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Work begins soon on Hilt's Landing historical park

WHITEHALL TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Work will begin soon on the Hilt's Landing heritage park in west Michigan.

A 19-acre trail and open-air museum in Whitehall Township are being developed by the Lakeshore Museum Center, according to The Muskegon Chronicle. A groundbreaking is set for Aug. 28, with construction likely starting in October.

Those attending the groundbreaking can walk on a path that will one day be a handicap-accessible trail. They also can meet with interpreters in period dress and see where exhibits will be built.

The project, which is expected to be completed by June 2015, will cost $1.7 million and nearly all of the funds have been raised, Lakeshore Museum Director John McGarry told the newspaper.

Lakeshore Museum Center board member Bob Scolnik praised McGarry's fundraising efforts.

"For a nonprofit executive, he just did an exceptional job," Scolnik said. "I've never seen anything quite like that — not that amount of money, and not in that period of time."

The board is still raising money with the hopes of also starting an endowment to support park staff wages. The park will have an entry fee when it opens.

The half-mile trail will take hikers through woods with a grassy area in the middle that can be used for activities such as Civil War re-enactments. It will have eight exhibits showcasing 10,000 years of Michigan history, McGarry said.

"We're completely refocusing away from the old-style historian, and we've refocused on the family," McGarry said. The idea is to create another tourist site that keeps people in the area longer, spending at local restaurants and hotels.

"The key is to design these programs so that they stay overnight," McGarry said.

"We're confident it will add dollars to our economy," said Amy Van Loon of the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. "It'll be a different kind of tourism. ... It's going to offer such a wide variety of history."

The 19 acres was part of about 230 acres once owned by the Hilt family. The family sold the property in 1979 to Muskegon County, which then helped Whitehall Township repurchase it in 2007.