Two local teenagers drowned in Duck Lake this past summer. Since then, emergency telephones have been placed in Duck Lake State Park because of the unreliable cell phone service.
1. Duck Lake Drownings
Duck Lake claimed two young lives this summer, which caused state officials to place emergency phones and signs warning swimmers of the dangers of swimming in the lake.
On Friday, June 29, Reeths-Puffer High School graduate Justin Pitz, was attempting to swim across the channel near the Duck Lake State Park boat launch the day before his graduation open house celebration when he told his friend that he could not make it and needed help. Deputies were dispatched at 7:24 p.m. but were unable to locate Pitz. The Muskegon County Dive Team members located Pitz’s body shortly before dark and the subject was pronounced dead.
Not even two weeks later, Duck Lake claimed another life. Recent Montague High School graduate Iisaiah Townsel was at Duck Lake on July 8 when he, his girlfriend Cassidy Goss and Bretten Ritter decided to swim across Duck Lake from the beach on the south side of the Duck Lake Channel, just east of the Scenic Drive Bridge to a sign near the Duck Lake State Park kayak launch on the north side of the lake.
Shortly after the three began swimming, Townsel went under and never surfaced. Goss went and got her family and called 9-1-1 for help. The call for the water emergency went out at 3:58 p.m. and a team of divers from the sheriff’s department and Norton Shores Fire Department recovered Townsel’s body at 5:05 p.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
In December, State. Rep. Holly Hughes began working with the Muskegon County Park and Recreation Division and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to install two emergency phones in Duck Lake State Park. The phones are equipped with blue strobe lights to make the them easily visible. According to Hughes, cell phone coverage at the park is not reliable.
2. Whitehall becomes first city in Michigan to construct a ‘green street’
The City of Whitehall completed a project in November that created the first “green street” in the state of Michigan.
The project consisted of a 6-block stretch of Lake Street from Bush Creek at the railroad trestle to Market Street. The road project was partially funded by an Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant of $376,180 awarded to the city in August 2011. The Alcoa Foundation gave the city a grant for $40,000 and Genesco, former owner of the Whitehall Leather Co. donated $10,000 to the project.
The road construction includes a 30-foot wide roadway with an enivornmentally-friendly storm sewer system which will filter the water runoff through a series of bioswales, filter strips, rain gardens, filtration chambers and habitats before it enters nearby White Lake. The filtering systems will greatly reduce the amount of contaminants and suspended solids reaching the lake.
The project also included installation of a new eight-inch water main on Lake Street from Misco Drive to Muskegon Avenue, and on Muskegon Avenue from Lake Street to Lakeview Street.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Nov. 5.
3. Snowmobiling brought back in the City of Whitehall
Snowmobiling in the City of Whitehall is now legal for the first time since the mid-1970s after voters approved a citizen referendum in the November election.
The referendum passed with 795 yes votes to 528 no votes in the unofficial count. Efforts to overturn the ban failed three previous times over that span.
The referendum asked voters to approve the use of snowmobiles in the city from Dec. 1 through April 1 at a minimum of 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. on routes designated by the city council.
The city council’s Snowmobile Committee approved more lenient hours from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. The new ordinance only bans snowmobile use on Colby Street and Thompson Street (BR-31), Mears Avenue, Division Street and Lake Street, as well as on closed streets, in any city park or city-owned natural area except for those receiving prior permission by the city.
4. Flames destroy Michillinda Lodge
In a blaze of historic proportions, the 110-year-old main building of the Michillinda Lodge was destroyed on Dec. 2.
Fourteen fire departments from across Muskegon County worked for over 12 hours to put out the blaze.
The origin of the fire was undetermined, but White Lake Fire Authority Chief Greg Holman, who was the officer in charge at the scene, said a work crew member who was staying at the lodge reported seeing flames near the floor of a guest room near a space heater.
Holman said the initial alarm was delayed 15 minutes because the workers, who were awakened by an activated fire alarm, were trying to extinguish the fire, but, he added, that delay was not a factor in the destruction of the four-story lodge which was recently renovated.
The firefighters first arrived on the scene 10 minutes after the 4:27 a.m. alarm, and initially, a crew of six rotated going in and assessing the damage.
The chief said this was probably the largest fire in the White Lake area since 1961 when the Franklin House hotel burned in downtown Montague. “It is equally devastating to the community.”
5. Muskegon County discusses new jail and juvenile transition center
Muskegon County has spent most of the year discussing the need for a new jail and juvenile transition center.
After the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners ranked a new jail as a top priority this year, and hired an engineering group to give recommendations.
RQAW and Byce Engineering presented their final recommendations to the Jail and Juvenile Transition Center and suggested that the County renovated the current jail and expand on it, and use Craig School as the juvenile transition center.
