Beach ac­cess closed at Portage Lake­front park

High waves force move; other ar­eas of park still open

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Ca­role Carl­son Post-Tri­bune

High waves forced the clos­ing of beach ac­cess at Portage Lake­front and River­walk Park, of­fi­cials an­nounced Thurs­day.

Spokesman Bruce Rowe said high waves from re­cent storms eroded a por­tion of a sand dune used by beach go­ers to reach the beach. The nar­row dune trail has been the only des­ig­nated route to the beach since a ramp walk­way was closed by ero­sion in 2015.

On Thurs­day, high waves crashed over the ce­ment walk­way and the beach path couldn’t be seen.

Rowe said in a news re­lease the beach ac­cess would re­main closed un­til a safe path­way can be reestab­lished.

All other ar­eas of the park re­main open to the pub­lic, in­clud­ing the pav­il­ion, trail, river­walk and break­wa­ter. Portage Lake­front is op­er­ated by the city of Portage, in part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

Last month, a Post-Tri­bune story tracked the dev­as­ta­tion that ero­sion has done to the 9-year-old $16 mil­lion park, es­tab­lished on 63 acres of an in­dus­trial dump site along Lake Michi­gan. The park quickly be­came a fa­vorite for vis­i­tors and it’s won awards for its restora­tion ef­forts.

Ero­sion prob­lems be­gan in 2014, fu­eled by strong storms that bat­tered the shore­line with high waves.

Ero­sion experts have long cited man-made struc­tures as sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors that cause ero­sion. At Portage Lake­front, the Port of In­di­ana and the Burns Water­way break wall, which ex­tend out into the lake to the east, block the nat­u­ral sand drift.

High lake lev­els are an­other ma­jor fac­tor, of­fi­cials said.

At more than 580 feet above sea level, Lake Michi­gan’s water level re­mains well above the long-term av­er­age, Rowe said.

The higher lake level, in combi- na­tion with re­cent storm waves, has led to con­tin­ued ero­sion and nar­rower beaches along the Lake Michi­gan shore­line, he said.

Port of In­di­ana of­fi­cials have de­flected any blame for shore­line dam­age or the loss of beaches, con­tend­ing sev­eral fac­tors were at work. The Port of In­di­ana is one of 68 ap­pli­cants for a pi­lot pro­gram aimed at fight­ing ero­sion. Fed­eral of­fi­cials haven’t an­nounced a win­ner yet.

Mean­while, the Army Corps of Engi­neers hopes to gain fed­eral ap­proval for a study to iden­tify a long-term so­lu­tion and to de­ter­mine who is re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing for it.

Ca­role Carl­son is a free­lance reporter for the Post-Tri­bune.

CA­ROLE CARL­SON/POST-TRIBNE

This photo from Oct. 9 shows the path above the rocks that beach­go­ers take at Portage Lake­front and River­walk Park. The Na­tional Park Ser­vice an­nounced Thurs­day it closed the path­way af­ter ero­sion washed it away.

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