If the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a short list for state park improvement projects, the restoration of the East Harbor State Park beach should be on it. Unfortunately, the project doesn’t appear to be on its radar.
That’s surprising, considering the efforts of Dick Taylor and the nonprofit Beachaid Eastharbor citizens group, and because the state claims it is looking for the best ways to spend $89 million to improve Ohio’s state parks.
Fifty years ago, the Lake Erie beach was said to have attracted a million visitors a year. Some believe it still could with a little help from the state.
A rock and concrete sea wall was added along the beach in 1957, presumably to protect concession stands, bath houses and parking lots. But widely fluctuating lake levels and a 1972 storm eroded 9,000 feet of the 2.5-mile beach.
In the past 42 years, little has been done to restore it, and now only a sliver of beach and a shallow swimming area are left.
Today, East Harbor is better known for its campground than its beach.
Taylor, of Findlay, and others have been trying for over a decade to convince the ODNR to return the beach to its natural state. Doing so, they say, will bring beach-lovers back and drive tourism, a benefit to surrounding communities.
The grassroots group has studied the shoreline and believes removing the sea wall would allow the sand dunes, which have formed inland, to settle back along the shoreline.
It has proposed removing a small section of sea wall and allowing the lake to do the rest of the work. If the sand returns, then more of the sea wall could be removed. If not, what was taken out could be put back.
The project has a modest price tag as far as government works go, $250,000.
Interestingly, the agency is conducting an online survey (parks.ohiodnr.gov/improvements) to gather public input on how the park capital improvement funds should be used. But Taylor and others believe most projects have already been lined up.
Several, in fact, already have been announced.
Recent publicity about East Harbor beach may finally be helping the project get needed traction. Taylor said Wednesday he will be meeting with lawmakers in coming days about how to begin the much overdue public debate in Columbus.
Certainly, the department would be making a mistake if it does not give it a fair look.
Last year, 2.3 million people spent at least one night in an Ohio state park campground, cottage, cabin, or lodge. By continuing to improve the state parks system, Ohio can draw more tourism dollars.
If the state is looking for a return on its investment, East Harbor would seem a good place to start.
Taylor said the public can help get the beach restored by continuing to call, write, and email legislators, ODNR, and the governor. The more often decision-makers hear the words “East Harbor beach,” the better the chance the project will be given the consideration it deserves.
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