Traverse City News and Events

Silver Lake Wake Ordinance, Civic Center Repairs, Park Projects on County Agenda

By Beth Milligan | March 20, 2024

Grand Traverse County commissioners will discuss a potential wake boat ordinance on Silver Lake today (Wednesday) – echoing conversations happening across Michigan and other states about the impact of waves on shoreline and vegetation in inland lakes. Commissioners will also vote to approve contracts for roof and restroom repairs at the Civic Center and hold public hearings on grant applications for two major park projects at the Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve and VASA Trailhead.

Silver Lake Wake Ordinance
At the request of Commissioner Brad Jewett, commissioners today will discuss a wake boat ordinance on Silver Lake. Jewett recently met with members of the Silver Lake Improvement Association (SLIA), Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn, and Blair Township Supervisor Nicole Blonshine about the potential ordinance, with SLIA board member Tim Brock asking that it be brought forward to the county commission for more discussion.

In a letter to officials, Brock noted that wake boats “are becoming a larger form of recreation in our lake, as well as throughout the county.” He continued: “While they are frequently enjoyed, they are designed to impart a bigger wake for those enjoying themselves by wake surfing and wakeboarding. These larger wakes and the downthrust from the props have been shown to cause shoreline erosion, sediment resuspension, disruption of native vegetation, and spread of Eurasian milfoil – which is an invasive species found in many northern Michigan lakes – when the boats are operated closer than 500 feet from shore, docks, etc., and in less than 15-20 feet of water.”

Brock cited a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries report released last July that reviewed the effects of wake boats on aquatic habitat. The report calls wake boats “an emerging threat to natural resources in inland lakes,” noting the watercraft can produce waves with 1.7 to 17 times the energy of other comparable-sized powerboats. Michigan’s boating laws and regulations were created “prior to the commercialization and popularization of wake boats in the early 2000s,” the report states, warning that the current 100-foot buffer for boating wakes is “not sufficient to protect public trust aquatic resources.” The report recommends that boats operating in wake-surfing or wakeboarding mode operate at least 500 feet from docks or the shoreline and in water at least 15 feet deep.

Recently introduced bipartisan legislation in Michigan seeks to make that state law, though the bill states water should be at least 20 feet deep instead of 15. States ranging from Vermont to Wisconsin have also taken up or are considering such regulations. Most discussions have centered on balancing the rights of boaters – and the widespread popularity of wake boats and sports – with better protecting the natural environments in which they operate. Brock’s letter indicates SLIA is not seeking to ban wake boats outright, but rather regulate their use in areas of Silver Lake where they could be most damaging.

“The long, narrow geometry of Silver Lake does not lend itself well to wake boats in loaded operations in certain parts of the lake,” he wrote. SLIA created a draft map highlighting areas – primarily concentrated in the center of the lake – where wake boats could operate that are 500 feet from shore and in a minimum 20-foot water depth, which mirrors the regulations under the proposed Michigan legislation. Brock said SLIA was reaching out to other lake associations in Grand Traverse County about potential changes and would invite them to the county commission meeting.

Civic Center Repairs
In addition to a $1 million upcoming project to replace the Civic Center’s walking track and bridge – a project funded by a state grant – commissioners will vote today on approving contracts for two other projects at the county-owned park.

The board will vote to award a $109,270 contract to Summit Point Roofing to replace the roof covering on Howe Arena over the lobby bathroom and three locker rooms, according to a memo from Facilities Management Director Joe Berry. “This section has an old and outdated roof covering that is faulty allowing leaks and standing water,” he wrote in a memo. Funding will be accounted for in the 2024 capital improvement plan, according to Berry, who said repair work is slated to begin in June.

Commissioners will also vote on approving $157,710 in contracts for restroom upgrades at the Civic Center. That includes $97,820 for Hallmark Construction to remodel the ballfield restrooms, which will be getting new wall-hanging fixtures and partitions, according to Berry. Restrooms outside the pool entrance at the Civic Center will also be remodeled into a larger family-use restroom facility under a $59,890 contract with Hallmark Construction. The family-use restroom project is required under state regulations, Berry wrote.

Parks Public Hearings
Commissioners will hold required public hearings today on two grant applications the county plans to submit to the Michigan DNR for two significant park projects. Commissioners will also approve resolutions of support backing the grant applications.

The first is a $400,000 grant application to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) for the development of a 200-foot-long pedestrian bridge – called the Ottaway Crossing in the application – over the Boardman-Ottaway River at the former Sabin Dam site. The crossing would form a complete trail loop around the Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve and connect to an incubator farm at the historic Meyer Property on Keystone Road. The application commits the Grand Traverse Conservation District to raise a $400,000 local match if the grant application is successful.
 
The second application is for $150,000 from the Michigan DNR Recreation Passport program to go toward improvements at the VASA Pathway Trailhead in Williamsburg. TART Trails has committed to providing a 25 percent ($37,500) or greater local match for the project. Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation has a conceptual vision for nearly $911,000 in potential improvements to the property, including: paving the trailhead’s dirt parking lot; adding outdoor seating and gathering areas; enhancing the existing warming hut with more space, signage, and a fire pit; upgrading stormwater basins and adding bioswales; adding a level staging area with benches and bike/ski racks; adding a new trail archway and signage; and building a natural play area. The plan was guided by consulting firm Environmental Consulting & Technology and the Parks and Recreation Strategic Planning Subcommittee, with input from stakeholders ranging from TART Trails to VASA Ski Club to the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association.

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