Changes on tap for Weko Beach

The Weko Beach House in Bridgman is pictured last year. New Parks and Recreation Director Joan Guilfoyle has a number of improvements she’d like to see for the facility.

BRIDGMAN – Changes for both man and beast are coming to Weko Beach this season.

Bridgman Parks and Recreation Director Joan Guilfoyle updated the city council this week on plans for Weko Beach staffing, parking and facilities at what she called “the city’s gem.” She also proposed a new ordinance to ban dogs from the sand, in conjunction with the move of Warren Dunes State Park’s dog beach one mile south, so it no longer adjoins Weko Beach (to the north).

Beginning April 1, Warren Dunes State Park will begin enforcing the new boundary of its dog beach, which was effective Jan. 1. Violators will be subject to an $85 state park fine. In the past, Bridgman allowed visitors to access the state’s dog beach by using a path from the Weko Beach parking lot and boardwalk. Animals were never allowed on any other portion of Weko Beach.

Pointing out that current city ordinances are inconsistent regarding dogs on city property, Guilfoyle proposed a new ordinance to would ban all animals from any portion of the sand beach, either year-round or from April 1 to October 1. Domestic pets that are properly leashed or caged would be allowed in the campground, parking lots, playground, dune stairs and boardwalk of Weko Beach Park. There also would be stricter enforcement of the leash and animal waste disposal rules.

Saying he knows it will be an emotional issue, council member Rick Fuller said he thinks the other side deserves to be heard and asked that it be put on the agenda for a future meeting. At his suggestion, a committee consisting of Guilfoyle, City Manager Juan Ganum, City Attorney Sara Seneca and council member Stacy Stine was appointed to make a recommendation at the next council meeting Monday, March 18.

Mayor Vince Rose said he thinks the city should be a good neighbor to the state park and reinforce its efforts to protect the beach and neighboring woodlands for shore birds and other migratory wildlife. Council members Jan Trapani and Sarah Buist said they think the rule should be in effect year-round, and Stine said she thinks communication of the new rule will be crucial, though time is not on the city’s side.

At the meeting it also was pointed out that the city has a dog area at its Toth Park, and dog beaches are still going to be available at another site at Warren Dunes, plus at Grand Mere State Park.

Guilfoyle also talked about plans to upgrade the facilties at Weko Beach.

“I don’t want the city to be embarrassed by the condition of its (Weko Beach area) buildings. It’s the gem of the city,” she said. 

Guilfoyle wants to improve the Beach House, including the Sunset Room to increase rental income and public use; upgrading the menu and hours in the café area; air conditioning the upper level; organizing the lower level for office usage and possible meeting room rental; working on the ranger station to transition to visitor contact station, and assessing the cabins and campground buildings for future upgrades.

Said Mayor Rose, “If we start charging higher fees for rental, we need to offer more professional surroundings. We’ll get our money back through word of mouth. A little money now will go a long way.” 

Goals in the staffing area include: hiring a greater diversity of ages and experience for the beach staff; creating teams for maintenance, beach house and visitor assistance rangers; improving training; creating uniforms for a more visible, authoritative presence, and implementing clear-cut policies and supervision.

Guilfoyle said she will continue working to improve the traffic flow, parking and enforcement, noting that 34 new spots had been created last season by restriping the parking lot.

The new parks director said she wants to make sure local folks feel like the Weko Park is theirs and wants to make it easily accessible for them. She also wants to make rentals at the campgrounds more flexible, so there is more turnover in the people who visit Bridgman, with one way being through an online reservation system. The need to inventory and assess equipment and vehicles was mentioned and also the hope to do a community visioning study for Toth and Legion Parks.

Guilfoyle said she has been coming to the area since she was 8-years-old, and has been a full-time resident of the area since 2016. She had a 35-year career with the federal government, working mostly for the Department of Interior in parks and land management.