City residents battle a 'beach' in their yards

Wind off Lake Michigan drives piles of sand onto properties

By Delal Pektas
The Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — With winter all but over, most Muskegon-area residents are putting away their snow shovels and getting ready to break out their lawn mowers.

For residents near Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon, the end of shoveling snow is just the beginning of their year-round shoveling odyssey. Instead of shoveling snow, they are resuming their never-ending battle against sand — lots of sand.

“It’s an ongoing problem because the wind blows a lot,” Janet Stohr told The Muskegon Chronicle as she looked at her sand-covered porch. “We never had a lawn mower but have shoveled sand instead and it keeps us busy throughout the year.”

Strong wind blows nearly all winter off Lake Michigan, pushing snow and sand across Beach Street into the yards. When the snow melts, the residents are left with bigger mounds of sand than they had in the fall.

“When the wind blows, the sand blows,” said one of the residents, Dale Meeusen. “If you are going to live at the beach, you have sand and deal with it.”

It can be annoying for the residents but a boon for anyone looking for sand. Every spring, a crop of “Free Sand” signs pops up along Beach Street, inviting anyone to stop by and help themselves to a load.

The sand can be used to fill children’s sandboxes, among a variety of uses. Stohr, who has lived near Lake Michigan for more than 50 years, said the sand makes great cat litter, too.

“People come and fill up their buckets or fill in plastic bags and pile it in their car,” Janet said. “It’s surprising how much they take. We are just so thankful that they take it away.”

Muskegon Public Schools Superintendent Jon Felske has his “Free Sand” sign out again this spring. He said living on the beach has many advantages, but with those comes the extra effort and expense from clearing the sand.

“It’s an annual thing,” Felske said. “This time of year, we wait for snow to melt from underneath our sand and then we look at the amount of sand that has accumulated.”

Felske’s driveway piles up with so much sand that he gets Wood Trucking on Peck Street in Muskegon to spend half a day twice each year clearing it.

“It never completely stops,” said Felske, who has an electric blower to clean up the sand whenever he gets a chance. “When you live out here, it’s fabulous but then you deal with what Mother Nature gives you.”

Jerry Eaton, who has lived across Beach Street from Lake Michigan for nearly 70 years, said construction of the Pere Marquette Park parking lot several years ago cut down on the amount of sand that blows into his yard. He praised the city of Muskegon for cleaning the sand and keeping the roads clear.

“If you live out here, you live and die with sand and you’re used to it,” Eaton said.

Emily McIntyre has a retaining wall that helps keep some of the sand out of her yard.

“But I have steps that fill with sand and have a guy who shovels it,” she said.

The city of Muskegon closed Beach Street for much of the winter due to the amount of sand that accumulated on the road surface. City officials in December said Department of Public Works crews often spend five hours a week clearing sand after wintry winds fill the road with sand — an expense city commissioners decided to forgo this year.

With winter’s icy grip loosening and a return to more tranquil weather, Beach Street is once again open to traffic.