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The Little Beach That Could

What are some ways to make this beach better? 

(Pano grab of Slabtown/Elmwood Beach)

I’ve served on Traverse City’s parks and recreation commission for a year and a half. Typically, we have a half-a-handful of people in attendance if we are lucky and they are often students there on assignment. Over a month ago we had around 40 people attend in support of an off leash dog park in Traverse City; it was refreshing. Tonight, promises to be another well attended meeting. Traverse City can get fired-up over parkland; it’s great.

On the agenda is not only the dog park and a public hearing about Clancy Park Improvements, but a presentation by a Slabtown Neighborhood Group on a beach grooming/improvement proposal for an area of West Bay about 1000 feet west of the West Side Beach near Division and Grandview. I expect a large crowd because the commission has received more correspondence on this issue than I’ve received total in the year and half I’ve served.  Some of them express support, others concern, for the proposal that you can read in the parks and recreation packet here (PDF) or below.

At issue, and the crux of the matter, isn’t wether or not to improve this area. Improved access and more intentional design and clean-up of the area the area is, I believe, uncontroversial. Generating the controversy is an ask for the City to apply to the MDEQ for a 200 foot long mechanically groomed beach, a total area of which I’m still not clear on as the edge of the water fluctuates.

The image above shows what I believe to be the western edge of the proposed grooming area looking east. There is a combination of perspectives and interests here: the value of recreational opportunities and stewardship of the natural resources, namely, water quality. Traverse City’s Watershed Center, which is concerned about preserving a vegetated shoreline, has shared with the City research conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment titled, “The Water’s Edge” (PDF) that strongly recommends limiting mechanical grooming to protect fish habitat among other natural elements.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to hear and learn from neighbors tonight; again, we don’t often have so many interested parties attend our meetings. On the beach, we don’t have a specific motion to consider yet, so it is hard to say one way or the other how I might vote. Our role is to help facilitate a solution that balances the goals of parks and recreation, one of which is to increase activity in our parkland and another which is to practice low impact development in those parks. The two can co-exist.

Ultimately, what I’m concerned with is the question I started this post with: ways to improve the beach. I have some ideas and we’ve been presented a proposal, but I would still like to hear what opportunities a passionate group of citizens can come up with.

What are some ways to make this beach better?

(I assume MyWHaT readers have ideas, please share…if you haven’t commented before, read this.)

There are also other items on the agenda, like providing feedback to TCLP on what to do with the blue and white pole on Bay St…have a position on that? Our meetings start at 6:30 in the Governmental Building and, at times, our meetings can be entertaining.

  1. Ashlea
    June 2, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Making “improvements” sure can be tricky. Many of the proponents just might come to find out that once improved, “their” beach that they frequent will become more popular and they might not like it anymore. It’s refreshing to have more natural beaches that aren’t overly groomed or maintained much by an authority. Case in point, many people in Empire resent the improvements made to the beach/park area a few years ago there because A LOT more people come than before and the villagers are left wondering where “their” beach went…

    Although it seems trite to say (err, write), better be careful what you wish for!

  2. chrisbzdok
    June 2, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Gary, great perspective as always. Four things to note:
    (1) the whole 2,700 foot stretch from Division to M-22 was sandy for 50 years; (2) the neighborhood’s proposal is to restore 200 feet of that sand leaving 2,500 feet natural, (3) the location was selected because it already is the most sandy (thereby minimizing vegetation disturbance), and (4) the grooming would most likely be by hand or small machine not by the large groomers which can’t get down the rip rap.
    The neighborhood has included the Watershed Center in all of its discussions on this topic, but the center’s position is no restoration of any sand whatsoever. The CC is looking to parks and rec to work out a solution that balances family use and preservation. best regards, Chris

  3. Mike
    June 2, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Ashlea, this is City of Traverse City beachfront parkland, to be shared by, enjoyed, and cared for by the residents of Traverse City through their municipal infrastructure.

    Obviously, it is beach loved and used perenially by not only the residents of Traverse City, but of the entire greater Grand Traverse area, and with visitors of every color and creed from across the country and around the world.

    Unfortunately, your “case in point” highlights a ‘close the door right behind me so I don’t have to share it with any more people’-attitude about the Empire beach that hopefully will not hinder a sincere effort by neighbors in Traverse City to restore an important and valuable resource to our community.

  4. Greg
    June 3, 2011 at 11:44 am

    What does the Watershed Center have to do with cleaning up the beach. As far as I know they don’t have any legal authority and do not issue permits. If it’s true that the water and beaches belong to all of us, Slabtown could clean it up this weekend.

