RACINE — From a distance the lakeshore at Samuel Myers Park may look like a great place to go swimming, but get close to the waterline and you’ll notice that it’s a lot different than the city’s well-tended North and Zoo beaches.
The sand is darker. The water collects in shallow pools and the remnants of decaying algae, and the bacteria it draws, are ever present. People — mostly boaters and jet skiers — still use the beach, which is located off 11th Street just south of Gateway Technical College’s campus, but city officials have long wanted to rehabilitate the area in hopes of making it safer for recreation.
Now, thanks to a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency the city could achieve its goal.
On Tuesday Mayor John Dickert with EPA Regional Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman announced that Samuel Myers Park is one of four beaches in Southern Wisconsin that will benefit from a $500,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant.
Awarded to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the money will pay for redesign projects aimed at reducing potential threats to human health caused by bacteria. The redesign could include installing rain gardens to retain and filter contaminated stormwater; encouraging dune formation to both reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff and also keep away gulls; and modifying beach grooming practices.
While design work can start now, the earliest any actual engineering or earth work could occur would be sometime next spring or summer.
“I hope that when that work is finished that sign over there that says ‘unsafe for swimming’ can be taken down,” Hedman said Monday, pointing toward the park’s canoe launch.
The EPA is awarding $2.6 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grants for beaches in Michigan and Wisconsin this year. UW-Oshkosh will also be receiving another $500,000 grant to implement redesigns at beaches in Northern Wisconsin. The other beaches in Southern Wisconsin are located in Kenosha and South Milwaukee.
With gulls squawking softly in the background Tuesday, Dickert said the Samuel Myers redesign will not only benefit beachgoers but also the local economy.
“When people ask us what does it really mean to keep our water clean ... I say it means $5 million dollars in tourism to the City of Racine,” he said.
Later, during a brief tour of the beach, Director of the City of Racine Health Department Laboratory Julie Kinzelman, who will be the project manager for the redesign projects at the beaches in Southern Wisconsin, talked about the problems the city and the university hope to address — like the matted algae covering some parts of the beach.
“Just because there’s sand there,” she said, “doesn’t make it a beach.”