Traverse City News and Events

Peninsula Boat Launch In Limbo

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 9, 2020

Old Mission Peninsula residents hoping for a boat launch to reopen on the peninsula’s north end will likely have to keep waiting, with two-long discussed sites – Haserot Beach and Kelley Park – beset by challenges.

Township trustees, who discussed the boat launch at their Tuesday meeting, have debated for years whether Haserot Beach or Kelley Park would be the best location for a public boat launch. At the township-owned Haserot Beach, the single boat launch dock serving the park was destroyed in a fall storm last year, adding urgency to the quest to find a long-term site. Prior to the dock’s demise, residents expressed concerns about increasing traffic at Haserot Beach and conflicts between boaters and swimmers. Some called for Haserot to become a swimming-only beach, moving the boat launch to another site, such as nearby Kelley Park.

The concerns about Haserot boat traffic prompted township officials to turn down a $170,217 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last summer to overhaul and expand the park’s boat launch. Peninsula Township would have been required to contribute a $170,217 match to the project. Even though township officials had applied for the DNR funding, public backlash when news came out of the potential expansion – including a community campaign called Save Haserot Beach – convinced trustees to turn down the money.

Since then, Peninsula Township Supervisor Rob Manigold says the township has been working to sign a lease agreement with the DNR – which owns Kelley Park – to allow the township to build and operate a boat launch at that site. “Overwhelmingly, people said do not have the boat launch at Haserot…so we agreed we would work with the DNR to try and lease or own the (Kelley Park) property and put the boat launch there,” he says.

Manigold thought those conversations were progressing smoothly in recent months, until the DNR recently sent a signed copy of the proposed lease over. The lease approved the township to use the park – but only for a non-motorized/kayak launch. “I don’t know what happened,” Manigold says. “We were going along working together, and then someone high up the ladder must have made a decision that it can’t be used for a motorized launch, only non-motorized. I don’t think the township is interested in that…so we are in limbo now.”

DNR District Supervisor Kasey Mahony says the DNR previously hired professional consultants to evaluate Kelley Park and gather public input on uses for the site, with the results presented at a 2018 public hearing. The feedback from both the consultants and the public was that Kelley Park was best suited for non-motorized – not motorized – use, she says. The DNR already operates two boat launches on Old Mission, one on Center Road on East Bay and one at Bowers Harbor on West Bay; Mahony says a third boat launch would be “surplus” for DNR purposes.

Even if Peninsula Township leased Kelley Park from the state and paid for all the costs to build and run the boat launch, if the township decided to walk away from it in the future, the DNR would be stuck with the launch, Mahony notes. For all of the above reasons, Mahony says the DNR was always clear that it would only lease the property for non-motorized use. Mahony notes the DNR did have talks with township officials about buying Kelley Park, in which case the township could build a boat launch, she says. To own Kelley Park, Peninsula Township would need to pay the estimated $2.3 million in grant funding the DNR originally used to purchase the property. “That is a lot of money for most townships,” she acknowledges.

The impasse means Kelley Park will likely remain DNR-owned and used for passive recreation for the foreseeable future. Mahony says some DNR improvements are eventually planned for the park, like parking and pathway upgrades and non-motorized launch access. Meanwhile, township trustees will have to decide whether to rebuild the boat launch at Haserot Beach – and how large and costly that project will be – or if they want to look for another site.

“I know we do need another boat launch out here,” says Manigold. “But it’s such a small area (at Haserot) to have the trucks and trailers and boats backing up and circling trying to wait to use the launch. We’re leaving the door open to the DNR changing their minds…we also have a group looking around (at property) at the lighthouse. We’re not quite sure where the launch will be yet.”

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