MAILBAG: How much shoreline?

Duke of Grand Haven Township wants to know how much shoreline on Lake Michigan do private property owners really own.
Mark Brooky
Jul 13, 2012

His question is a hot topic between lakefront property owners and the general public who like to walk along the sandy beach.

ANSWER:

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the public's right to walk along the beach in a 2005 case, Glass v. Goeckel.

The case involved the Goeckels, who owned property on the shore of Lake Huron, and Joan Glass, who sued them so that she could continue enjoying walking along the beach. Glass said the Goeckels interfered with her walks.

The trial court held that Glass had a right to walk below the natural ordinary high-water mark as defined by the Great Lakes Submerged Land Act. The Goeckels appealed the trial court’s decision and the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order.

The appeals court stated that although the state holds title to previously submerged land, it does so subject to the riparian owner’s exclusive use up to the water’s edge. Therefore, according to the court, lakefront property owners have the exclusive right to use the land up to the water’s edge.

So Glass appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard the appeal in March 2005 and issued its decision four months later. The court said the general public has the right to walk along the lakeshore on land below the ordinary high-water mark. The court based its decision on the language of the public trust doctrine and found that walking along the lakeshore is a traditionally protected public right. 

Thanks to the National Sea Grant Law Center for help on this one. Want to read more about the case? Click here.

"But despite the confusion about where you can walk, you have to keep moving. Beach walking is protected, not beach gawking," explained a Michigan Lawyers Weekly blog (August 2008).

Do you have a question for the Tribune? E-mail it to news@grandhaventribune.com, and type MAILBAG in the subject line. Or mail it the old-fashioned way to: Grand Haven Tribune, MAILBAG, 101 N. Third St., Grand Haven, MI 49417. You can even fax it to us at 616-842-9584. We'll do our best to get you an answer!

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