PARK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A pier safety group is working to improve safety measures at the Holland State Park.
After beginning 2020 with a drowning, Park Township officials joined the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the township fire department to form the pier safety consortium. Its goal is to prevent drownings and water rescues by educating beachgoers.
The state park already has warning flags that stretch the length of the beach. On Friday, the flags were green, indicating water conditions were calm.
New this summer, the safety group added a digital sign to Ottawa Beach Road that aligns with the flag system. It also added a gate and sign at the end of the sidewalk leading to the pier, which can be opened or closed depending on conditions.
Another addition: lines connected to a string of buoys at the southern edge of the swimming zone. That line delineates the swimming area but can also be used as a grab line if swimmers get in trouble.
“As we look back at some of the problems we’ve had out here, typically it’s the folks that aren’t familiar with the Great Lakes,” said Sean Mulligan of the DNR. “We want people to understand what’s going on out there. Be cautious. When you see the red flag, get out of the water, stay off the pier.”
The flags, digital sign and gate are just the beginning for the safety pier group. It is looking into adding cameras to the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, better known as Big Red.
“We’ll have a much better view and access to what’s going on in the water. If there’s an emergency, we can respond faster and know where and what is happening on the ground,” Park Township Manager Howard Fink said.
Fink said because the park is a big tourist attraction, they also want to begin providing informational materials to local hotels. They say drownings and water rescues are not only difficult for those involved but also the community as a whole.
“It’s devastating, no question, for the families and individuals that are impacted. It’s devastating for the (deputies) and for the fire department and that’s why the sheriff, the state, we’re all working together to identify what are those safety measures we can put in place,” Fink said.
Fink added that the township is supporting the Army Corps, which has requested funds from Congress to improve the pier. That project would entail raising the elevation of the revetment rock wall, investigating the feasibility of some type of guard rail system and studying the hydrology of the swimmers area.
The consortium meets about once a month. It says it is still in the exploratory phase for a number of these projects.
The gates are set to be in operation every day until the DNR closes the pier for the winter months.