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New Plan Aims to Save Lake Michigan Beaches, Habitats

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Massive sand erosion is eating away at the wildlife habitat areas of Illinois' State Beach Park. A new regional plan aims to reverse that trend. (Illinois Department of Natural Resources)
Massive sand erosion is eating away at the wildlife habitat areas of Illinois' State Beach Park. A new regional plan aims to reverse that trend. (Illinois Department of Natural Resources)
 By Brandon CampbellContact
August 8, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The Lake Michigan shoreline along northern Illinois has a sand erosion problem that's hindering commercial shipping and threatening natural habitats, but there's a new plan to help.

For about 200 years, man-made structures have been interrupting the southward drift of sand along the shoreline, and that's causing several problems, including the erosion of some the state's most scenic beaches.

Towns along the lakefront have worked individually to try to stop the erosion, with only limited success. Ethan Brown, resilience coordinator with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said his group and the state's Department of Natural Resources are working with north shore towns on a more coordinated plan.

"Places like Illinois State Beach Park, that beach front's been eroded quite a bit," Brown said. "And in places like Waukegan, with their harbor, a lot of that sand gets deposited into that harbor, which they have to dredge out. And all of these things cost a lot of money."

The new effort is called the Illinois North Shore Sand Management Strategy. One proposed solution is to take the sand from Waukegan harbor and shift it to the Illinois State Beach Park. But according to Brown, there are legal hurdles to cross before that can happen.

Brown said addressing those regulatory hurdles will be easier with a more regional, collaborative approach rather than each town going it alone. He said it's not just a north shore problem, as the region's natural resources provide benefits for the whole state.

"There's definitely an economic benefit to the entire region working together," Brown said. "And Illinois State Beach Park really is a statewide resource for tourism, for people to enjoy Lake Michigan and to feel like they're back in nature."

The sand management group will collect more data in coming weeks as they look at ways to overhaul current regulations. Their next meeting will be held in the fall - when they hope to talk with local policymakers.

For more information, visit dnr.illinois.gov.

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