It finally happened. The famous Dr. Beach acknowledged that the Great Lakes have great beaches worth mentioning. What made him do it?
"Years and years of being battered by all the people who were from the Great Lakes," said Stephen Leatherman, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. "I get hundreds of emails every year from people claiming that I don't know there are beaches on the Great Lakes."
For years, he resisted because his expertise was ocean beaches. But finally, when even colleagues from the Great Lakes started needling him at conferences about why his influential annual Dr. Beach ranking of top 10 U.S. beaches excluded the Great Lakes, he changed his mind.
Announced this month, his list of the top five Great Lakes beaches names Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore beaches No. 1. The area was praised for its "variety of beaches with fine to grainy sand and clean, clear water."
Sleeping Bear's gorgeous sand helped it win, Leatherman said.
To evaluate freshwater beaches, he got advice from Erin Dreelin, associate director for the Center for Water Sciences at Michigan State University. She helped him come up with slightly different evaluation criteria for Great Lakes beaches than what is used for ocean beaches.
He obviously did not need categories for jellyfish or sharks — more important were water quality and beach safety. Beaches were evaluated on things like whether they had tar balls, trash or litter. They were rated on beach width, sand quality in and out of the water, beach slope (how quickly it drops off), if they had been closed for algae or E. coli. They were checked for their surroundings (shore breaks, near a dump or nuclear power station) and safety (rip currents, drownings, pickpockets, swimmers' itch cases), among other things.
Sleeping Bear gets 1.1 million visitors a year, many of them there for the giant sand dunes and panoramic views.
These are the other beaches in Dr. Beach's Great Lakes list:
2. Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie in Erie, Pa. It has 13 swimming areas on a seven-mile stretch of "a naturally occurring sand spit" that lend themselves to water activities.
3. Lake Superior's Sand Point Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It was complimented for its water — "crystal clear and surprisingly emerald green in shallow water areas." It has multiple beaches with water usually too chilly for all but the heartiest of swimmers.
4. Bayfield Main Beach on Lake Huron in Bayfield, Ontario. It is 11/2 hours north of the Blue Water Bridge. Although "the sandy beach grades into cobbles offshore," the ranking said, "there are amenities close to the beach, and crowds are never a concern."
5. Oak Street Beach on Lake Michigan in Chicago. This popular Lake Michigan beach has good, fine sand and also "provides stunning views of the historic architecture of Chicago and Lake Michigan."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun