Journey moves state park’s historic building out of harms way

After months of planning, Orchard Beach State Park’s historic shelter building now sits a safe 230 feet back from the eroding Lake Michigan shoreline. The necessary, winding, 1,200-foot journey through this popular park in Manistee, Michigan, wasn’t swift; the entire move took 23 hours over three days, from Thursday, Dec. 10, to Saturday, Dec. 12.

For more than 70 years, the building sat perched high atop a bluff overlooking the Great Lake. However, high water and wave action have made the bluff unstable, requiring that the 850-ton building be relocated within the park to preserve its story, protect public safety and keep the building open for future recreation.

“The DNR proudly preserves and protects both natural and cultural assets,” said Ron Olson, chief of the Parks and Recreation Division within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Investing in this important place is an investment in the story of Michigan and preserves the memories of those who have enjoyed this iconic destination.”

Efforts to stabilize the bluff to protect the building have been in development since 2017. However, ongoing erosion at the toe of the bluff, compounded by rising water levels, and the sloughing of the high, steep slope put the future use and existence of the building at risk.

“I’m proud and excited that this community and the state joined together to save this historic building,” said Doug Barry, unit manager for Orchard Beach State Park. “So many families have held events here over the years because of the unique charm of this park shelter. Now its legacy can continue for many generations into the future.”

The building now will serve as the centerpiece for the 200-acre park’s revitalized day-use area, offering improved accessibility for shelter visitors and, eventually, a new playground.

Park and area history
Orchard Beach was first opened and operated by the Manistee, Filer City and Eastlake Railway Company in 1892. After World War I, when the trolley line ended service to the park, the Manistee Board of Commerce purchased the parcel. The board, in turn, deeded the property to the state in 1921 so Orchard Beach would become part of Michigan’s new state parks system.

Included on the National Register of Historic Places, Orchard Beach State Park is home to buildings designed by Ernest F. Hartwick and built by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC spent several years building the structure, which was completed in 1947. Orchard Beach – and the DNR – will celebrate a centennial anniversary in 2021, along with the successful effort to improve the site and preserve history for future generations.

Orchard Beach State Park is at 2064 N. Lakeshore Road in Manistee. The park entrance is located on M-110, 1 ½ miles north of U.S. 31. The park will remain closed to the public, likely through spring, to complete site investment including restoring the campground along the building’s travel path, a redesign of the park’s stormwater management system to minimize further erosion, and accessibility improvements at the shelter’s new location.

Project stats
The project cost $3.6 million for the engineering study, design and construction to move the building and protect it for the future.

The building followed a 1,200-foot route to complete the move and now sits 230 feet from the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Project partners
Hallack Contracting Inc. (Hart, Michigan).
Wolfe House & Building Movers, LLC (Bennville, Pennsylvania).
GEI Consultants (Lansing and Marquette, Michigan, offices).

Project factors and highlights
Data collection and studies began in 2017. It became clear from early evaluations of existing conditions, causes, historical rate of erosion, etc., that the accelerated shoreline erosion was placing several buildings and underground infrastructure at risk. These features, including underground utilities, stairs to the beach and the shelter building, need to be protected so the DNR can continue operating the Orchard Beach State Park campground and day-use amenities. The stairs, closed for more than a year, will remain closed until water levels recede.

Lake Michigan water levels naturally fluctuate from periods of high water to periods of low water; storm frequency and magnitude are other influencing factors. Protection of the park’s features against these natural forces must be carefully considered against what is known as a “managed retreat,” where the most appropriate, cost-effective options have been weighed and decisions are made in the interest of long-term protection and preservation of those amenities.

High water has created the need to stabilize shorelines and historic structures around Michigan, including upcoming work at nearby Big and Little Sable lighthouses. As waters recede statewide, the DNR likely will uncover other necessary infrastructure repairs in public parks, trails and waterways.