldhead, then truly bald, would one day close offthe river leaving the town without water access to Lake Michigan. May FrancisHeath, who was writing a book about the area, led thegroup of concerned citizens. She wrote John D. Nies,identified on his stationary as of Lewis Institute, to seek his opinion as ascientist as well as a former resident (his father was one of the founders of Koning's Hardware Store). This is his reply:


Dear Mrs. Heath:


It is a factthat I know very little about Baldhead. I wish I knew more. It is a veryinteresting subject.


I have made some measurements from time to time that indicate that theadvance of the hill, in a southeasterly direction, amounts to about 4 incheseach year. This rate of advance is not uniform over the entire face of thehill. For purposes of estimate I have assumed a 4-inch advance per year overthat part of the hill that comes down in Park space; at this assumed rate theannual come-dome of sand is 340 to 500 cubic yards over that front.


The estimatedadvance of 4 inches each year is taken perpendicular to the surface of thesand; it is the same as if a layer 4 inches deep were "plastered"over the entire face of the hill. The advance measured on the ground will bemore, of course, possibly 7 inches per year, and more than that in some places.



Baldhead before the stairs


If left to itself the hill will ultimately reach the river, unless itblows out first. It might take several hundred years to reach the river. If ablowout occurs, the center of the hill will be cut through to a fairly lowlevel; the western face of the hill is troughlike,and this trough, in case of a blowout, will divide the hill into two ridgesextending from northwest to southeast. The sand will then become more or lessquiescent, and will be occupied by vegetation. This would be the fate of thehill if the river were out of the way; the trough which now forms the westernface of the hill would cut clear through. It would probably be a good thing tohave several hundred loads of sand carried away from the eastern face of thehill each year. This would stop the advance of the sand and would save the parkarea, but the hill would gradually lose height.


In time a new hill will form across the trough which now forms thewestern face. The new hill will build up and travel back exactly as Baldheadhas done. The beginnings of this action are evident now; considerable progresshas been made since the time I was a kid. The shifting of these sand hills hasfrom time to time tended to block the outlet of the river, and has changed itscourse. It seems likely that the position of the mouth has shifted back andforth along the lake shore, over a range of two or three miles.


The hills, now timbered, but originally all much the same as Baldheadis now, that fill the space between the river and the lake, are simply remnantsof these shifts and changes. Baldhead, in its south-eastward travel, has cutthrough several hills that occupied the same site possibly thousands of yearsago. These earlier hills had become quiescent and had become covered withvegetation, the decay of which formed black soil. Then the sand advanced andcovered the vegetation and killed it. Then the hill may again have becomequiescent and covered with vegetation, only to be again covered with sand. Whenever such formations are cut through the former lines of soilshow as outcrops. On the south side of the canyon or trough on the westslope of Baldhead several such outcrops of former soils are easily seen.


It was not so long ago that thelake beach was close to the western foot of the hill. The gravel patches (ourold "lucky stone" patch among others) show where the beach wasformerly. The driftwood buried in the sand and gravel proves that the beach wasthere in comparatively recent time, say less than 100 years ago.


Yours sincerely, John D. Nies


A new staircase, with 367 steps,was built up the east side of the dune in 1931. In 1932 the forestry departmentof Michigan StateCollege planted saplings and rye grass, and in 1939 the Saugatuck ParkCommission planted 6,000 additional trees. This stabilized the sand. Followingthe Korean War a radar station was built stop Baldhead by the U. S. Air Forceas part of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line. In1964 the apparatus was enclosed with a white fiberglass bubble. It wasdeactivated in 1968 and is now owned by the City of Saugatuck