MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — Marathon Swimmer Michelle Rogalski entered Muskegon Lake early Wednesday morning at the Grand Trunk property located on Lakeshore Drive in the City of Muskegon’s Lakeside Neighborhood.
She exited the lake at the same location in the afternoon after completing a ten-mile swim to get an up-close look at several restorations sites all around the lake.
"I heard that the water was too contaminated to swim in," Michelle Rogalski said. "Obviously the water is clean enough now to swim in."
The starting and ending point of the long-distance swimming tour is a site that decades ago was knows as an illegal dumping site.
That practice came to an end after a group of community member organized annual Grand Trunk clean-up days starting in 1990.
"That first year there was a dozen of us and we hauled out 3,000 pounds of garbage," said Mark Evans. "There were huge pieces of trash, 55-gallon drums, and car parts."
After three-decade the effort has transformed the Grand Trunk property. Now native plants cover the Muskegon Lake shoreline at the property making it more inviting not only for fish, birds, and wildlife but people too.
"I was down here a few days ago and there were 11 people fishing right on this shoreline," Evans said.
"The community should utilize this treasure we have in our own back yards," Rogalski added.
Her swim swim was an effort to raise awareness of the environmental restoration work that's being done to improve Muskegon Lake. The swim also raised money to support the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership (MLWP), a grassroots community group working to improve not only Muskegon Lake but other waterways that connect to the lake.
Kathy Evans, environmental program manager for the West Michigan Regional Shoreline Development Commission says Muskegon Lake restoration efforts in recent years have been working towards getting the federal Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) to remove the lake from the "areas of concern" list.
"That would be a huge celebration for our community," she said.
The larger restoration projects have been paid for by the federal government with money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. In 2018 those funds paid to remove 100-million tons of sawmill debris from the lake's bottom.
Other smaller efforts have been organized and paid for by the MLWP, community groups, and citizens.
Four big restoration projects still need to be completed before the lake can be considered for de-listing.
Kathy Evans says those project are on schedule to finish in 2021.
"The coastline looks completely different." Rogalski said. "Come and swim, bring your boat, your fishing rod, and enjoy the water. We really need to make sure the public has access to the lake."
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