Better beach days in summer of ’13

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 25, 2013

ST. CLAIR SHORES — A two-year trend has shown local beaches that are safer for swimmers than in years past.

In 2013, Macomb County beaches were closed for a total of 14 days for high E. coli counts, and no long-term contamination was recorded. The Macomb County Health Department samples the water at the beach at Veterans Memorial Park and said it was only closed eight times in 2013, following the closure of just six days in 2012.

Beginning in April of each year, water quality at three bathing beaches on Lake St. Clair and two inland beaches at Stony Creek Metropark are monitored by the Macomb County Health Department for bacteria levels several times a week.

Prior to 2012, Macomb County beaches had been closed 100 or more times each year.

“I’m not saying all the problems are fixed down there, but I’m saying we’ve done something,” said Stephen Lichota, associate director of environmental health at the Macomb County Health Department. “Everybody’s looking for the little problems out there, and they’re having the things corrected. I’m hoping that’s what we’ve done is found a majority of those things.”

Lichota said weather alone couldn’t explain the decrease in closures, since 2012 was a very hot, dry summer, and this year has been a wetter, cooler one. Continued due diligence, he said, will help keep the beaches clear for swimmers.

“I’m hoping this is a trend we’ve got going here,” he said. “Now, everybody’s getting together to solve the problem.”

Parks and Recreation Director Greg Esler said this is the best year the city has had for group park permits; he said having the beach open at Veterans Memorial Park certainly helped.

“I don’t have the answer but I know that, revenue-wise, when the beach is open, it certainly helps,” he said.

The city budgeted revenue of $9,950 from group park permits this year. Instead, it earned $18,680.

“This is probably the most swimming in the last three or four years, for sure,” he said. “We’ve seen people swimming at concerts and, especially, during the weekends, there were a number of people” using the beach.

Esler said, in addition to the beach, being able to offer the Maloof Family Pavilion and the splash pad also makes the park popular.

Even when the splash pad was down for two days, Esler said, the department gave free passes to those users instead.

“It’s got to be one of the best parks in the tri-county area, for sure,” he said. “I can’t tell you the number of requests from organizations that want to have events at our parks.”

Next year, he said, they will budget for more group park permit sales and may even be looking to improve the playground equipment.

“The mayor and council have done a good job and, obviously, we give them some ideas. They have done a really good job in putting money back into the park,” he said. “Just to be able to re-invest in the park, and that’s a great thing.”

Blossom Heath Beach was not tested by the Macomb County Health Department this year, as in 2012, due to budget constraints and the fact that the beach had not been open to swimmers in the previous two years. It is permanently closed to swimming.

With water levels lower than in decades past, “now, it’s just like a pond,” said Lichota of Blossom Heath Beach. “We don’t sample it, and the city didn’t want to pay for us to sample it. It’s a tough spot.”