Graham Kilmer
MKE County

McKinley Beach Will Open for Summer

After drownings, beach has been closed since 2020.

By - Apr 23rd, 2024 08:23 pm

McKinley Beach. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

McKinley Beach will open this summer for the first time since 2020.

Milwaukee County Parks plans to put the finishing touches on a beach reconstruction project that should make it safer for swimmers. The beach was closed in 2020 after a series of drownings.

A study of the water conditions there found that record-high water levels were creating conditions ripe for rip currents. The Milwaukee County Board reviewed a handful of options for reengineering the beach, but eventually provided funding to bring in tons of new sand to fill in the swimming area and return it to its original depths.

The crescent moon beach, bookended by large stone breakwaters, was built in 1989 with water depths between the breakwaters and the shore of approximately two feet. Sand had been washing ashore on currents running alongside Government Pier, which juts out into the lake south of McKinley Beach, creating conditions for a new beach. The stone jetties that protect the beach from erosion also protect N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, which elbows out towards the lake as it loops around Back Bay Park.

But these jetties have also contributed to the dangerous rip currents at the beach. In 2020, the depths around the breakwater reached as high as 6 feet deep. This developed a column of water with its energy concentrated at the narrow opening of the stone structures, creating conditions for dangerous currents, according to a bathymetric study by the engineering firm SEH.

To fix the beach, contractors had to bring in approximately 11,600 cubic yards of sand to fill in the beach. The sand has been added to the beach, the swimming area and even out past the breakwater. In the future, to keep an eye on water depths and conditions, parks plans to have periodic bathometric surveys conducted, said Sarah Toomsen, assistant director of planning.

“The bulk of the work is completed,” Toomsen told Urban Milwaukee. “We will be regrading, evaluating the site, given that winter has taken place and we’ve had a lot of weather.”

The department expects that work to be finished in May and in time for the beach to open for Memorial Day weekend, Toomsen said.

“The parks department is as thrilled as anyone in Milwaukee about the reopening of this beach,” she said.

McKinley Beach April 2024

June 2023 Construction Photos

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

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