OTTAWA COUNTY, MI – Lake Michigan beachgoers will likely find more room to relax or build sandcastles when they return this season.
Drone footage taken by MLive / The Grand Rapids Press at Ottawa County’s North Beach Park shows a dramatic change in the amount of waterfront present this year which last year was partially underwater due historic high water levels on Lake Michigan.
With lake levels currently dropping about 1 foot 5 inches from their historic highs in May last year, Ottawa County park officials say tourists and residents alike will notice more frontages on the lake. beach in most of their parks this season.
“It feels like there’s more beach,” said Jessica VanGinhoven, Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Communication Specialist. “They look better than they used to be and we are working hard, just like we were around this time last year, just trying to clear out the debris that washed up on the beach.”
Water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron tend to drop from their peak in July 2020 to a historic monthly high of 582.19 feet. Current water levels are approximately 580.51 feet.
Related: Lake Michigan and Huron water levels peak below 1986 record
In addition to consuming the waterfront, the crashing waves atop high water levels in 2020 eroded dozens of feet of dunes along the coast, threatening waterfront infrastructure and many homes.
Some owners have moved their homes inland, others have opted for controlled demolition rather than dropping them into the lake. Along the coast, many landowners have installed new rip-rap and dykes to counteract erosion.
It might not look like the North Beach Park picnic shelter in Ferrysburg is that close to the water now, but park officials were concerned last year that it might be compromised by the encroachment water and dune erosion.
VanGinhoven said the County’s Tunnel and Kirk parks were the hardest hit by erosion.
Erosion dislodged and broken portions of the Dune Ridge Trail in Kirk Park, and Ottawa County officials preemptively diverted some access points and removed some walkways for fear of erosion in d ‘other parks.
Related: Near-record storm surge causes damage to Holland State Park
The six-month forecast from the US Army Corps of Engineers projects that water levels in Lake Michigan and Huron will peak this year as usual in July and continue on a downward trend.
Still, Lakes Michigan and Huron were about 18 inches above their long-term average for May, making it hard to say the amount of beach has returned to normal.
“I don’t know if I would say back to normal,” VanGinhoven said of the current beach frontage. “It’s not those very large stretches of beach we’re used to. They are certainly smaller than they were five years ago, but we are on the right track.
The lack of a waterfront last year, at a time when people were said to be at least 6 feet apart from each other, didn’t deter beachgoers.
The county made almost $ 40,000 in sales last year, compared to 2019, of annual passes to its seaside parks. These annual or daily passes are required between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Revenue totaled approximately $ 511,000 in 2020 and approximately $ 471,000 in 2019.
Lou Hunt, the county’s emergency management director, said the erosion situation is much better than it was in July, but not entirely over. While it’s too early to say if the downtrend will continue next year like previous cycles, Hunt said he was bullish.
“What we’ve seen recently is not only that we’ve been pretty dry, but that we really haven’t had a lot of these big storms,” he said. “We’re still above average, so any major storm will have an erosion component. The longer we can go without some of these major wave action storms, the less erosion we will have. “
Hunt said last year that some beaches had been cut into narrow strips, making it difficult for many people to enjoy them. This year’s beaches, he said, have improved markedly.
“I think everyone will be very happy to see our beaches come back,” he said. “I think the beaches in western Michigan, especially in Ottawa County, are sort of iconic. Especially with the year that we have been largely indoors and isolated, I’m sure there is a big call for a lot of people to come out to these beaches and enjoy the outdoors.
Like a number of other employers and business sectors, Ottawa County Parks faces a labor shortage and application drought for its seasonal attendants. Attendants, who help keep parks and beaches clean, are paid an hourly rate of $ 10.90.
People can apply by going to https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/miottawa and then searching for “Park Attendant (Seasonal)”.
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