This option will cost the County between $23.5-$27 million, depending on which plan they choose.
Many community members have attended the various meetings regarding the jail and expressed their concern over the project.
Members of the group Derail the Jail, Letters are Better and Occupy Muskegon have continuously opposed a new jail, stating diversion programs are the answer, not a larger jail. They are also concerned with how the county will pay for the project.
According to County officials, the project will be financed with bonds, and not a voter-approved millage. Cost savings from insurance changes and staff reductions will help pay off the debt.
A final decision has not been made regarding what to do about the jail and juvenile transition center.
6. Swans culled from White Lake
In an effort to curb the invasive Mute Swan population on White Lake, the Muskegon Conservation District, the USDA Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources began the Mute Swan Control Program, where an expected 100-300 swans will be killed each year over the next five years.
The current population of mute swans in White Lake is around 1,200, and will be reduced to around 200 over a 10-year period. According to Jeff Auch, executive director of the Muskegon Conservation District, the mute swans have a negative impact of native wildlife, shoreline habitat and the ecological system. The mute swan population has grown rapidly over the years. In 2004, the population was just 262, and increased around 9-10 percent annually.
The culling began in May, and will continue until the population is under control.
7. White Lake recovery effort marks milestone
The Michigan Office of the Great Lakes announced in May that Muskegon County’s White Lake is one step closer to environmental recovery.
Designated as a Great Lake Area of Concern (AOC) in the late 1980s due to severe environmental damage primarily from industrial activities, White Lake is one of 14 sites around Michigan targeted for focused environmental restoration work.
Areas of Concern are defined by various Beneficial Use Impairments (BUI), specific environmental damages that must be repaired to restore them. Authorities confirmed the removal of White Lake’s Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae BUI. It is a major environmental milestone because it signals a reduction in historic phosphorous levels.
Removal of the Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae impairment verifies that the White Lake AOC no longer exhibits symptoms of excess nutrients as it did in the past.
Other positive changes for the lake is the closure of the county wastewater site in Whitehall Township, removal of erosion sites along the White River and restoration of wetlands.
While six other BUIs remain associated with the White Lake AOC, significant progress is being made to address each of them.
8. State prods public schools to offer full-day kindergarten
The Michigan Legislature changed the requirement for kindergarten to go from half-day to full-day, and local school districts responded by changing in fall 2012.
In September 2012, public schools in Michigan had to offer full-day kindergarten to receive full funding for each student. The districts can still offer half-day, but will only receive half the funding for those students who attend.
With the new program, schools will receive $7,000 per student that attends full-day kindergarten, and half that amount for students who attend half-day. In the previous program, schools received $7,000 for each student, even if they only attended half-day kindergarten.
Montague Area Public Schools and Whitehall District Schools both switched all students to full-day kindergarten.
9. Fruitland approves land transfer for Marcus Park
The Fruitland Township board voted to transfer a portion of Duck Lake’s Marcus Park to Marcus Dune Association members for dockage purposes in exchange for protecting another portion of the park from dock placement.
The action was taken in the midst of the Duck Lake Riparian Owners Association (DLROA) filing its second lawsuit in the 14th Circuit Court in Muskegon County to clock the placement of the docks in the park, despite a 2006 decision on the initial lawsuit by Judge William Marietti that the Marcus Dunes Association members had valid easement rights to place their docks at Marcus Park, and a 2008 Court of Appeals decision on an appeal by the DLROA had no standing.
The DLROA filed the second lawsuit in June 2010 after a Fruitland Township Public Advisory committee, and later a Park and Recreation Commission led committee, attempted to negotiate an agreement with the opposing parties without success.
In August, Muskegon County 14th Circuit Court Judge James Graves ruled Fruitland Township had the right to transfer land from Marcus Park to the Marcus Dunes Association to use for boat docks.
DLROA is continuing legal action.
10. Book Nook & Java Shop moves into new, larger building
Owners Bryan Uecker and Mark Murr purchased the old Todd Pharmacy building, 8744 Ferry St., and renovated the space in order to expand their menu and add a wine bar.
Uecker and Murr purchased the building in the beginning of the year and held their grand opening in August.
Local interior designer Mary Payne, of Payne’s Interior Design was hired to create an open space for customers which included wood flooring, warm colors and upscale furnishings. Sharon Smithem was hired to create two murals for the space.
The owners wanted to be able to host dinners and serve wine, and a bigger space was needed to do that. They will host monthly wine dinners, wine and beer tastings, small plates for dinner, homemade sandwiches and baked goods.
The most notable change to the Book Nook & Java Shop was the addition of the Best Cellars Wine Bar. The menu includes both local and foreign wine in a price range that is affordable.
Another addition to the space was a large stage area.