The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is looking to renovate the Cass Lake boating access site at Dodge Park No. 4 and is giving the public, including those owning property on or living on the lake, a chance to have their say.
A special public meeting on the proposal has been scheduled by the DNR for 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 inside Dodge Park No. 4 in Waterford Township at the boating access site.
According to the concept plans presented by the DNR on the dodge4.com website, renovation of the boat launch site is needed to address the deteriorating pavement and to reduce congestion on the site during busy summer days.
According to Kristen Bennett, the DNR’s Regional Manager, one of the proposed plans will keep the current number of access site parking spaces at 80 and eliminate one roadway typically used by non-boaters, or “day users,” and redirect them to a different route through the park.
The other proposal would slightly decrease the number of parking spaces at the access site and would utilize a roundabout to separate boaters and day-users from having to drive through the same area once they enter the park.
The DNR states that it has no plans to exceed the current number of parking spaces at the access site and that it will also introduce the best practices for storm water management where practical.
Visitors to dodge4.com can also take an online survey in which they can give their input on what they like about the two proposals.
Jim Cote, the Keego Harbor Police Department’s marine officer, said that the entrance to the park is a single-lane gravel access road that goes into a paved parking lot where the boat launch is located. When beach patrons use a portion of that road at the same time as those looking to launch their boat at the access site, it can get pretty congested, according to Cote.
“The way you drive to the boat ramp, they let the road become a dirt road. It does need paving,” said Oakland County Commissioner John Scott (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield), whose district also includes Keego Harbor. “The parking is laid out very poorly. It’s very difficult to get your boat to launch and find a parking spot.”
DNR states that it aims to not only improve the pavement conditions, but also improve parking and circulation at the boating access site, as well as improve barrier-free access and improve access between the boat launch and modern restroom.
“We’re looking at a better way to address the access to the site and improve the flow of traffic, as well as the quality of pavement and accessibility,” said Jordan Byelich, a DNR Waterways Development Planner.
“We’re trying to improve what’s there and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the cracks in the pavement affect people in wheelchairs.”
The Dodge Park No. 4 boating access site has been in service for over 50 years. The park is popular among boaters, as well as those who visit for a picnic a day at the beach on Cass Lake (situated in Waterford and West Bloomfield townships, Keego Harbor and Orchard Lake Village).
Waterford Township officials support an initiative to improve the park’s boating access site parking lot in some manner.
“Anytime any property in Waterford seeks to improve an existing facility, it’s welcome,” said Waterford Township Community Planning and Development Director Bob Vallina. “Everything has a life cycle and the lot needs to be repaved from time to time.
“Additionally, new technology comes up that wasn’t available in the past, like roundabouts — they work in many situations throughout Oakland County and the Road Commission for Oakland County views them as valid traffic control devices.”
Vallina noted that he has not yet viewed the access site redevelopment plans proposed by the DNR, but sees roundabouts as a viable option given that the parking lot doesn’t lend itself to high speeds and roundabouts are designed to improve traffic flow.
“From a professional standpoint, a roundabout could work and is a very valid option for the DNR to evaluate and install at the park,” Vallina said.
West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste is asking township residents to visit the website featuring the access site renovation plans and view the designs. She said she will post a link to dodge4.com on the township’s website and Facebook page.
“I encourage residents to read and study all of the available information and to take the survey,” she said. “The survey will permit them to voice their opinions and concerns.”
Keego Harbor City Manager Linda Voll said she hopes improvements to the site will bring in more families.
“Having ADA accessibility is a wonderful change and making the traffic flow easier inside the park is also a plus,” she said.
The two renovation designs were put together by Beckett & Raeder, a landscape architectural planning, engineering, and environmental services firm based out of Ann Arbor.
According to the dodge4.com website, the first design concept would separate vehicular circulation of the boat launch users and the park day users, and will have boat launch parking in close proximity to the boat launch site and farther away from adjacent residential properties.
The first design option would also provide an accessible pier to help disabled people access watercraft. It would connect the upper hillside with the lower day use area.
Upper hillside parking would also be promoted for day use activities and shelter.
The DNR adds that the first design option would result in 500 less lineal feet of roadway and more room on the waterfront to allow future pedestrian connection to the upper hillside without the adjacent wetlands being impacted.
“I like what I see in the future plans for Dodge Park,” said Sid Rubin, a Keego Harbor Councilman and an owner of a residence on Cass Lake. “The elements that are of particular value to the enhancement plans are the addition of acceptable piers to assist people with disabilities in accessing watercraft, the connection of the upper hillside with the lower day use area, and the improvement between the boat launch and the modern restrooms.”
The second design option would provide a single-lane roundabout and would maintain the current combined boat launch and day use traffic flow.
The DNR adds that the second design option would provide a boat launch prep lane and minimize boat launch parking along the lakeshore.
