2019 : Silver Lake Sand Dunes Threatens Cottage

August 13, 2019 all-day

Despite about 20 summers of scooping back sand, the Dressler family has never seen their lakeside home this close to doom.

A towering, creeping sand mountain that swallowed several cottages in the 1960s casts a menacing shadow over the house on this western Michigan lake, about an hour’s drive north of Grand Rapids. Last winter, it destroyed the cottage the family owned next door.

As eastward winds from Lake Michigan push the dune farther into the neighborhood, a growing beach spreads through the yards of more than a dozen nearby cottages — each of which could be threatened if the winds continue in this direction.

Now, the state of Michigan has ordered the Dresslers to stop their latest effort to save the remaining summer home from destruction: The sand is protected as a “critical dune area,” so trucking it away is forbidden.

“They’re killing us,” said David Dressler, 58. “I’m so pissed off right now, I’m beyond words.”

Silver Lake State Park attracts about 850,000 visitors annually with 1,600 acres of magnificent sand dunes near Lake Michigan. It’s the only place in the state where you can ride off-road vehicles over dunes.

But living next to the dunes means the threat of a natural hazard. Here, an unfortunate wind pattern is all it takes to destroy a subdivision.

Oceana County Commissioner Larry Byl owns property on the nearby shore of Lake Michigan and said he’s well-aware that invading water could ruin his cabin.

The Dresslers face a similar reality with sand. But Byl said they still should have a right to protect their property.

“I find it ironic that the state seeks to protect all of the dunes and not let a property owner protect their structure… But on the other hand, the state feels it’s fine to have dune buggies and quad-runners run all over the dunes,” he said.

Dressler always knew about the sand’s potential. He grew up visiting Silver Lake, and he recalls seeing nearby abandoned homes ready to be buried in the early 1970s.

“My dad used to always say, ‘Well, most people have to mow their lawn. We have to move a little bit of sand, so it kind of works out the same,'” he said. “In the beginning, we really didn’t have to move much at all.”

Roughly 10 years ago, Dressler said you could look out from the home’s small lighthouse tower and see Lake Michigan a mile west. Today, it’s a wall of sand the family estimates to be between 80 and 150 feet high.

For many years, the wind blew the sand in a less-threatening direction, and family members used a backhoe to push it away. But the dune has grown and is advancing much more quickly, Dressler said.

“By winter, we will have lost the other house,” he said. And they aren’t getting any help from insurance policies “because it’s Mother Nature — it’s an act-of-God kind of thing, supposedly,” he said.

Source : Robert Allen, “Massive dune threatens west Mich home, but state orders family to stop moving sand“, Detroit Free Press, August 13, 2017.