  5. Mike
    June 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm


    You are absolutely correct, Sir. However, the Slabtown Neighborhood Association has chosen to try to pursue this beach reclamation through the “proper” channels up to this point, although after last night’s Parks & Rec. Commission meeting I don’t know how long citizens’ patience will last trying to work with the municipal stagnation.

    The Watershed Center has taken an extremist position (ie: “don’t touch a single blade of grass…”) that completely ignores the fact that this is a public, beach-front park in the heart of the most populous, tourism-based, metropolitan area for 100 miles. (Technically, maybe Green Bay or Milwaukee, WI are within a 100 mile radius, making that claim inaccurate) The beaches of Traverse City are the fundamental draw which drives this area’s community and economy.

    The Watershed Center claims that the continued abandonment of this beach is critical to the water quality of the Grand Traverse Bay, and that restoring even 200 feet of this half-mile of shoreline equates to disregard for environmental concerns of any kind, and irresponsibility on the part of the City of Traverse City and its citizens.

    Bullsh!t. Or maybe more appropriately, troutsh!t.

    There is more than 132 miles of Grand Traverse Bay shoreline, more than 99.9% of it ungroomed. Multiply 132 miles by 5,280 feet/mile = just under 700,000 feet of shoreline. Now divide by 200 feet… not 3/100s of 1% of the Grand Traverse Bay shoreline.

    Like I said, environmental extremism, with total disregard for the location, usage, and ownership of this beach.

    Talk about irresponsible.

  6. Greg
    June 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I grew up in the “Slabtown” neighborhood before we assigned names to these areas. Every summer day would be swimming at the end of Monroe and Elmwood. Now there are these not for profit groups that want to dictate how, when, and where we can use OUR natural recreation areas. I would think the City would be all in favor of this clean up and fight any way possible against outsiders (alphabet soup groups and DEQ / DNR) deciding how we clean our public property. The CC fought the DNR over swim areas. I’ll head down this weekend and pull a few weeds, keep up the good job. Stay clear of the BAY KEEPER though, I hear he’s out patrolling in his tug boat.

  7. David Luick
    June 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Gary, what worries me here is that there is a proposal on the table that you are set to vote on, yet, at the same time, you are posting: ” Ultimately, what I’m concerned with is the question I started this post with: ways to improve the beach. I have some ideas and we’ve been presented a proposal, but I would still like to hear what opportunities a passionate group of citizens can come up with”. The Slabtown Beach committe spent over a year going through options, pulling in opinions, views, and professional expertise when needed. The Beach committee consisted of neighborhood professionals who belong/contribute/support a wide range of environmental/water quality/conservation groups. In fact, a couple of the voting members are Watershed Center members. Are you more worried with coming up with your own solution or can we count on you to trust and vote on what the Slabtown Neighborhood Association has presented?

  8. June 4, 2011 at 8:16 am

    For clarification for readers not in the middle of the issue, as far as this parks and recreation commissioner is concerned this isn’t a neighborhood vs. a non-profit agency debate. Some of you may continue to feed that battle, but that isn’t my fight. There has been considerable input from various representatives, mainly citizens, plus the Watershed Center, the County Health Dept., the City Commission and, of course, Slabtown Neighborhood Ass. I don’t agree that taking a month to deliberate is equal to “municipal stagnation.” This was the first time that parks and rec. had seen this proposal and some of us were keen to spend another month on it out of our own reservations, reservations raised in letters or lack of information.

    We were appointed to serve the city manager and city commission because we are passionate about parkland and recreation and, I trust, for our critical thinking abilities. P&R is more of a working board where we have the privilege to dive into the details and look for ways to find win-win projects for the entire city. There are other projects planned in the City where we have worked closely with the neighborhood groups from the onset and so have intimate knowledge of the entire process. This came at us through a different process-we, as a board, weren’t involved. That’s fine, but deserves some deliberation.

    Yes, the neighborhood group may have internally answered most, if not all, questions, but after 3 hours of public comment and discussion it was clear that questions weren’t going to be answered at last week’s meeting. We also have a current priority list for the bayfront that was created during a public meeting. There were no Slabtown representatives at that meeting, but they could have been. At that meeting, the crosswalk and the trail leading from Elmwood were made a priority, but not the beach. That doesn’t mean that priorities can’t be altered; they often are and are likely to be altered as opportunities present, but it is something we need to address if our previous work amounts to anything.

    David, I’m not worried about anything other than people not respecting that other people have a responsibility to contribute to the project. A month to further work with staff and stakeholders doesn’t impede the project from beginning this summer. It was made clear to the parks and rec commission that a permit will be applied for by the City regardless of our vote. I trust that between now and next meeting we can draft a motion that we can get behind that is based on informed consent and creates as close to a win-win as possible.

  9. David Luick
    June 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Gary, appreciate the response- thanks

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