This barricade blocks off the south beach access structure at West Side County Park. High lake levels and accompanying erosion have undercut the bottom of the stairs and overview areas. (Photo by Scott Sullivan)

West Side Park’s north stairs remain open; county urges caution

Ryan Lewis, editor

Erosion and debris continue to plague areas along the Lake Michigan coast.

Following up on calls to The Allegan County News/Commercial Record about members of the public scrambling over washed up trees along the beach at West Side County Park during the July 4 weekend, county parks manager Brandy Gildea said high Lake Michigan water levels and the resulting erosion continue impact access to that beach.

“This past winter, the entire south beach access structure was damaged and proactively removed in the interest of safety,” Gildea said, noting erosion had also led to a variety of damage to roads, homes and businesses along the shore. “Sadly, the removal of the structure decreased accessibility for many park users.

“Working with independent liability and safety advisors we have considered options to maintain some level of beach access.”

The 11-acres park in Ganges Township has 630 feet of shoreline. It has a gazebo, ball diamond, picnic tables, two covered pavilions, two modern restroom buildings, and a fenced playground area. A project largely funded by a DNR grant created a set of wooden stairs and ramps down to the beach in two spots five years ago.

Erosion began claiming significant portions of the beach by 2017. That continued and by fall 2018 erosion had undercut the south structure. A portion of the south stairs and the ramp were removed and a viewing deck was rebuilt and shored up using materials from the removed sections. By July 2019, erosion undercut that as well.

This spring’s erosion and damage were significant as well. After it was cleared, the park’s north stairs were reopened and continue to be monitored. Gidlea said they lead to a natural, flat, sand area. From there, the public has the option to further climb down a drop-off down to the beach. She said signage was in place warning the public of erosion damage and debris near bottom of the stairs and beach.

“The addition of steps to the existing north stairs was considered,” Gildea said. “Unfortunately, this addition would enter the area of the beach that continues to experience daily erosion and damage from heavy wave action. It is unsafe to build anything in the erosion area that would become unstable and pose further risk to park users.”

The south beach access remains closed, having been barricaded last fall. Any damage to the north stairs will prompt its closure until fixed.

“Park staff continues to do their best to remove debris as new trees erode and fall down or as the lake brings new debris ashore,” said Gildea.

The available beach varies from 30 to 50 feet some days down to zero on others.

“Park users are encouraged to exercise caution if attempting descend down the sandy dunes to the water’s edge,” she said. “Warnings are posted at multiple spots along the north stairs letting users know that once they get to the bottom—that small, flat area—they need to proceed with caution, and remain aware of debris and erosion.”

If the public sees excessive debris near the structure or people misusing the access, they may notify the parks office at (269) 686-9088.

Allegan County, through its Parks and Recreation program, seeks to provide recreation facilities for people of all ages and abilities.

“When the lake levels return and remain at a lower level, the county may once again consider options to improve beach access which may include new structures,” Gildea said.

For full story, pick up a copy of the MONTH XX issue of The Allegan County News/The Union Enterprise/The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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