Way back in 2014 my family and I starting fighting for something very special to us. About a mile from my childhood home, at the end of a road called New Holland, there is an access point to Lake Michigan. I use to walk or take my bike down there to visit the lake all the time. As you make your way down the road, once the pavement ends, you can take off your shoes and start walking (or running) down a sandy path that leads you to a breathtaking view of the lake from the top of a dune. And every time I visited that spot the lake looked new and different.
In 2014 I had already been living in Cincinnati for two years. I started hearing stories from my family back home talking about these new no parking signs at the end of New Holland and the police being called to ask people to leave the beach. A new private landowner had moved in right next to this lake access point and that person was not thrilled with the public using the spot as a beach. I felt as if something I loved was being taken away from me. I was horrified and decided to create an online petition and a facebook page to get the word out. More than 1,000 people signed the petition and they wrote about it in the local paper.
Over the next few months my family, along with other community members and neighbors, made their voices heard by attending township meetings and speaking to the media. We did what we could but as with many public outcries, over time, the flame began to burn out. The township board of trustees put in writing that the road end was only to be used as a access point to Lake Michigan and not as a public beach. They argued that using it as a beach would be improper without a restroom facility and other park amenities that the township wasn’t interested in installing at the end of New Holland. And that is as far as it got.
I’ve been back there a few times, but the spot is not the same anymore. Before you even reach the end of the road, invasive NO PARKING signs seem to mock someone looking to enjoy a quiet spot down by the lake. Of course there are other public spots along Lake Michigan, but this one was important to me and was one of my favorite places on earth. Throughout my childhood, a couple other road ends close to my house were bought up or given to other private land owners that complained of the public getting too close to their private beach. I guess in those cases the local government didn’t have the time or money to defend these important public places. And now that I work for a government entity I try to keep this story in mind. Natural areas and scenic views are so important to the vitality of a community. While economic development is important, it is also important to keep in mind what a community stands for and why someone decided to be a part of it. I will always keep in mind that even one decision or minor change can have a tremendous and lasting impact.