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Published: Monday, 5/10/2010

Group envisions restored beach near Marblehead

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
At the peak of its popularity, the beach at East Harbor State Park, on Lake Erie near Marblehead, attracted 30,000 visitors a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day. At the peak of its popularity, the beach at East Harbor State Park, on Lake Erie near Marblehead, attracted 30,000 visitors a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
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It's been years since East Harbor State Park beach was Ohio's top sunbathers' paradise, so popular that 200 families or more were turned away on a given day.

Many Ohioans today don't know it once had a wide strip of sand nearly three miles long, was staffed by as many as 11 lifeguards in the 1960s, and drew 30,000 visitors a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

But a nonprofit group determined to return the beach to its glory days will sponsor a meeting in Port Clinton Tuesday to discuss restoration options listed in a 2009 report that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources spent $50,000 to have done.

The group, BeachAid-East Harbor, is the brainchild of Findlay resident Dick Taylor, who longs for the summers on the beach he enjoyed as a youth.

The group has a Web site, beachaid-eastharbor.com,

Mr. Taylor and group members believe a concrete breakwall built in 1957 to stabilize East Harbor's peninsula devastated the once-massive beach by reversing wave energy and creating an undertow that took most of its sand away.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the breakwall.

Since a major storm in November, 1972, only a tiny, 1,500-foot strip of beach has remained.

With the breakwall gone, Mr. Taylor asserts, waves would deposit more sand and return to the lake with less force, letting the beach regenerate.

The public meeting will be at 7 tomorrow night in Port Clinton's Ida Rupp Public Library, 310 Madison St.

Discussion will center on the 18-month study that Proudfoot Associates and W.F. Baird & Associates did for the natural resources department.

It cited modifications or removing the breakwall among the options.

Kathy Lucas, the natural resources department's chief counsel and deputy director, and John Hunter, its parks and recreation chief, will attend, said Trish Lanahan, department spokesman.

Four years after starting his campaign, Mr. Taylor now believes he has the agency's ear. Officials of the natural resources department, while not committing to any particular action, concede Mr. Taylor may be onto something.

Orrin Pilkey, a Duke University professor and recognized beach expert, said in a 2006 interview with The Blade that breakwalls, also known as seawalls, have been notorious beach-killers for years.

Ms. Lanahan said the naturl resources department shares the concerns of Mr. Taylor and his BeachAid group. She said the agency agrees there's a problem, but isn't convinced the fix is just removing the breakwall.

It wants to look at other possible contributing factors.

"Our fear is that if we do simply remove the seawall that the sand in the center of the beach will continue to be robbed," she said.

Mr. Taylor's persistence, coupled with the Proudfoot study, has moved the department to seek a $1.4 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A decision could come as early as this week, Ms. Lanahan said.

If approved, the grant would fund more research and, perhaps, a pilot project to remove a section of the breakwall. The cost to remove the entire breakwall is unknown, Ms. Lanahan said.

A decision to remove the whole breakwall would be the call of the reources department's parks and recreation division. It may seek advice from the agency's coastal management program.

"The benefit of having that seawall there was it prevented a lot more erosion from happening. But as the sand supply decreased, you ended up with the wall interfacing with the lake and most of the area for walking the beach was gone," John Watkins, the coastal management program's chief, said. He said his program hasn't been asked for a recommendation yet.

Located near Marblehead in Ottawa County, East Harbor State Park is the granddaddy of Ohio's park system. It opened in 1947.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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