Last time I talked about the efforts of Traverse City residents to restore a section(s) of the city’s westernmost beachfront, and the two sources of opposition being worked through – one understandable and frankly expected, the other from what I consider an irrational, and frankly unexpected direction.
Torpid bureaucracy and petty politics are an expected source of opposition to any efforts to affect change. We are all familiar with it; we’ve all just had front row seats as our national government bickered over an accounting matter for so long that we’ve lost our “AAA” credit rating as a nation. Having to work through inert bureaucracy to restore some beach along West Bay has to be expected.
In attempts to protect the Great Lakes as our penultimate resource over the years, the layers of red tape involved with any aspect of the lakes and their fresh water have grown formidable, and even overwhelmingly popular, non-destructive attempts to reclaim and restore parkland or beachfront face thick, stagnant opposition to action.
Peculiarly (maybe just to me), there is not any formal bureaucratic opposition to reclaiming beachfront along Traverse City’s West Bay as much as a numbing resistance to any activity or action whatsoever. The city, the bay, and the beach have survived with this stretch of shoreline abandoned for the past two-plus decades, and bureaucracy’s self-preserving nature opposes changes of any kind simply as a result of the inertia of government and regulation itself.
Unfortunately, the other source of opposition baffles me — environmental extremism.
I share most Northern Michiganders’ love, appreciation, and bone-deep respect for our natural surroundings, and actively endeavor to not only help protect and preserve our precious environment, but strive to instill these same values in my children. One of the best ways I know of doing this is to spend lots of time outdoors, immersed in the natural grandeur that surrounds us. Hard not to develop an integral, religious notion of natural respect and service when you are engulfed in its beauty and majesty.
Why do environmental extremists oppose any change to the natural environment whatsoever? In this case, the restoration of 200 feet of usable beachfront along Traverse City’s westernmost half mile of shore is being met with “don’t touch a blade of grass” opposition from “environmentalists.”
The Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay has publicly and repeatedly argued that the City’s reclamation of former swimming beach along its westernmost shoreline is: 1. detrimental to water quality in the Grand Traverse Bay, 2. contrary to the City of Traverse City’s Master Plan, Parks & Recreation Plan, and the Bayfront Plan, and 3. needless, as there is no need for additional beachfront in Traverse City.
Let’s look at the first point mathematically utilizing data taken directly from the Watershed Center’s website. I know, not the Word of God, but not terribly difficult to verify elsewhere either.
There is 132-plus miles of Grand Traverse Bay shoreline, times 5,280 feet/mile, equals 696,960 feet of shoreline – 7/10ths of a million feet of shore. Now divide that by 200 feet and you get not three tenths of 1% (0.0028), or just under 3/1,000ths of the Bay beaches. 200 feet of beach grooming is going to adversely affect the water quality in the Grand Traverse Bay? They cannot be serious? Oh, but they are.
How about looking at this from an area perspective? The Grand Traverse Bay watershed covers roughly 1,000 square miles of Northwest Lower Michigan. That’s about 28 billion square feet. Now divide by, let’s say, 10,000 square feet (200 feet of shore by 50 feet of beach) of the watershed that is proposed to be groomed if the citizens’ request is ratified. Can you even fit that one onto your calculator?
Or, you could consider this from a volumetric perspective. There is an estimated 8.97 cubic miles of fresh water in the Grand Traverse Bay. (Yeah, I know. Cubic mile. Even the unit of measurement is giant and cool!) Nearly nine cubic miles of water is a lot of water, equal to over 1.3 trillion cubic feet of water (that’s trillion with a “T”), or nearly 10 trillion gallons. With an annual replenishing rate of 260 billion gallons, just exactly how detrimental would grooming this 200 foot stretch of municipal beach be to the water quality of Grand Traverse Bay? Seriously?
Okay. You are probably starting to get my point. You could pave this entire length of shoreline and not be able to scientifically quantify any detrimental effects on the water quality of the Grand Traverse Bay as a result. To argue otherwise is ridiculous, and to insist that there is “strong scientific support” for the claim insults our intelligence, mathematics, environmental science, and sincere concern for our beautiful natural environment shared by the vast majority of Northern Michiganders.
Most of us love the outdoors – that’s why we’re living here – and to argue that restoring the beach along this shore will damage the ecosystem of the bay, and moreover that support of this beach restoration is analogous to environmental disrespect, is both irresponsible and needlessly antagonizes the individuals and groups that actually share a common passion about natural beauty and resources.
Imagine how much positive gain for the Grand Traverse Bay could be gleaned by combining the environmental passion of the citizenry with the zeal of environmental extremists.
Rather than arguing over this restoration of 200 feet of beachfront, we could be discussing how to improve the actual wetlands that exist in the watershed, and the fresh water stream systems which flow into the bay. We could be organizing beach trash clean-up parties, raising funds for more informational plaques and boardwalks, and better handicap access to the shoreline.
Swaths of natural shoreline, even right in town, could be set aside, cleaned, protected, and maintained for the enjoyment and benefit of generations. Look at what a fantastic resource we have helped create along much of Traverse City’s waterfront in the last 10 years, especially compared to the historical mess that has existed there during the last century.
At the Parks and Recreation Committee’s June meeting, where citizens of the city and the Watershed Council faced off over this issue, the environmental group’s executive chair argued against any beach grooming whatsoever, and included a large number of images from wild shorelines around the Great Lakes as examples of the ideal. Egregiously (at least to me), not a single one of those images included a single human being in them.
Is the absence of people on Traverse City’s beaches the right answer?
There is no arguing that humanity alters the natural environment. Without us, there would be more fish, more plants, more bugs, and more frogs. We have an obviously broad impact on Mother Earth, and there are a lot of us. Human civilization has affected its surroundings all along, and the more of us that there are, and the more ‘developed’ our societies become, the greater the strain on nature’s systems and the greater the urgency to help protect their natural balance.
So what is the solution? Do we not touch another blade of grass along Traverse City’s shoreline, or do we intelligently and respectfully husband our natural resources as best we can? Does grooming beaches inside the population centers to concentrate usage there make sense? Or should we endeavor to do away with our active management of Traverse City’s shoreline as partial compensation for mankind’s generally negative impact on our natural environment?
As always, I look forward to your comments and questions, and check back again when I discuss the other two points of opposition that the Watershed Center is arguing against this proposal.
All the best,