A long time ago a very smart person pointed out that Traverse City's most precious resources were its beaches, even though they're usually in play only six months out of the year. During the busiest weeks of summer Clinch Park beach and the long stretch of sandy shore west of the Open Space End beach are often crowded with visitors, making locals look for options.
Two of their favorites are Bryant Park and East Bay Park, where there's usually fewer people and better chances to park. Unfortunately, those two beaches also are "the worst in the area" in terms of E. coli contamination, which is a red flag indicator of fecal contamination, which could contain other pollutants like pathogens or other harmful bacteria.
Thanks in part to the city's ongoing partnership with the nonprofit Watershed Center, both beaches are going to get sophisticated new stormwater treatment systems aimed at lowering E. coli counts and the pathogens or bacteria the E. coli indicates is there.
Traverse City and the Watershed Center received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for a $225,000 "infiltration system" at Bryant Park that will contain and treat stormwater naturally before it discharges into the bay.
The Bryant Park system discharged wastewater directly into the bay in about 9 feet of water just outside the swimming area. The new system will move stormwater through a series of basins, filtering out sediment and trash before discharging it through a natural sand filter.
Another restoration initiative grant will pay for a $767,000 stormwater system at East Bay Park; work should begin in the fall. Work at Bryant Park could be finished before July 4. Grant money will also pay for a $1 million overhaul in Suttons Bay this year that incorporates rain gardens and wetlands,
Traverse City and surrounding communities have done a good job over the past decade or so of eliminating so-called point source pollution, places where storm drains that collect water from streets and parking lots empty directly into the bay or illegal sewer connections spew into the bay. They've also been proactive in cracking down on animal waste on the beaches, from dogs and Canada geese in particular.
Those efforts have helped reduce the amount of E. coli found off city beaches; work like that at Bryant and East Bay can help seal the deal.
This kind of work, plus the Watershed Center's ongoing testing for E. coli, also gives local residents and visitors alike confidence that the beaches and the water are clean and open for business.