TRAVERSE CITY — For some, it proved an unusual Fourth of July.
“It was shocking — we didn’t have any drownings, any car accidents, any fatals,” said Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich. “We did have a lot of calls, but it was all stuff we could manage.”
Calls to 911 were about on par with a typical, non-pandemic threatened Fourths, he added.
A little atypical for the holiday were the hundreds of backyard firework displays — far more than Borkovich has seen in past years.
“Just one of those crazy weekends,” Borkovich said. “But you know, when no one drowns, nobody dies of a car accident, I’m OK with that. That’s our job, to keep things safe.”
It seems most revelers opted for Leelanau and Benzie county hotspots — at least, the revelers who didn’t flock to Torch Lake.
Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel said his county’s beaches proved crowded. He estimates tourism was higher this weekend than it was for past Fourths.
Frankfort beaches in particular drew a mass of vacationers, according to Facebook comments — several of them complaining about heavy crowds.
In Antrim County, most calls came from Torch Lake, where thousands flocked for a Fourth of July beach day. Many early weekend calls came in as drunk and disorderlies, lewd behavior — like urinating off the side of a boat, and drunk boaters.
“We have a pretty good relationship with all the boaters,” Sheriff Dan Bean told the Record-Eagle Saturday. “But you still have to abide by the rules. You can’t get away with anything.”
Alcohol, he added, tends to spur most calls.
Kalkaska County Sheriff Pat Whiteford on Monday was waiting on full weekend reports, but noted he saw sizable crowds through the holiday. His department clocked nine arrests between Friday and Sunday — several of them on Kalkaska County’s portion of Torch Lake.
Most of those calls were drunk driving incidents or drunk and disorderlies — something echoed by several local sheriffs.
“You know, not overwhelming or anything,” Whiteford said. “As far as the Fourth goes, we probably saw a little bit bigger crowd than we’ve had normally — we expected that with no Cherry Festival and the lack of other things going on in northern Michigan.”
And with no Cherry Festival, Grand Traverse County saw much smaller crowds, according to Trevor Tkach, president/CEO of Traverse City Tourism.
“There were a lot of people in town — (but) nothing like a normal Fourth,” he said Monday. “Traditionally on a Fourth of July weekend, your hotels would be completely full, as would short-term rentals and other options.”
Tkach noted many hotels operated at a lower capacity than normal, though some ticked up available rooms for the weekend. Most restaurants, too, stuck to COVID-spurred sanitization and mask-wearing practices.
Traverse City Police Department Capt. Keith Gillis said a few mild assaults and drunk driving incidents were the most significant issues officers dealt with through the weekend.
“There weren’t any significant calls for service over the weekend,” added Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Clark. “I’m assuming (Torch Lake’s) where everybody went.”
But at least two lake visits ended badly.
Officers responded to two drownings Saturday — the first came from Sleeping Bear Dunes, where Lake Michigan claimed a 19-year-old man’s life.
The teen was swimming with his family when he spotted a sandbar about 60 yards from shore, according to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore Superintendent Scott Tucker.
He opted to investigate, and managed to swim out and reach it.
The trip back proved more tenuous.
“Two family members went into the water to try and help him,” Tucker said. “They were unable to and he went under.”
U.S. Coast Guard officials pulled the teen from about 8 feet of water and couldn’t revive him with CPR. Munson Medical Center staff pronounced him deceased soon after.
It’s the first drowning in Sleeping Bear since 2016, Tucker said.
The second occurred that evening when Michael Henry Emaus, 78, died in Green Lake while trying to swim from his boat to shore.
Many believe the weekend will bring a slew illness and possibly more deaths in coming weeks — ones resulting from poor social distancing and lacking face masks through the weekend. COVID-19 case numbers climbed Monday, and some officials expect them to continue to rise.
“As emergency responders, I think that’s always a concern,” said Traverse City Fire Chief Jim Tuller, adding that his department has kept the same coronavirus precautions they have since mid-March. “We’re still taking all the precautions we need to to protect our personnel and also protect our families, while still providing service to the community.”
Others, like Tkach, aren’t expecting any significant spikes.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll maintain low coronavirus numbers, but I think time will tell,” he said Monday.