Graham Kilmer
MKE County

McKinley Beach Reconstruction Starts Next Week

Original water depths will be restored to beach after string of fatal drownings.

By - Jun 17th, 2023 12:55 pm

McKinley Beach. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Work begins next week on the reconstruction of McKinley Beach.

Following a series of fatal drownings in 2020, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors commissioned a study of the water conditions at the beach. The study concluded that a combination of the beach’s design and the record high water levels in 2020 were contributing to dangerous swim conditions, namely the creation of rip currents running away from the beach and between the breakwaters that traverse the crescent moon beach.

McKinley Beach was built in 1989 on a patch of shoreline that had become a deposit for lake sand brought ashore by currents running parallel to Government Pier, which envelops and protects McKinley marina and was built in the early 20th century. The beach and its breakwaters offer protection to Lincoln Memorial Drive, which bows out toward the lake in that area as it wraps around Back Bay Park.

At the time of its construction, McKinley Beach had water depths of approximately two feet. After years of erosion, the water there at times has been recorded as deeper than six feet. The greater depth means a larger column of water and therefore more energy for the creation of rip currents. Supervisors heard a number of options for rebuilding the beach, but ultimately opted for a plan that will see many tons of sand brought in to refill the beach and bring it back to its original depth.

Sarah Toomsen, planning and development manager, told supervisors Friday that the department is moving forward with a version of this project that it believes will be sustainable over time. The department plans to implement a system for tracking the water depths through surveys at various times going forward. “So that hopefully, we don’t run into a scenario again, where we have scour holes, extreme depths, and then when we have high water events or large wage wave activity at the beach that are unsafe conditions.”

Sand will be brought in and pushed and grated out away from the beach past even the breakwaters. This will create a gradual drop-off. Though once out beyond the breakwater there will be a significant drop-off where the grading ends, because, as Toomsen said, “Lake Michigan is quite deep when you get not too far past the breakwaters.” The reconstruction is expected to take four to eight weeks, Toomsen said.

Parks has opted not to pursue a water conditions warning system for the beach. Toomsen said the department was advised that there are too many disparate factors that contribute to the water conditions there and a system like that could lead to a false sense of security for some swimmers.

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

One thought on “MKE County: McKinley Beach Reconstruction Starts Next Week”

  1. mkwagner says:

    While it is called Lake, Michigan is actually an inland sea. As such, it is affected by the phases of the moon. There are high and low tides as well as the dangerous rip tides that have taken many lives including my brother-in-law who was an experienced and strong swimmer. As a community located on the Lake Michigan, we need to do more to educate people about the dangers of this glorious asset.

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