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Beaches busy despite high water

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Despite limited space on Escanaba’s municipal beach, beachgoers were out in full force Tuesday.

ESCANABA — Water levels on Lake Michigan have been extremely high in 2020. While this situation has caused some problems for beaches in the area, local officials said it has not had a negative effect on beach usage this summer.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District, water levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were forecasted to be 582.22 feet for July 24, 2020. This was three inches higher than the lakes’ highest monthly average water levels on record for the month of July, four inches above average water levels in July 2019 and identical to water levels recorded in June 2020.

As a result of these high water levels, space on the municipal beach in Escanaba has been limited this summer. However, Escanaba Recreation Director Kim Peterson said this has not proven to be a major obstacle for beachgoers — in fact, beach usage may have been stronger than ever in 2020.

“The actual numbers are very high because it’s a warm season, so we’ve had a lot of people down utilizing the beach and the showers,” she said.

The beach is separated from the rest of Aronson Island by berms made from concrete and covered by sand and grass. Peterson said there are no plans to move these berms, as they are doing their job well.

“If we didn’t have those in, that water would’ve been all the way in the parking lot,” she said.

Peterson did not expect water levels on Lake Michigan to decline significantly over the next few years. She also noted that simply adding more sand to the beach would not be a viable option for expanding beach space.

“That sand will just be swept into the water,” she said.

The city may look at installing raised platforms on top of the berms for beachgoers to use in the future.

“It’ll give them some more space to spread out,” Peterson said.

Escanaba’s beach will be closing for the season on Saturday, Aug. 8. Peterson said this is not due to water levels at the beach.

“The lifeguards are heading back to college,” she said.

In Gladstone, the city’s beach opened without lifeguards this summer. Still, City Manager Eric Buckman said the beach has been far from empty in recent months.

“With the warm weather, it’s been really busy down there,” he said.

Although the beach in Gladstone has more space than the beach in Escanaba does, Buckman said other nearby facilities have been impacted by high water levels in 2020.

“We just put stone in front of the skateboard park — it was beginning to get hammered,” he said.

High water levels have also forced the city to close several dock sites on the west side of its harbor. Buckman said electric pedestals for these sites are underwater at times.

“We’ve got the electricity shut off to that section,” he said.

Buckman said the city is also looking to seek financial support for damage done to its boardwalk as a result of these water levels.

“We have assessed that and turned it in to insurance, and we’re waiting to hear from the state,” he said, adding that emergency funding may be announced for communities affected by high water levels this year.

Typically, water levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron peak for the season in July.

“It’s starting to go down like it normally does in August … but it all depends on what our late summer and fall are going to be,” Buckman said.

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