Leelanau X-Files: Split Rail Reality at South Beach in Leland

In Here today, gone tomorrow in the Record-Eagle, Patti Brandt Burgess tells the confusing tale of a split-rail fence that appeared at Leland’s South Beach on public property early Thursday morning and was gone as mysteriously as it came by Saturday morning.

The Leelanau Sheriff’s Department has stated that they do not have a request to investigate this incident, so if you  are concerned & would like to see an investigation, contact Leelanau Road Commission Chairman Robert Joyce 231-271-3993 or by emailing lcrc@leelanaucountyroads.org & Leland Township Supervisor Susan Och by email at lelandoch@gmail.com. There’s also a thread on our Facebook page with a lot of discussion, and if you’re a Leland Township resident, there’s a township recreational plan survey that you might want to take.

I (Andrew McFarlane) would like to add a disclaimer that I’m quoted in the article. I am also quite passionately invested in preserving the beach that I’ve known for nearly fifty years as Christmas Tree Beach from the ridiculous antics of a couple of local individuals who clearly have more money than sense and are part of a broader effort to deny access to Michigan’s Great Lakes shoreline. I’ve pulled out some of the more eye-popping highlights, but this is very much an article to read in full!!

Leelanau X-Files: Split Rail Reality at South Beach in LelandLeland Township Supervisor Susan Och does not know who built the fence, but has a hunch. She speculated that whoever did is likely the same person or people who took it down.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who put it up realized they made a big mistake,” said Och, noting that township emergency personnel were very upset about the fence.

The fence could have prevented EMS workers from reaching the beach and, if needed, getting someone out on a stretcher, she said. “Impeding emergency personnel from doing their job can get someone in very big trouble,” Och said.

…The fence was placed on the 60-foot-wide Reynolds Street road end, which is considered Leelanau County property and is under the jurisdiction of the Leelanau County Road Commission. The road end has long been used as a public beach known to locals as South Beach, with the township placing signs, trashcans and water rings there.

“I disagree with what they did,” Fletcher said of the fence-builders. “That’s a public beach and I think it should be available to people who want to go down there.”

But the Road Commission has said the road end allows for public ingress and egress to the water for people with kayaks or canoes, but should not be used as a public beach.

Leelanau X-Files: Split Rail Reality at South Beach in LelandThe properties abutting the road end on either side are owned by the Janko family on the north and the Joyes family on the south. Alexander Janko, who lives in the home year-round, has been in a dispute with the township for several years over what he sees as the township’s inaction regarding beach-goers who trespass on his property, vandalize it and hold drunken parties at night. Janko’s parents, Bela and Abigail Janko, live there in the summer.

The dispute has been exacerbated by high water levels that are taking beaches all over the Great Lakes region. This year Janko would not allow the township to put sand from its annual dredging of the harbor on his property.

The Save Our Shoreline (SOS) organization that works to preserve riparian rights also weighed in on the issue about six months ago, threatening to take legal action against the township for designating the road end as a public beach. They were armed with an online petition from 54 property owners along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the township.

The township has since removed the trashcans and some of the signs there, but left the water rings for safety reasons, Och said.

McFarlane said he has been using South Beach since the early 1970s. He is outraged by what he sees as efforts by SOS and other groups to restrict a citizen’s lawful right to public bodies of water.

“I feel this is a part of a much larger effort to deny people access to Lake Michigan,” he said. “To me it’s really difficult to know that the township is being legally strong-armed.”

But in another twist, Och said the township received a letter from attorney Dustin Ordway, who represents the Jankos and the Joyes.

“He claims the road was never properly platted, therefore is not a real road and his clients own the land,” Och said.

The township did a title search, she said, with township attorney Robert Parker reporting that while it’s unclear who owns the road, it is clear that the Janko and Joyes properties both end at the edge of the road.

Och said the township has been advised that it may want to make a case for “prescriptive easement,” which says that when one party uses another’s land in the same manner for a certain number of years, they can make a claim to it. In Michigan the bar is 15 years.

Read on for more at the Record-Eagle you’re a Leland Township resident or visitor, please take the Leland Township Recreation Questionnaire, which will be used as a foundation to update its five-year Parks and Recreation Plan.

On a humorous note, could this be a real photo from right before the fence disappeared??

Leelanau X-Files: Split Rail Reality at South Beach in Leland