2017-08-03 / Local News

Whether jetties or ‘groins’, they’re staying in place

Despite inholder’s objections
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


STILL EFFECTIVE in keeping sand from eroding along the Lake Michigan shorelines, historic groins installed in the mid-20th Century won’t be removed anytime soon, according to officials of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. STILL EFFECTIVE in keeping sand from eroding along the Lake Michigan shorelines, historic groins installed in the mid-20th Century won’t be removed anytime soon, according to officials of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Historic wooden structures sticking out of the sand along the Lake Michigan shoreline – including some with steel nails and spikes sticking out of them – won’t be going away anytime soon, according to officials of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Most of the structures were put in place along the shoreline by private property owners around the mid- 20th Century – decades before the National Park Service took ownership of the 71,000 acres of land through an act of Congress.

Sometimes referred to as “jetties,” the structures are technically “groins,” according to the National Park Service. A “groin” in this case is defined as “a rigid structure built out from a shore to trap sand and protect the shore from erosion.”

Several of the most noticeable old groins exist along the Lake Michigan shoreline just north of North Bar Lake in Empire Township. Depending on how wave action shifts the sand along the shoreline each year, the structures stick out some years, and are all but invisible some other years.

A few “in-holders” continue to own small pieces of private Lake Michigan waterfront property within the boundaries of the National Lakeshore. In some cases, family ownership was preserved back in the 1970’s when families hired skilled lawyers to work out a deal with the federal government.

Most inholders, however, were evicted, leaving behind vacation homes and other structures that, for the most part, have been removed.

Washington, D.C. hedge fund manager Boyd Baker Lewis is a member of a family that still owns waterfront property within the National Lakeshore. He is clearly not happy that the National Park Service has yet to remove structures from the beach in front of his family property.

“These daggers with nails in them are dangerous to anybody walking along the beach or using the lake, not to mention ugliness,” Lewis said. “I had to negotiate my kite-surfing kite through branches and these nasty things on a particularly rough day where I had inches of clearance from the nails.”

Lewis said he has approached National Park Service officials with no action.

“I think it is bureaucratic incompetence and laziness,” Lewis said.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore deputy superintendent Tom Ulrich had a different perspective.

“We agree these old groins are an eyesore and unnatural and we would prefer they were gone. But they are pretty low down on the priority list for us for a number of reasons,” Ulrich said.

“They aren’t really an imminent safety hazard any more than any of our other ‘ruins’ in the park that people simply avoid,” Ulrich said. “They aren’t causing any substantial natural resource impact, even though they still serve a little of their original purpose of armoring the bank.

“They aren’t hindering any park operations,” Ulrich added, “and in the few instances when they have – impeding UTV’s along the beach – we have been able to just knock the offending portions over with hand tools.”

Ulrich said complete removal of the old structures, many of which are buried deep in the sand, would be expensive and would require “a great deal of permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.”

Ulrich added that even breaking or pinching off portions of the structures visible above ground would be “a big project, especially given the difficulty of getting heavy equipment into position.”

Ulrich said he was sorry he couldn’t give park “in-holders” an answer they were looking for – “but we just need to address a lot of other things that are more pressing.”

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