Beach Restoration along Lake Michigan Reduces Pollution, Draws Visitors

Dune grass has been planted in this section of Baileys Harbor Ridges Beach and will help prevent runoff into Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Dune grass has been planted in this section of Baileys Harbor Ridges Beach and will help prevent runoff into Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Project summary: Planting dune grasses and putting down new sand has helped three beaches in the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin reduce stormwater runoff into Lake Michigan—allowing the beaches to remain open for swimmers.

Project name: Reducing Stormwater Runoff at Three Beaches

Location: Door County, Wis.

Description: Three beaches around the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin have been revitalized thanks to funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Prior to funding, these beaches—Anclam Park Beach in Baileys Harbor, Otumba Park Beach in Sturgeon Bay, and Baileys Harbor Ridges Beach in Door County—would sometimes be closed to swimmers because of stormwater runoff. Hard surfaces like parking lots, roads, and sidewalks can’t absorb rain when it falls, so the water runs off the surface picking up chemicals, dirt, and oil as it flows. Some beaches were also seeing spikes in their E. coli levels after rain storms causing beach closures that hurt the local tourism economy. Contributing to the pollution was waste from waterfowl resting on the beach. The topography and slope of the beaches has been redone to stop or slow stormwater as it approaches Lake Michigan. Excess runoff can cause pollution leading to beach closures, but also can harm fish and wildlife. At Otumba Park Beach a new stormwater system was installed to help reduce discharges on the beach. At Baileys Harbor Ridges Beach a bioswale was installed, helping to collect excess rain water and allow it to be absorbed into the soil slowly. Dune grasses were installed at all three beaches to anchor the new sand in place as a way to reduce erosion, but also to slow down rain water and reduce runoff into Lake Michigan.

Approximate cost of project: $250,000

Resource challenge addressed: polluted runoff, beach closures

The view overlooking Baileys Harbor Ridges Beach out onto Lake Michigan. New sand and dune grasses are helping to reduce the number of beach closures, bringing people back to the beach. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The view overlooking Baileys Harbor Ridges Beach out onto Lake Michigan. New sand and dune grasses are helping to reduce the number of beach closures, bringing people back to the beach. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Key partners (public and private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department, Door County Public Health Department, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, Miller Engineers & Scientists, Town of Baileys Harbor, Door County Parks Department, and the City of Sturgeon Bay.

Types of jobs created: heavy equipment operators, landscape architects, general laborers

Results and accomplishments: Three parks in the Door Peninsula have been restored with new sand, dune grasses, and boardwalks, allowing beaches to remain open for swimming and recreation. Additionally, the dune grasses helped to deter birds from utilizing the beach and the lawns above the beach because they prefer spending time in open areas where threats from predators can be clearly seen. The efforts to reduce waste and slow runoff have paid off with more people visiting the beaches in the past year.

Originally published: February 12, 2016

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