It would also provide better watercraft access to the handicapped, improved access between parking areas and the restroom, and storm water management practices.
Keego Harbor Mayor John Fletcher, another Cass Lake homeowner, said that he likes the idea of a roundabout inside the park.
“I’m happy the state will invest in the park because it is heavily utilized,” he said. “The condition of the roadway is deplorable. We were sending people in the back lot. They put gravel over the asphalt. It will be a very welcome change to get in and get out. A roundabout would be welcome and long overdue.”
However, Keego Harbor Councilman Joel Yoder said that he’s looked over the designs, and called the proposed renovations “a waste of taxpayer money.”
“There is nothing wrong with the existing facilities,” said Yoder, a Cass Lake homeowner. “I’m not one to waste money, be it taxpayers’ money or my own money.”
However, Rubin said that his history with Dodge Park No. 4 dates back to 1956 and that he was the chairperson of the state’s Waterway Commission when there was an effort by a group of real estate investors to purchase Dodge Park No. 4 in the 1984-85 fiscal year.
“As desperate as the state was to raise money back in the 1980s, the foresight of committee members of the Waterway Commission was to maintain the property and not cave to developers. It turned out to be a good investment for our state,” Rubin said. “In recent years, the state has recognized the resurgence of the park and began renovation plans that make the park more interesting. Even the fishing pier was built in the area that fish like to play in.”
Keego Harbor marine officer Cote said that he applauds the DNR for taking the position of shutting down the boat access site when it’s parking lot is full and not just dumping more boats into the lake because it becomes overcrowded, making it extremely hard to manage the boat traffic on the lake.
“I wouldn’t say traffic has increased, but it seems that we have a lot of new people visiting the lake who are unfamiliar with the rules of operation of watercraft,” he said. “Some of the rules include going counter-clockwise (around the lake), right of way, navigational rules and slow-no wake violations. It’s like a motorcycle: You can buy it from the dealer, but you have an endorsement on your license for boater safety.”
Cote said that he has written about 17 tickets to Cass Lake boaters so far this year, including for people that don’t have with them their boater safety certificate for personal watercraft operation.
“It’s a little blue card that they have to carry with them,” he said.
Plans for redeveloping the Dodge Park No. 4 boating access site without expanding the boat ramp’s parking area (which serves as a way to limit public access to the lake at any given time), or even reducing parking spaces, will likely please riparian property owners. But that may not make much of a difference in boater gatherings at an infamous Cass Lake natural feature, according to some officials.
One of the most populated areas on the weekends in Keego Harbor is its famous Cass Lake sandbar, which is measured at a half-mile long and 400 to 500 feet wide.
Cote said that the crowds on holidays such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day can attract anywhere from 2,500 to 3,500 people at a time.
Fletcher said that on a busy weekend, about 600 to 800 boats congregate at the sandbar, off the lake’s eastern shore.
In 2007, illicit activity at the sandbar reached a boiling point with many complaints among boaters and riparians of foul language; loud music; questionable behavior; alcohol consumption; illegal drug use; intentional trespassing on riparian property; interference with the lake’s navigable waters; public nudity; indecent exposure; public urination; fights; and other disturbing acts by people gathering on the sandbar.
The Keego Harbor City Council submitted a proposal to the DNR to implement special rules to control sandbar use and boat traffic, but the DNR turned it down.
Now, with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department Marine Division having made cuts to its patrols because of its budget challenges, Cote is a lone ranger patrolling Cass Lake. But he said that things have calmed down as compared to the past.
“I think it’s getting a little better. We were overwhelmed in 2007,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of the people out there are great people and they’re families and they’re just out to relax and have a good time. There aren’t as many watercraft anchored on the sandbar as we used to have. We don’t have as many problems, but we continuously have medical problems and issues where people are injured.
“Arrests for drunken boating are up,” he said. “I’ve made five arrests this year for operating while intoxicated and one for operating while impaired.”
He added that he has written several tickets for loud stereos on boats and has reported a pair of watercraft injuries.
Mayor Fletcher commended Cote for what he called a “fabulous job,” and added that rowdiness on the sandbar has decreased by 70 percent.
Fletcher also said that most of the boating traffic on the sandbar doesn’t come from the Cass Lake access site inside Dodge Park No. 4, but rather from the lake’s residents and also watercraft from two nearby marinas, including one next to Dodge Park No. 4 and another off of Cass Elizabeth Road.
“Dodge Park has a minimal effect on the sandbar because, when you look at the concentration of boats, that’s not a Dodge Park or public access problem,” Fletcher said.
Rubin, who also heads the Vistas of Cass Lake Association, said that there was a period of time that Dodge Park No. 4 was not as attractive to residents and, for many, a long, boring trip from Detroit.
“I never wavered from my belief that one day Dodge Park would become a destination haven for Oakland County residents to enjoy the serene surroundings that Dodge Park and Cass Lake has to offer,” Rubin said.