Tourist park reopens to fanfare

Luke Londo

Just over 10 years after an earthen fuse plug spillway at the Silver Lake Dam failed, flooding nine billion gallons of water downstream thirty miles into Lake Superior, the City of Marquette will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the reopening of the beach at Tourist Park on Tuesday, June 11.

The painstaking efforts of the last 10 years culminating in the reopening show what is possible with superb teamwork between a multitude of governmental agencies and bodies, companies, and individual stakeholders.

The Department of Environmental Quality, Marquette Board of Light and Power (MBLP), Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO), Department of Natural Resources, City of Marquette, and stakeholders should be lauded for their coordination, collaboration and cooperation.

Most students — and many faculty — only know Tourist Park as “That Place Where They Hold Hiawatha Music Festival.”

Having lived in Marquette most of my life, I remember countless barbecues, baseball games, community events and yes, music festivals, that ended with the requisite dip at the beach at Tourist Park. RVs and tents were a mainstay, sometimes requiring a reservation in advance around holidays, foodfests and art festivals.

However, in 2003, I recall a flood that damaged or destroyed nine bridges, three public access sites, two parks, cut utility service to Big Bay, temporarily closed the Presque Isle Power Plant and Empire and Tilden mines. Over two thousand people were evacuated from their homes, parts of County Road 550 were shut down, and Lakeshore Boulevard was closed for a lengthy period of time.

Tourist Park was a wetland, and as the water dissipated, it changed one of Marquette’s finest beaches into a big, empty crater.

The RVs and tents, for the most part, went the way of the water. Traffic at Tourist Park dissolved as visitors favored campgrounds with swimming access. More events were booked at the Presque Isle Pavilion and Lower Harbor, which provided a more aesthetic view than a barren pit.

Other than Hiawatha and the occasional picnic, I haven’t recently travelled to the area that was a rather indelible part of my childhood. I’m sure many fellow Marquette residents are in the same boat.

The reopening of the beach at Tourist Park has made countless Marquettans swell with pride and for good reason. I’ve seen wood ducks circling around the Tourist Park Basin for the first time in almost a decade, and there have been reports of beavers, deer, coyotes and plenty of other animals in the area.

The City of Marquette has hired lifeguards for the Tourist Park beach for the first time in years. Traffic seems to have increased, and I’m hearing more plans of events at Tourist Park than any other year since the flood.

The reopening of Tourist Park’s beach is a reflection of Marquette’s resilience. UPPCO has contributed over $18 million to fixing the Silver Lake Dam, restocking fish, preventing erosion and even donating to the City of Marquette for development of boating access.

The Tourist Park Project was a nearly $5 million undertaking largely funded by the MBLP. However, the money is secondary to the vision of the individuals who saw this project through.

More individuals than the confines of a newspaper allow deserve an immense amount of credit for rebuilding one of Marquette’s jewels. Out of a desolate basin a 100-acre lake with fishing and a beach has emerged, and the rejuvenation of a community with it.

Students, faculty, visitors and Marquette residents: June 11 marks the beginning of a new era in Marquette, with a whole new generation of people to experience it.

For those looking to patronize an area with a history as rich as its view: I’ll be seeing you at the beach.