Openlands Lakeshore is closed indefinitely

After the winter storm Jan 11-12, the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve has made the decision to close their beach indefinitely. 

Waves up to 23 feet tall with winds up to 50 mph rocked the shore on Jan. 11, eating away something like 15 feet of bluff and turning the road to the pump house into rubble. While Openlands draws up plans for repair, it requests everyone to refrain from trekking down the beachfront. 

There were a bunch of trees and shrubs and a little pointer peninsula at the bottom of the staircase that the preserve lost last weekend. And the bluff went most of the way to the 1986 revetment stones up until the early winter storms this year, which have significantly eroded the bluff.

Bluff used to reach the stones, but 23 ft. waves pounding over the stones have eroded a significant portion of the bluff.

Erosion this winter has been particularly bad due to the unusual warmth we’ve experienced. Typically, by this time of year, the lake’s shoreline is iced over, providing a natural breaker for the powerful waves storms bring in. 

“This is where I think climate does play a role,” Openlands Landscape Architect & Climate Fellow Ted Haffner said. “Because usually by this point, you have 20 to 30 feet of ice that serves as a buffer and protects the shore line. But without that buffer, waves just come and come and come.”

“I sort of knew there was going to be a problem when I saw the weather. I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it is,” Haffner said. 

Haffner expressed regret over the closure decision.

“Access is important to us. Because the whole reason that we’re here is to keep one of the few truly publicly accessible portions of lakefront publicly accessible. There’s no ‘no trespassing’ signs. No permits are required to park. So, yeah. It hurts. We don’t do it lightly. But in the winter it can get really dangerous.”

The reality is the near record high water level means sections of the beach are completely gone and passage would require scrambling over large rocks (which are mostly covered with ice). Haffner said since Openlands doesn’t have a full-time steward on site everyday, they can’t promise conditions will be safe… or that someone will find you if you get in trouble. If you fall in the lake or hit your head on a rock, it’s just dangerous, Haffner said.

A tree leaning over the pump house will be removed this week. The recent storms have exposed much of its root system and it will likely fall soon.

Haffner is going back to the drawing board with his contractor to come up with longterm shoreline protection plans.

Right now, the shoreline protection is done piecemeal. Each municipality and organization does what they think best for their little section.

“The contractor we’re working with right now has this idea of a living shoreline which is a hybrid between hard armament with aspects of soft armament which could then morph and heal with erosion and other forces over time,” Haffner said.

But Haffner thinks a coordinated solution which looks holistically at the whole system needs to take place. The only problem: that’s a huge undertaking which will take many years.

But storm damage like we saw this month is likely to happen more often than not in the future.

“It is discouraging in the moment, but it forces us to think differently about how we relate to our environment and how we design things in our environment,” Haffner said.

Oversized armaments designed to protect the shore against big storms will likely become the norm—turning a soft, living coast line into a hard impermeable boundary. Trying to constrain the edges of a living lake and protect the land on its shores.

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