‘On the Beach’ rules under scrutiny in Elkhart Lake

FOLKS IN ELKHART LAKE are more than happy to open their doors and welcome visitors to their picturesque little village.

Where that hearty welcome might end, however, is at the village beach on the lake that gives the village its name.

The crystal-clear, enticing waters of Elkhart Lake are a major attraction that draws people to the village, which depends greatly on tourism for its livelihood and economic vitality.

Years ago, the prime real estate on the lake’s shoreline was carved up, largely between private homeowners, resorts and hotels.

That left little public access to the lake.

The Elkhart Lake Fire Department purchased and created one beachfront location, creating the Fireman’s Park beach available for a small daily fee to residents and visitors alike who have no other access to the lake – and it has proven to be wildly popular each and every summer.

So popular, in fact, that some years back the village decided they needed to create a separate beach area just for village and school district residents, controlled through a paid pass system.

That has worked to create a beach local residents could call their own, but in recent years that beach has become more crowded and busier.

It’s thanks in part to a recent trend, fueled by the internet, where homeowners rent out their home or space in it for short periods of time to visitors. Through a number of popular websites, this practice brings visitors to the village – to enjoy its attractions, spend some money and support the local economy – who might not want to or be able to afford staying at one of the village’s elegant resorts.

The problem arises when the owners of those private rental properties allow their guests to use their pass to the restricted village beach, increasing the number of swimmers and sunbathers there.

As Village Administrator/Clerk/Treasurer

Jessica Reilly told the Village Board recently, the village ordinance governing the beach clearly restricts its use to village and school district residents only, not out-of-town visitors, guests or family.

Those people, as several on the board pointed out, are more than welcome to make use of the Fireman’s Park beach and the fine facilities it offers.

The problem is how to enforce the village beach ordinance and reduce the congestion there without ruffling feathers, turning away visitors or discouraging local hosts.

It won’t be easy.

As Trustee Richard Sadiq pointed out, it’s a practice that’s been going on for a decade or more. Even if a way is found to enforce the ordinance, it’s sure to mean a period of adjustment and engender some resentment and hard feelings.

Many of those who rent their properties out to visitors advertise that they offer beach access, but too often that beach access they offer is on the village beach, in violation of the village ordinance, rather than at Fireman’s Park.

That practice needs to be curtailed, but it must be done thoughtfully, carefully and with proper communication.

Village and school district residents, who pay taxes to support local services such as the village beach, have a right to expect that the beach they pay for is for their use alone.

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