Shoreline law?

Larry of Grand Haven asked, "Can people still walk along the Lake Michigan shoreline? What are the laws concerning this?"
Mark Brooky
Jul 15, 2013



That's long been a hot button between beach-goers and lakefront property owners. But the Michigan Supreme Court decided on the matter in 2005.

"There is a Supreme Court case, Glass v. Goeckel, that affirmed the right of the public to walk between the water’s edge and the ordinary high-water mark along the shoreline of the Great Lakes," noted Jeff Cobb of the Lansing office of state Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy summed up the decision as such: "The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that the public can walk recreationally across privately owned beachfront property as long as people remain below the 'high-water mark.' Unfortunately, the 'high-water' mark is problematically vague when applied to lakefront property, and walking is not an activity protected under the 'public-trust' doctrine the court invoked. The resulting loss of property rights and increase in property disputes will affect us all."

If you would like to read the case brief in detail, CLICK HERE.

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The cited article linked blue is clearly a negative take on the Michigan Supreme Court hearing. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your opinion the Great Lakes are connected to the ocean and therefore should fall under aforementioned English cited common law as they are used for shipping and general commerce. Furthermore, there are tides on the Great Lakes although they are quite small only a few inches at times, never the less they harden the case that the public should have the right to traverse. Not set up shop and throw their lawn chairs out, but definitely have the right to a clear passage.


i suppose that issue has been debated many times and people have been removed from the beach, i can see where there was a private lake cottage when someone owns the frontage, but lake michigan ? oh yes, people claim they own everything, i would like to see surveyors put down property line on lake michigan, kind of tricky

Tri-cities realist

My guess is that this issue will remain on the back burner as long as Great Lakes water levels remain low, since property owners have gained tens, if not hundreds of feet of additional beach. However if the water levels rise to the level of the 1980's I'm guessing the waterfront property owners will start complaining about the intrusiveness of these "trespassers", which to a point I can understand. The Michigan Supreme Court decision is probably the best compromise, so property owners will have to deal with beach walkers closer to their homes if lake levels rise, at least now they benefit from the additional beach caused by low lake levels. If beach walkers want to make sure there is no ambiguity of whether they are trespassing or not, they can always walk in the water, which is held in the public trust.

Say no to new taxes

I know of no beach front property owners who object to people walking the shoreline. The problem becomes when they plop down their umbrellas and beach chairs and declare "the waterfront is for everybody". Grand Haven has plenty of public beach for the public to use, but a lot of people would rather trespass on someone else's property.


i guess that depends on whether they plop down within the reasonable high water mark or not. The public has a right to use that area of beach, homeowners don't own that. The key is that they have to access it from a public spot and not trespass.


Just out of curiosity, how many lake Michigan beachfront property owners do you know?


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