Lake & Water Quality
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5 Ideas for Getting Closer to the Water While Preserving Your Shoreline

Life's not always a Beach

By Jake Tenor
Published: April 1, 2007
Most people like a beach. The firm, comfortable sand for spreading out a blanket. Water lapping at your toes. But more and more, we’re hearing about how important a natural shoreline is. The native plants in the water and at water’s edge prevent erosion by buffeting wave action. Such a shoreline filters pollutants from runoff, thus keeping the water cleaner (and helps prevent algae blooms). It offers food and habitat for land and water animals, from cute little chipmunks to songbirds to fish.

Native plants have deep, sturdy root systems that hold soil in place and help stabilize slopes.

So how can you let the native plants take over and have a beach too?

If you have the right kind of soil, you can establish a small beach (ideally no more than half your shoreline). Select a site that requires minimal alteration. (Adding sand can damage or smother nearshore habitat.)

Look for areas along your shoreline with the following features:

• Firm sand with less than six inches of silt.

• A gentle slope of less than 10 feet horizontal distance per each foot of vertical drop.

• A location away from significant fish and wildlife habitat.

• No springs or flowing water.

Can’t meet the above parameters? Well, sometimes a beach just is not possible. But don’t despair.

That’s when it’s time to look for alternatives. And there are alternatives. (We cabin-ites are a crafty lot.)

Consider these ideas for creating a space where you can maximize your fun near the water.

1. If there’s no good area for a swimming beach, consider a swim platform anchored off shore.

2. To protect fragile shorelines from foot traffic, start your dock up on land. Build it off the ground so that plants can grow underneath, protecting the shore from erosion. (This is also good for mucky or rocky shorelines.)

3. Docks aren’t just for mooring your boats. They can serve as reading spots, gathering places, lunch spots, etc. Different shapes and configurations can separate wet activities from dry, and motor sports from quiet pursuits. You can enjoy the sights and sounds of the lake perched on your dock as easily as from a beach. Just take care that your dock installation does not disturb any more of the lake bottom and shoreline than necessary.

4. Who needs a beach for getting in and out of the water when you have a dock with ladder or stairs? Stairs are easier to use than a ladder for young and elderly, but remember non-slip treads.

5. Use a pontoon boat to extend the dock’s gathering space. This is really low-impact on the lake bottom. And it provides additional hiding space for fish. The point is: You don’t need 100 feet of clean beach sand to enjoy your lake or river. Your shoreline and lake will thank you.

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