County discusses Dam Beach controversy, Lake Bellaire public beach property

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Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 9:33 am

BELLAIRE - During their most recent meeting last Thursday, Antrim County’s Parks and Lands Committee, per final Board of Commissioners approval, gave a tentative go ahead to the Village of Elk Rapids’ plans for a sidewalk on the county’s Dam Beach property, heard department reports, approved MSU Extension’s proposed 2012 budget request, and decided to make improvements to an almost, until now, unknown piece of county property on the east side of Lake Bellaire.

Long known as the Schuss Mountain Beach Club, the Lake Bellaire waterfront property located off Brake Road on White Birch Lane in Custer Township was acquired by Antrim County through the Grass River Natural Area’s acquisition of the North Shore Hunt Club, which was funded by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund in 2006.

Since then, although minimal maintenance such as lawn mowing has been done, and a small sign noting the property as part of the Grass River Natural Area is in place, little has been done with the property, noted Grass River Executive Director Debra Hershey.

“We are a natural area, with very limited funds, nor do we have the staff to maintain a park,” she explained.

Several of the people present at the meeting, including Commissioner Gene Dawson, were very surprised to hear that Antrim County has owned a public beach area on Lake Bellaire for the last few years.

Hershey noted that a number of large willow trees on the property are a public hazard, and need to be removed. “There’s a lot of work needed down there, actually,” she said. “It’s a huge problem for us, mainly because of those trees. Mike Meriwether has gotten involved with them several times.”

Agreeing with Hershey, Barnes Park manager Eileen Wallick said, “The parking lot needs work, the swing set’s a liability, and all of those picnic tables should be moved to Grass River.”

Boats moored in the water in front of the property that presumably belong to property owners on neighboring properties would also have to be moved if Antrim County wants to do more to publicize the area, Hershey added. “Grass River wants to let it go back to Mother Nature, as it’s costing them a lot of money, but it is a good area to launch a canoe or kayak,” she said.

Noting that several commissioners had recently visited the property, Commission Chair Laura Stanek said, “I think it should be cleaned up, and re-named, with a new sign letting the public know it’s available for public use.”

Dawson agreed with Stanek, saying, “I feel it’s very important that we maintain this area for public use.”

It was agreed that bids would be taken for removal of the dangerous trees, and that the area will be cleaned up and improved for public use.

Taking up a large portion of the meeting was a contentious discussion between representatives of Elk Rapids’ grass-roots Friends of the Dam Beach and Elk Rapids village officials as well as Dam Beach adjacent property owners regarding Elk Rapids village’s proposal to construct an eight foot sidewalk along the southern edge of the Dam Beach Road, which the environmental group is adamantly opposed to, and would prefer to have at least a portion of on the north side of the road.

Constructing such a wide sidewalk on the south side would not only constrict parking availability for anglers at the Elk Rapids dam, but create traffic issues with the narrower roadway that would result from the sidewalk’s presence, they argued.

After listening to both arguments, the members of the Parks and Lands Committee approved the village’s proposal to construct the sidewalk on the south side of the road and parking area, with the contingency that engineering plans be re-submitted to the county when complete.

In other matters, the committee recommended that the Board of Commissioners accept a proposed budget request of $104,539 for MSU Extension’s 2012 operations in Antrim County, a reduction of approximately $7000 from 2011, due to the re-organization of the agency last year.

The committee also listened to a proposed re-classification of county lands from county forester Mike Meriwether, and recommended that a real estate appraisal be obtained on a piece of Lore Road property in Torch Lake Township that is being considered as a possible site for a future public small boat launch on Grand Traverse Bay.

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