Silver Lake State Park: Day-Use Area & Boating Access Site Redevelopment


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Silver Lake State Park is located on the western shore of Michigan approximately 36 miles north of Muskegon.  The park was established with a gift of 25.19 acres from Carrie E. Mears in 1920 with the sole purpose of creating a park. Today, Silver Lake State Park is 3,085 acres in size, offering access to over three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline including the Little Sable Point Light Station, a historic landmark, and one mile of shoreline on Silver Lake. It has 1,600 acres of the most accessible and visible dunes in the Midwest, which include both open dunes and acres of mature forest and are the largest fresh water shifting sand dunes east of the Mississippi River.  Silver Lake State Park is a multi-use park with recreational opportunities that include camping, hunting, swimming, hiking, boating, an off-road vehicle area, and many other recreational opportunities.  Approximately 1,000,696 people visited Silver Lake State Park in 2015 (Of these 8% were campers and 92% were day-users) making it the 7th most visited State Park in the state of Michigan. 

The Silver Lake State Park Day Use & Boating Access Site Redevelopment project began with Beckett & Raeder, Inc. hired as the design consultant to complete master planning for the day use area and boating access site. This addressed multiple issues and deficiencies at a popular Great Lakes waterfront location, including: separating parking uses, providing safe and separated vehicular and pedestrian circulation, increasing vehicle stacking space at the park entrance, centralizing featured day used activities, and relocating the boat launch. 

The existing boating access site layout required boaters and day use visitors to share a parking lot that was not of sufficient size for both user groups.  The DNR acquired additional land specifically for relocation and development of a boating access site.  The newly acquired property was 2 adjacent lots totaling .41 acres with lake frontage, and was originally separated from the day use area by a local county road.  To create a contiguous parcel of public land and for maximum utilization of the land, the county road was relocated as part of the project.

The overall circulation and layout of the park was also problematic and in need of redevelopment.  The most significant challenge was that the boating access site bisected the park, separating the campground from the day use area.  This created a hazard to campground users that were required to cross through a heavily used boating access site to reach the beach and day use area.  Additionally, both campground and boating access site users had a very limited stacking space, causing congestion that would back up into the county road, resulting in unsafe conditions for both park users and local road traffic.  All of these concerns led to the development and implementation of a masterplan to resolve these issues and promote a safer, more enjoyable user experience. 

The master plan re-designed the circulation system to separate the day use area from the boating access site, allowing for more efficient vehicle and pedestrian flow throughout the site.  Pathways were established to allow campers direct access to the day use area separating them from heavy traffic roads.  A new park entrance was developed to adequately provide stacking space within the Park property.  A new contact station and traffic circle were also added to the park entrance, to aid in circulation and ease of registration.  Additionally, the day-use activities were centralized in order to provide greater connectivity for the different types of recreational opportunities.  Separate parking areas were designed to provide 47 vehicle trailer spaces for boaters and 100 parking spots for day use visitors, significantly increasing the amount of parking for both user groups. 

The boating access site was redeveloped on the north side of the site, on the newly acquired land, and required the circulation route to cross over a natural stream.  The stream was impacted minimally by maintaining large naturalized islands at the crossings, using a bottomless culvert to preserve the natural stream bed, and restoring native plantings for erosion control on the stream edge.  Other improvements to the boating access site included adding a 2 lane concrete launch ramp, dredging a 300’ channel to deeper water, a vault toilet, and a maneuvering area for launching and retrieving boats. 

The day-use area experience was also greatly revitalized in the redevelopment.  The picnic pavilion, previously located on the opposite side of the parking lot from the beach, was replaced with a three shelter pavilion, directly adjacent to the beach.  This not only provides greater connectivity between the beach and pavilion but also enhances the pavilions appeal to users with stunning views of the lake and Silver Lake Sand Dunes.  The beach, which was previously undefined and underutilized, also underwent drastic improvements.  Local sand was brought in to re-nourish the beach area and a barrier free path was developed to provide access from the parking lot to the beach to users of all abilities. 

The original day use restroom building, built in 1965, was outdated and had reached the end of its usable life span.  It was replaced with a new restroom building, designed to fit in with the aesthetic character of the site, and featured additional amenities such as family bathrooms and an outdoor shower. This project also added a new playground, designed with poured-in-place rubberized surfacing for universal accessibility.  Open net play elements were selected for the play equipment because they do not collect sand and maintain more open views of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes. 

Construction was carefully sequenced over multiple years to create a seamless transition that minimized disruption to park use and visitor experience. Construction zones were isolated and safely secured so park users were still able to enjoy many of the park elements for the duration of the project. The end result is a redeveloped park with smooth circulation, proper connectivity, and increased safety, providing a visitor experience unlike anywhere in the State with while maintaining and enhancing the stunning views of Silver Lake Sand Dunes.