When we conjure up images of beaches, we usually recall tranquil stretches of white sand, children and adults splashing happily in the water lapping against the shoreline and listening to the cries of gulls overhead. This potential lies hidden beneath the beaches that run along the Lake Michigan shoreline in a city environment, in this case Manitowoc, and one – Red Arrow Beach – like a diamond in the rough, may in the next several years be restored to health and natural sites and sounds.
Unlike existing jewels in our rich lakeshore region we traditionally feature in this column, this quarter’s Sense of Place is one of possibility, hope and promise to restore grandeur and life to a blighted and often uninhabitable place.
Mayor Justin Nickels certainly wants to see it happen, and has made it a priority, with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding for beach improvement secured thanks to the efforts of Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission, UW-Oshkosh, and the City of Manitowoc, working with Miller Engineers & Scientists to design the plans. Red Arrow lies between Lincoln High School to the south and University Beach to the north (the end of Dewey Street). On April 20, 2013, as part of an 11-beach clean-up by the volunteer Friends of the Manitowoc River Watershed, 14 people gathered nearly 100 pounds of debris of all sorts from Red Arrow alone from the park and shoreline.
Red Arrow was selected for mitigation to help improve the water quality along the shores of Lake Michigan. Bacteria levels have been problematic for years, leading to beach advisories and closings. From 2003 to 2012, Red Arrow exceeded safe levels of E.Coli 34% of the time and it was consistently above the advisory level. Water samples in 2012 continued to exceed safe limits for E.Coli and led to eight advisories and five closures. The pollution comes from seagulls, storm water runoff, sheet flow from impervious parking lots, and it’s challenging to figure out its main cause.
The planned solution to this aesthetic and health issue lies in increasing infiltration to reduce runoff by planting rain gardens, sand-stabilizing grasses, adding denser sand to the beach and changing its slope – all designed to slow the water down. With climate change bringing more frequent and intense storms, such improvements are timely indeed.
The vision is to reduce pollution, remove particulates and contaminants, and reduce sediment and debris that harbors the harmful bacteria. Two and a half acres will be groomed with shrubs and one acre with grasses. Ultimately, they’d like to see walking paths and a 4-foot treated-wood boardwalk to the beach.
Angela Pierce, natural resources planner with Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission, says that the work will begin “any day now. The money is there. The City engineer needs to send in the DNR permit form which takes 30 days to review for the project to begin. Time is the limiting factor. We’re set to work with UW-Oshkosh as a contractor to move the bulkhead line.”
“This could be a lost opportunity without a permit being issued for beach nourishment, meaning building dunes and a swale on the north end to capture and slow down the water. We will put a rain garden on the north end of the beach next to the dune grass.”
In the last several months, the City engineering office lost two key personnel intimately engaged in envisioning and planning this improvement project and leaving the survey technician and City engineer short-handed. Greg Minikel, the engineer who currently is serving as Interim Director of Public Infrastructure, has made it a priority to complete the permit.
“We hope to regenerate Red Arrow Beach for more recreational use and beauty and keep cross-contamination out of the sewer,” Minikel said. “Red Arrow shows years of neglect. This may end up being a multi-year project.”
Wisconsin Maritime Museum education curator Wendy Lutzke co-directs the Friends group with Kim Kettner. She attended a presentation given by Bay-Lake where she learned the E.Coli numbers are closer to the beach indicating, “a local source of the contamination. The shape of the beach, the topography, is an issue. Flat sand doesn’t dry out so that algae and bacteria build up and decompose. It never gets washed out unless contours are re-established.”
“Three miles of storm water drains from Walmart through neighborhoods and industrial areas to the culverts draining into Red Arrow Park. This is a local issue and we need funding to do the testing necessary to determine the sources.”
All agree that this diamond in the rough could become a polished jewel someday soon so that we could again see kids playing in the sand, kites flying in the ever-present breezes and enjoy this beach in the heart of Manitowoc as nature intended.