Who’s Caring for our Beaches?

cleaning beachMother Nature gifted northwest Michigan with magnificent beaches and sandy shorelines, but it takes many hands to keep them strong and spotless. So who is taking care of the beaches and just how much grooming can be done? The TCBN dug deep to find out.


Casey Baldyga’s slogan is “Save Our Sand.”

The owner of Innovative Landscaping and Maintenance in Traverse City, Baldyga grooms beaches for residential and commercial properties throughout northwest Michigan and beyond. His key partner in the process is the “Sand Man,” a manually propelled industrial beach cleaner that sifts to remove debris and oxygenate the sand.

“It is a unique process,” Baldyga said, noting that he pushes the Sand Man manually, which then rolls sand onto a shaker net and sifts through three different screen sizes. Heavy debris is removed through the first sifting with further cleaning and oxygenation in subsequent siftings. “The machine has proven to get tar balls out of sand (and other pollutants).”

“We sift only sand…and what is going back is much cleaner than it was,” he said, noting concerns about sand pollution and his commitment to environment and quality. “Sand is a natural filter for our water and it is very limited.”

Property owners use services as needed, ranging from an annual beach clean-up to weekly maintenance.

Baldyga opened Innovative Landscaping and Maintenance in 2005, offering residential and commercial landscaping, handyman and snow removal services. The beach grooming services were added in 2012, prompted by a client’s request to help remove debris out of his beach sand. Research led Baldyga to New England-based Barber Beach Cleaners which manufactured the Sand Man and a $15,000 investment into the equipment.

The purchase paid off. The beach cleaning portion of the business boomed in its first year and continued steady growth. Today, Innovative Landscaping owns two machines and employs four additional staff. Baldyga hopes to add more staff soon and is making plans for a third, larger machine.


Tourists flock to beach resorts rimming the bays each summer. Those that rely on their beaches for business follow various schedules and protocols to keep the sands inviting.

The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa has about 600 feet of shoreline on East Grand Traverse Bay, bisected by the mouth of Acme Creek. According to Public Relations Manager Mike D’Agostino, the section north of Acme Creek is left natural while the section south of Acme Creek is the resort’s Beach Club. An outside company is hired twice yearly to sift beach sand.

“We are fortunate to live in a region where trash washing up on the beaches is not a huge issue,” D’Agostino said.

Beach raking is done daily at the Bayshore Resort on West Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City and the Sugar Beach and Grand Beach Resort Hotels on East Grand Traverse Bay.

Bayshore Resort general manager Melissa Bonham noted most debris consists of sticks and twigs, which is removed daily. She also noted the resort was lucky that its beach isn’t greatly affected with greater vegetation or problems when water levels rise or recede.

West Bay Beach Resort in Traverse City had two beaches during low water times but, with today’s higher levels, its former east beach is now under water. Mother Nature also impacts the debris that washes on shore.

“We groom every day,” said West Bay Beach Resort GM Charlie Robles. “But a large storm (such as last August’s damaging storm) can kick up much more debris…we’ll find pieces of boats, ropes and other items (from the bottomlands).

He noted the resort also conducts a major spring clean-up each year to address wash-up from winter winds and storms.


When it comes to shoreline maintenance, property owners are always advised to be very familiar with the law and seek guidance if there’s a question. The answer may be impacted by location, interpretation and related environmental factors.

According to Traverse City attorney Joe Quandt of Kuhn Rogers PLC, one key distinction is whether a shore lies along the Great Lakes or an inland lake or river.

“There is a much larger universe of exempt activities (on inland waters),” Quandt said.

Ownership along inland natural waterways conveys riparian property rights along the bank, shore, water and bottomland. Owners are allowed, without a permit, to install seasonal docks, conduct reasonable sanding of their beach, rake unvegetated exposed lake bottomlands and hand pull plants that are an aquatic nuisance. With a permit, landowners are able to dredge or fill bottomlands or construct, enlarge, extend, remove or place permanent structures on the bottomland.

In contrast, property ownership along the Great Lakes ends at the water’s edge. Everything below the ordinary high water mark is owned by the State of Michigan. Shoreline landowners are limited in what they are able to do to their property without permitting. Restrictions are significantly more stringent. In particular, the sanding and dredging ordinarily allowed in inland waters are prohibited on Great Lakes beaches. Protections are in place for wetlands, high erosion areas and submerged bottomlands.

In most cases, permits through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are required. Maintenance of the Great Lakes shoreline is allowed, but large or drastic changes require permits. Permits are not issued unless it’s shown that no unacceptable disruption will result to aquatic resources.

According to Quandt, actions that would not require a permit include leveling of exposed sand, hand removal of vegetation, grooming of soil, or removal of debris in an area composed predominantly of sand, rock or pebbles located between the ordinary high water mark and the water’s edge; or mowing of vegetation between the ordinary high water mark and the water’s edge.

Rule modifications in 2012 impacted the permitting process but did not change key points of the law, need for permits or the jurisdictional reach of the DEQ. Interpretation of the law can vary geographically, with northwest Michigan considered among the strictest regions.