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Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Charleston, South...
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Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

I am wondering if anyone else out there who loves the "Harbor Country" area of MI is as frustrated as I am by the reappearence of the private beach signs in Union Pier? My family has had a summer home in Union Pier for what is now our fourth generation and this weekend I discovered at the beach that they had posted all of the signs again leaving most beach goers a fifteen foot wide strip of Public Beach. As someone who loves this area and what the summer lifestyle has meant there I am very angry. Anyone else?

new jersey
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1. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Wow Jaluca, I learned something new today. I understood that all of the beaches along Lake Michigan were public. I did not know there were private beaches along the Great Lakes. When I researched the topic online I learned that indeed there are private beaches in Union Pier. You should go to the county clerks office to find out the location of the legitimate privately owned and association owned beaches. If there is a private beach on a beach that is not properly recorded, report it to the Union Pier township/town government. They should handle it for you. Moms

Charleston, South...
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2. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Thanks! I am indeed going to go to the County Clerks office as well as raise any other kind of ruckus I can. There are miles and miles of beautiful open beach that should be enjoyed by everyone. With so many people vacationing closer to home now this was a really bad choice and sends a message that what is wrong with our country doesn't just come from the top of big corporations but also from citizens who feel they should reign over natural resources.

new jersey
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3. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Jaluca: The lawyer in me had to take a look at this issue because I understood that the public had access to all Great Lakes beaches. Indeed, the Michigan Supreme Court so ruled in 2005. Here are a couple of articles that may be helpful to understanding the matter. BTW, I am not a lawyer in Michigan so I do not provide you with any legal advice here. I do suggest that you contact a Michigan lawyer if you are being denied public access to any Lake Michigan beach.

www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1125565514252

surfrider.org/stateofthebeach/…

Moms

Charleston, South...
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4. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Thank you for your input. I think I am going to sink my teeth into this one! In addition to the private beach signs being infuriating enough they stated that unless you were a "member" you could only WALK along the water line. This certainly doesn't seem to be in the best interest of promoting travel to enjoy MI beaches does it? The whole thing seems rotten to me and more than a little sad.

new jersey
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5. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Hmmm, in reading the Supreme Court case, you may only be able to walk along the water line. Again, if you are concerned about this, I would consult a lawyer in the area. You might want to look up the case and the name of the winning attorney. Give him/her a call. They could fill you in. Moms

Eau Claire...
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6. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Beach issues along the Great Lakes can be very contentious. It has been explained to me by real estate agents (who have sought a legal opinion on this) that beaches are NOT public. You may walk along the beach to the high water mark but that's it. You just can't plunk down in front of someone's place and have a picnic

Charleston, South...
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7. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

This is a HUGE issue and certainly more than I was ever aware of. There are both public and private beaches. Thankfully the MI Supreme Court ensured the rights of all people to enjoy a vital natural resource by at the least having the right to walk on beaches anywhere around the Great Lakes. What needs to be addressed is if there is adequate public beach space for all to enjoy or if we have an exclusive minority denying access to the general public. The beach that I am talking about was public, then private signs were posted, then the signs were gone and now they are back. The only difference I saw through these changes was a bunch of people being jammed onto a small space with miles of empty beach around them or miles of beaches more sparsely dotted with beach goers. Do public dollars get used to maintain and protect so called private beaches?

Northern Michigan
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8. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

He he he...

This topic comes up at least once a year here on TA and there's always several opinions on the subject.

I'm a real estate broker and I specialize in waterfront property, so I've been through this once or twice, lol.

Here's a summary that does a good job of describing the 2005 Glass v. Goeckel case that's the most referred to precedent on Great Lakes littoral rights:

dirt.umkc.edu/AUG2005/DD_08-17-05_1.htm

The problem is, that there's so much room for interpretation...for example, the Michigan Supreme Court defines the extent of the lands within public trust along the Great Lakes' shorelines as: that land between the current edge of the water and the "ordinary high water mark". The problem is, that there's no clear definition of "ordinary high watermark"...this is open to interpretation. Next, most of the precedents I've read deal with walking...are you allowed to stop and admire the sunset? If so, for how long? What if you want to take a swim, that's certainly within your rights, but can you leave your sandles and a towel on the dry sand? Again, there's so much open to interpretation that neither private owners or public beachgoers have very solid legal footing.

Here's what's for sure: Even though the land between the water's edge and the ordinary high water mark are held in public trust, it still the lakefront owner's property...they own to the water's edge.

Most Great Lake Beaches have an obvious line where the beach drops off a little sharper to the waters edge...anything above this line is considered private.

Some think public beachgoers are limited to the "wet sand" area...not necessarily the case, the ordinary high water mark is generally above the wet sand.

What you definitely cannot do is "set up camp" within the public trust area of the beach. I definitely think leaving your gear while you take a swim is fine...laying in the sun, setting up coolers, umbrellas, etc is not.

You definitely cannot cross private property to access the public trust portion of the shore.

Bottom line is this: If you're looking to take a nice walk, maybe a swim the public trust lands are great. If you're looking to lay out towels or chairs, set up coolers and make camp for the day, stick to public beaches...that's what they're for and Michigan ranks in the top five states in the country in terms of number of public beaches.

Also, keep in mind these rules apply only to the Great Lakes, Inland Lakes are a completely different animal (and much more restrictive).

new jersey
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9. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

An excellent, practical and helpful description, Deadhead. Thank you! Moms

Northern Michigan
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10. Re: Concern over those "Private Beach" Signs in Harbor Country

Jaluca,

I have to say, I think a 15' wide strip is about the most you can hope for...and this is an improvement, 20 years ago the public lands around the Great Lakes weren't recognized at all! In fact, a lot of beachfront owners bought their property with the understanding that they owned all the way to the water's edge with the only public trust lands being the submerged lake bottom. As waterfront real estate prices throughout the nation get higher and higher, owners become more and more protective of their land.

I agree that that Michigan Supreme Court made the right decision in defining a small walking strip around the Great Lakes as public trust lands, but rememer, this land is for you to take a walk or maybe swim, not set up your beach camp for the day.

Finally, you mentioned that an area was a public beach and is now posted private. In all likelyhood, this area was always private and is just now being enforced...that seems to be the case a lot, I know of a great beach here in Northern Michigan that was kind of a local's secret...everyone figured the beach was state or some sort of public land but it was actually private, vacant and the owner didn't care that people used it. That property sold last year and the new owner built a house and has fenced his land...it's not that a public beach turned private, rather a private beach is now being kept private.

I certainly can't fault the guy who's got a million bucks wrapped up in his cottage and dosen't want 50 people in his yard grilling, playing frisbee, etc. That's why we have so many public beaches.