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Great Lakes Article:

Ruling ‘open to interpretation’
By Eric Carlson
Leelanau Enterprise (MI)
Published August 4, 2005

Beachfront property owner David Almeter of Suttons Bay was heading to Bay City today for an “emergency meeting” of the board of directors of “Save our Shoreline.”

The group was meeting tonight to discuss its next step following a Michigan Supreme Court decision last week upholding the public’s right to walk along privately-owned beachfront on the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, Leland shoreline property owner Adele Dinsmore just shrugged her shoulders as she looked down on more than 100 people occupying the broad expanse of sandy beach directly in front of her family’s Lake Michigan waterfront home. The family’s property is adjacent to the Reynolds Street road-end.

“I think most of the people here have no idea that beyond the 60-foot right-of-way this is not a public beach, and that they’re actually trespassing on private property,” Dinsmore said.

“I guess I’m happy about the Supreme Court’s decision, though,” she added. “At least all of these people will have a slightly bigger area they can access without breaking the law.”

The state’s high court on Friday reversed a decision made last year by a state Court of Appeals that gave shoreline property owners “exclusive use” of their waterfront property to the water’s edge. Previous understandings had allowed members of the public to walk along private beaches between the “ordinary high water mark” and the actual water line without risking trespass charges.

The court case stemmed from a longstanding dispute between neighbors on Lake Huron. Joan Glass routinely used an easement through property owned by neighbors Richard and Kathleen Goeckel to reach the lake. The Goeckels agreed that Glass could access the beach, but would not allow her to venture off the 15-foot easement to walk in front of their property.

After Glass successfully sued the Goeckels in Alcona County Circuit Court, the Goeckels went to the Appeals Court where the ruling was overturned. The Appeals Court ruling made it illegal for anyone to walk on privately-owned Great Lakes beachfront in Michigan – unless their feet were in the water.

The Michigan Supreme Court last week reversed the Appeals Court’s decision, noting that “walking the beach below the ordinary high water mark is inherent in the exercise of traditionally protected public rights and falls within the scope of the public trust.”

The court added: “This activity remains subject to regulation, as is any use of the public trust.”

“As I read it,” said Almeter, “the decision leaves a lot open to interpretation and future state legislation. Will people be able to fish along privately owned shoreline? Do their dogs have to be on leashes? Who’s going to be responsible if somebody gets hurt on my property?”

Almeter added that bankers also have questions about whether property owners have clear title to all the property they’re paying taxes on, and the location of real estate “meander lines” along the lakeshore.

“And what are the rules for grooming our beaches?” Almeter asked. “That’s what I’d really like to know.”

Unlike the Dinsmore family’s broad sandy beach, the Almeter family beach on West Grand Traverse Bay is narrower and rockier, with vegetation and swamp land appearing as the lake water levels drop. Almeter said he has rarely had trouble with “beach walkers.”

Dinsmore said she has rarely had trouble with “beach walkers” either – and not even with the crowds of people who gather on her family’s private property. A sign erected at the Reynolds Street road-end by Leland Township notes that “public access to the lake is 60 feet wide” and that “property on both sides of the access is private.”

“We’ve been coming to this beach every summer for 10 years,” said Marion Dickel of Pittsburgh, who was seated with several members of her family on beach towels plopped onto the Dinsmore’s private beachfront property.

“Even though the signs are there, nobody’s ever come down and told us to leave,” Dickel said. “I guess people in Leland are just nice.”

“Well, we are nice people,” said Dinsmore, “and we’re also very privileged to own this property. Our family has owned it since the 1940s and we drove all the way from Fort Collins, Colorado, just to spend a few weeks here this summer.

“Of course we don’t like it when kids (urinate) in our bushes or people make bonfires in the dune grass,” Dinsmore added. “But my experience has been that if you ask people to quit doing something – they do – and they’re nice about it. I think these are all pretty nice people, and I like seeing them enjoy themselves as long as they behave.”

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