Supreme Court reaffirms Great Lakes public beach access

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

The public has the right to walk the Great Lakes shoreline, even along privately owned beaches.

The United States Supreme Court reaffirmed that right on Tuesday. The court declined to hear an Indiana case filed by riparian land owners who live along the south shore of Lake Michigan.

The plaintiffs were Donald and Bobbie Gunderson who owned lakefront property in Long Beach, Indiana. Long Beach was also the childhood home of Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts.

The couple protested Indiana’s definition of public land along what’s called the “ordinary high water mark”.

That’s the spot on the beach where waves typically reach. The ordinary high water mark changes with each season and with the weather.

Private property advocates like the Gundersons wanted the court to rule that the public had no rights to any private land abutting Lake Michigan.

A similar battle is playing out in Leland. A family that owns private beachfront next to a popular public beach has complained that people trespass on their land.

The Janko family pushed Leland Township last year to remove beach signs.

But state supreme courts in both Indiana and Michigan have long held that walking along a Great Lakes shoreline is a public right.

The Michigan Supreme Court last upheld that right in 2005 in a similar case along the Lake Huron shoreline.

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer cheered Tuesday’s ruling.

This decision is good news for our Great Lakes and for people across the state,” she said in a press statement. “We in Michigan are defined by our water. Whether you’re fishing, swimming, or climbing the dunes on Lake Michigan, so many memories are made on the shores of our Great Lakes. Today’s decision is an important step in making sure that people across the state and from all over the world can continue to enjoy they Great Lakes and make new memories here in Michigan.”

Local environmental groups like FLOW For Love of Water echoed the governor’s sentiment.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejects the bid by Lake Michigan waterfront lot owners in Indiana to turn back 150 years of legal precedent in an effort to destroy public access along the public trust beaches of the Great Lakes,” FLOW posted on its Facebook page.