Celery Pond is a coastal wetland located on the last big bend of Black River in South Haven, Michigan.  This wetland and its adjacent floodplains absorb the many heavy inflows of water from the nearby Lake Michigan when storms and swells move through the area.  Celery Pond is also the last wetland of the two-hundred-and-eighty-seven mile Black River watershed which exits through South Haven's two piers.

Before European development, the lakeshore areas were inhabited by many Native American tribes.  The specific area of the wetland on South Haven’s river bend connected to an abundant network of ravines with sandy-bottomed creeks running through them.  The local Native Americans knew this area well, as shown by artifacts found in these locations.  Their community thinking honored and preserved the land and the natural course of waterways.

European settlers were arriving to the area of southwest Michigan in mass by the nineteenth century.  In 1833, Judge Jay R. Monroe bought land from the government, and the village of “South Haven” was named and later platted by George Hannah in 1852.

Around the turn of the century, celery was grown in the marshy area of the wetland near the downtown, designated as “Celery Pond,” by virtue of its use.  Commodity thinking had arrived in South Haven.  The wetland and the channel thus became property of private individuals, and later, also the municipality.

South Haven’s economic history included major industries such as logging, fruit farming, canning, shipping, manufacture of pianos and tourism.  By the end of the twentieth century, tourism and fruit farming were the major contenders.  A Wall Street Journal survey ranked South Haven as 5th in the country for lifestyle choices of a vacation home.

With the growing demand for second homes, large open spaces became a developer’s dream.  The City itself had a large holding of public property on Black River floodplains and in the wetland.  While once a city dump and warehouse area for the city’s Department of Public Works, the area suddenly looked as valuable as the last lands to conquer for developers.  Along with the DPW buildings was a waste water treatment plant, a public boat launch and fishing area, and the small park called Black River Park.  

The City officials discussed the idea of developing and selling the property, calling it the “Dunkley Redevelopment Project.”  Dunkley Avenue, named after the 19th century prominent shipbuilder W.J. Dunkley, was the main road going into and around the public and privately held properties.

The City hired Abonmarche Group, noted for its successful marina/condo plans.  While the City Master Plan called for preservation of natural resources and the wetland, the Abonmarche plan called for constructing a marina with 155 boat slips.  The four foot existing channel was to be enlarged to an 80-foot channel cut, separating Dunkley Avenue.  The rest of the public lands would be sold for commercial and concentrated residential use.

There was a public outcry over the Abonmarche Plan.  After two more years of controversy, in the summer of 2006, Council voted to approve the Abonmarche Plan, with the inclusion of a narrow riverfront or "linear" park for the people. 

During this time, citizens joined together to form the Celery Pond Advocates (CPA).  By March 2007, CPA was formally established as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.

In May 2007, along with six commercial developers, CPA and the South Haven Center for the Arts formally presented an alternative Master Plan to the City.  The plan showed an arboretum and preserve, with kayak/canoe waterways running along the edge of the public lands and into the wetland.  CPA planned to act as a conservancy, working with the city and the Art Center, to promote education on the wetland, integrating art and nature.  For more information on CPA’s Master Plan and other proposed projects, click here.

The political landscape did change over the past few years with the appointment of a different City Manager and the election of a new Mayor and City Council.  The new mix, and the continuing efforts of Celery Pond Advocates working with another conservation group, Two Rivers Alliance, helped unfold more ideas to preserve Celery Pond wetland and her floodplain lands.  The push to develop the area commercially was gradually being replaced with more environmental actions of conservation.

In 2009, CPA started meeting with the Parks department and city officials with a plan to create a new park place bordering on the wetland in an area of right-of-way public lands.  The plan was approved and volunteers from both CPA and the SH Garden installed the park in the fall of 2010, dedicating the Wetland Overlook with its wonderful gardens, bench, picnic table and view of the pond in August 2011.  Educational signage was placed at the front of the park.  CPA has since hosted public events at the Overlook, meeting from 5-7pm on the second and fourth “Thursdays-in-August”.   

In 2011-2012, Celery Pond Advocates also renewed an area of Black River Park and created another garden-picnic area.  The organization donated a sculptural bench by local artist Terry Thomas called “The Dream Catcher.”  Educational signage will be placed next to the open space within a few months. 

When WSJM Radio Station removed its two radio towers from the Pond in January 2012, all our efforts to preserve the Pond really started to coalesce.  By the end of the year, with many hours of negotiation behind them, WSJM donated their holdings (11.5 acres) to the City who owned 7.9 acres.  The Council voted to accept the lands on a conservation easement which will protect 80% of the wetland in perpetuity from any commercial or industrial use. 

As the new year of 2013 opens, the wetland is assured to be a natural, undeveloped space.  The Council voted a conservation group in the area, the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, to manage of the City holdings within the guidelines of the conservation ruling.  Working together with this prominent group, both Celery Pond Advocates and Two Rivers Alliance are looking forward to a future which can open the public to a greater appreciation of this coastal wetland. 

Please click on thumbnails below to enlarge.

Left to Right (starting at top row)
1 - Aerial County Survey Map of Black River and Celery Pond
2 - City of South Haven Map of Black River Park and Linear Park Areas under discussion
3 - 2006 Aerial of Celery Pond and Dunkley Street Redevelopment area
4 - "The Dream Catcher" bench, gift to the City of South Haven from CPA August 2012, Black River Park
5 - Linear Park A
6 - Linear Park A looking East to Linear Park B1, channel between
7 - Linear Park B (August 2011): waiting for grant monies to create a green space, with gazebo and parking, and eventual bridge to Linear Park A.  This will include Celery Pond Creek improvement, with water garden and native plantings, part of grant monies for the bike path extension nearby.
8 - Linear Park B (August 2011): area for proposed natural shoreline, boardwalk and kayak-canoe launch
9 - Celery Pond Overlook (July 2011) showing CPA installation of flower beds, bench, table, bike rack and educational signage
10 - Bench donated by CPA for Celery Pond Overlook (August 2011)
11 - Celery Pond from Overlook (August 2011) with Picnic Table and Split Birch
12 - Long View of Overlook with Medicinal bed, Birds and Butterfly Bed, Prairie Flower Bed and Serendipity Bed