Leelanau News and Events

Construction Coming On Esch And Bohemian Roads (Both Popular Beach Access Routes); More Summer Road Project News

By Emily Tyra | March 17, 2021

Here’s a quick rundown on roadwork for the summer ahead, including projects impacting two well-traveled routes to Lake Michigan.

First up, County Road 610 (Esch Road), three miles south of Empire, will be getting a much-needed overhaul this summer. The stretch of Esch Road between M-22 and the lake that provides direct access to Otter Creek Beach (a.k.a. Esch Beach) within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL) will be closed for the duration.

Scott Tucker, superintendent of SBDNL, explains most roads within the lakeshore are managed and maintained by either the Benzie County Road Commission (BCRC) or Leelanau County Road Commission (LCRC). The National Lakeshore partnered with BCRC to secure a Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) grant for this project.

But because it is partially federally funded, says BCRC Manager Matt Skeels, bids for the project will be let through Michigan Department of Transportation [MDOT] in Lansing — rather than by the county — and the start and stop dates are yet to be coordinated. He adds, “our goal is to avoid construction during the peak summer season.”

Beachgoers should plan to seek an alternate destination during construction.

Skeels says, “As there are no residents or businesses on the road, we plan to close the road completely during construction, with Aral Road (both North and South) being closed at Esch as well. This will save public funds and shorten the construction time.”

The project entails removing and replacing the soil under the current road, repaving and widening to accommodate 4-foot paved shoulders, and creating some additional parking spaces at the west end.

Those familiar with Esch Beach know the roadway has fallen into disrepair, and may have noted this particular stretch of the lakeshore was in heavy use last summer. Based on stats from the park service’s road counters, the number of beach visits are way up, says Tucker. “Especially those beaches down in the southern half of the park — Esch Beach, Peterson Beach, and Lake Michigan Road Beach.” Tucker adds that that the beach’s off-road parking is on National Park Service (fedaral) land. “The parking has been a deferred maintenance project for us, and we hope that we have a fee project with visitor fees to do work on the parking at Esch Beach within the next couple of years.”

County Road 669 (South Bohemian Road) from M-22 to Lake Michigan was fully closed for much of last summer to allow for the replacement of the dated culvert under 669 (Shalda Creek Crossing) and reconstruction of the roadway leading to Good Harbor Beach, Shalda Creek, and the Good Harbor Bay Trail. That project also utilized a FLAP grant, to allow the community access to federal lands.

This summer South Bohemian Road between M-22 and the lake will be resurfaced but — a blessing for beachgoers — it will offer one-way traffic with flaggers operating either end. The resurfacing is funded through a Cleveland Township/LCRC partnership, says Brendan Mullane, managing director of the LCRC. “It is slated for August at this time, but it will be moved up to May if weather and scheduling permits.”

Here, check out a map of all Leelanau County paving projects on deck this 2021 season. Among the biggest is the 21.65 miles of chip seal with fog — predominantly on roads south of Big Glen Lake (County Roads 667, 616 and 677). This work would start around mid-June, weather depending, says Mullane. “We will be notifying the public through Facebook and our website as the schedule gets more concrete.”

James Lake, MDOT’s North region communications representative, says the department is continuing to respond to high water issues and resulting repairs along the coastal areas of the county. Those may need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis this year — but there is no other construction planned for Leelanau’s state-owned roads (the “M” roads – M-22, M-72 and M-204). “We had some major work last summer both on M-72 and M-204 [the $1.7 million historic bridge restoration over the Lake Leelanau Narrows] so it will be a little bit quieter on the MDOT side.”

For many in the county — and across the region — a harbinger of spring is the first windows-down spin on scenic Pierce Stocking Drive. Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent at SBDNL, says dependent on weather, snowmelt, windfalls, and sand movement it will be open to car traffic mid-May.

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