Lake Erie takes huge bite out of Linwood Park beach in Vermilion; residents seek erosion control

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A seaside community that has hosted generations of families from northern Ohio is losing one of its longstanding residents: the beach.

As Lake Erie reaches a record high water level, leaders of Linwood Park in Vermilion say their summertime haven has sustained a severe loss of sand.

Now, they are waiting for regulatory approvals needed to build three new breakwaters to protect the shoreline from more erosion.

And maybe bring back about 1,000 feet of beach.

“It’s a nice little community,” said Fred Galovich, president of the Linwood Park Co. “It’s all encased right here, and the beach is our greatest asset.

“We lose our beach, we’ve basically lost our crown jewel.”

Addressing the problem

Galovich credited the work of fellow Beach Committee members Gere Flick and John Waggoner.

The Beach Committee began working on a solution to shoreline erosion in summer 2017, although the effects in spring 2019 are the most dramatic.

They have hired Elyria engineering firm KS Associates Inc. to complete the needed studies and paperwork for permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Coastal Management.

The Linwood Park board is seeking to remove existing concrete modules that are in the water and build three new breakwaters off shore.

The new structures would be rocky mounds similar in style to those in the water at Lorain’s Lakeview Park.

If approved, construction could happen in 2020, although an exact date is not set.

The project cost is not final, but Linwood Park Co. would pay for it and is not seeking public tax dollars, just permission.

“We want to save our beach; it’s on us,” Galovich said.

A grandfather of seven who first came to Linwood Park in 1974, Galovich said he wants young families in the future to experience what his family had.

Linwood Park

Linwood Park started in 1884 as vacation resort area.

Now, most of its 150 cottages are rentals, although 25 percent to 30 percent are permanent residences, Galovich said.

The summer season runs from the first Friday in June to Labor Day.

Although Linwood Park is a gated community, the public is welcome to visit, especially for the July 4 parade.

The park has a Tabernacle for worship.

The Store at Linwood features arts and crafts for sale.

The Stand serves as the de facto town hall, a gathering place where residents meet and talk over breakfast, lunch or penny candy.

“The Stand is the focal point of Linwood,” Galovich said. “This is where everybody basically gathers.”

“Mostly because there’s ice cream in there,” said Matt Crase, now in his 17th season as park superintendent.

In a recent tour, Galovich and Crase apologized for strolling through a game of catch as a family tossed a ball in front of one of the cottages.

It is typical of what happens in Linwood Park in the summer.

“This place is a history of memories,” Crase said. “And they’re simple memories. They’re just a fun time, throwing a ball on the road, burying my cousin in the sand; little things like that.”

Shoreline protection

There are historical and natural factors contributing to the current problem, said Sandy Prentice, president of the Linwood Park Cottage Owners Association.

For decades, the beach was a pocket beach protected between piers at the mouth of the Vermilion River on the west and the pier of the former Crystal Beach Park on the east.

Storms would cause the sand to move back and forth between the structures, but it never escaped, said Prentice, 67, a Linwood Park visitor since age 5.

But the shoreline has been changing for years as well.

Crystal Shores closed, its lands were sold and the amusement park rides went up for auction in 1962.

That pier was abandoned, Prentice said, so the beach lost its protection on the east.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map of Vermilion Harbor notes the breakwalls at the mouth of the Vermilion River were “areas of rehabilitation completed 1964.”

That western pier dramatically changed the ebb and flow of sand for the Lagoons and Linwood Park, Prentice said.

It created a flow that helps sand move west, but not east, he said.

In 1986, the Linwood Park cottage owners put concrete modules in the water to form cribs that would catch sand.

The structures, about 12 feet long and up to 8 feet tall, look like highway dividers, only larger, Prentice said.

But the modules don’t block waves when Lake Erie rises above them, he said.

The wave energy that reaches the shoreline is proportional to the depth of the water, meaning deeper water leads to more wave power hitting the beach, causing even more erosion, said Mark P. Cencer, director of coastal engineering services for KS Associates Inc.

Prentice described walking his dogs on the beach in March.

Since then, spring 2019 has had significant wave action from winds out of the northeast.

“I guess I’ll use the word, attack, from Mother Nature,” Prentice said. “There is functionally no beach for 1,000 feet. It’s just gone.”

Finding support

The Linwood Park leaders said the community has a larger effect in Vermilion because residents, cottage renters and their guests become part of the city’s seasonal economy.

Mayor Jim Forthofer agreed.

Forthofer has written a letter of support for the park.

Vermilion, a town of about 10,500 people, “swells to three times its size during the warm weather months,” he wrote.

The city has 3,000 boat docks and an estimated 7,000 recreational watercraft visiting each summer, the mayor said.

“The breakwall installation at Linwood contributes to the city-wide waterfront business called Vermilion,” Forthofer wrote. “The breakwall’s protection of our beach at Linwood adds an important piece to our appeal as a lakeside destination.

“Its completion cannot come quickly enough.”