Ottawa Co. Beach Community at Odds Over Water Access, Start Online Petition

Posted at 9:52 PM, Jun 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-25 16:08:40-04

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. (June 24, 2014) —  A beach community along the lake shore is at odds. Some people are in favor of a public beach, while others said that the beach goers are trespassing.

Leaders in both Park and Port Sheldon Townships agree that the area has been used as a public beach for generations, but using it as such is illegal according to state law.

Technically the beach isn’t a beach at all. It is classified in the state of Michigan as a “road-end” entry point, meaning it’s legal to walk from the road into the water, but if you simply lay down a towel, then you’re breaking the law.

People in the area of Lakeshore Drive and New Holland said that last week sheriff’s deputies showed up, letting people know the area wasn’t to be used as a public beach.

“There was a girl down here that said, ‘You know this isn’t going to be allowed to use as a beach anymore,”  and we were like, ‘What is going on with that?’ So, that’s when we started the petition just to get people aware of what’s going on down here,” said Amy Sheerhorn.

Sheerhorn said that she grew up on this beach and has a lot of sentimental memories over the years.

“One of my best friends since kindergarten, she got engaged down here. Her fiancé knew how important this beach was to her and I was a part of that experienced and it was just down here, and me and my friends were just down here,” said Sheerhorn.

Park Township said that Michigan law says that members of the public are only allowed to walk from the street and into the water. Any other activity would qualify as using the area as a beach.

“It’s been in our history for so long and nobody said that we weren’t allowed to use this as a beach,” said Sheerhorn.

Recently, no parking allowed signs have been placed along the area of New Holland Road and Lakeshore Drive by both Port Sheldon and Park Townships.

Steve Feenstra’s family has lived across the street from Lake Michigan for over 60 years. He said that Lake Michigan is the glue that keeps his family together.

“There really has never been a problem with parking. There’s never because there are not that many people here. So, it really has never been an issue. I think it’s a very limited group that is seeking to close this beach,” said Feenstra.

Other neighbors who live on the lake-front told FOX 17 that they’ve called police on several accusations because of a mixture of disturbances from illegal drug use to loud music, but said that the problem today is no where near how bad it was a decade ago. Residents also complain of trash being left behind from patrons.

Sheerhorn hopes that the two towns who share the property will come up with a solution so she can enjoy her favorite beach spot for years to come.

“Any space that is public, you are going to have situations that arise in a public space, so those issues should be dealt with as any other issue in a public space,” said Sheerhorn.

Park Township also said that there have been similar cases in Michigan where a resident along a private beach sued the town for allowing people to use the water access as a beach, and said that the court sided with the resident.

Residents who support beach access said that they will present their online petition to both townships at their meeting on July 10th.

You can find the online petition for beach access by clicking here.