BY KATIE MATTESON
During the years before his death in 1973, Racine attorney and civic leader Samuel P. Myers organized local residents who supported the preservation of the inlet on the east end of 11th Street (just south of Gateway Technical College) and proposed the creation of a park there.
According to his stepson, Bill Myers of Racine, Samuel Myers loved the natural area and wanted to protect the access to Lake Michigan. He feared that a project in 1970 to expand the park land from south of 11th Street to south of 12th Street, by adding fill between the breakwater and the natural shoreline, would continue to the south along the newly installed breakwater in 1971 and lead to the development of high rises in the area that would destroy the property and block the lake views from the top of the hill.
Myers’ vision was realized posthumously when the park was established and the Common Council took action in 1974 to name it in his honor. The original development consisted of landscaping and the creation of a parking lot. A boat launch was added later. Samuel Myers Park was dedicated as a municipal park on May 19, 1984.
Over the years, the park became less usable as the accumulation of sediments decreased the depth of the water and distanced the boat launch from the water’s edge. Persistent poor water quality caused the permanent prohibition of swimming by the city’s Health Department.
The future of the park seemed bleak.
Enter Director of the City of Racine Health Department Laboratory Dr. Julie Kinzelman.
In 2009, Kinzelman and her team embarked on a four-year intensive monitoring program to determine the causes of pollution and other negative impacts to the inlet. This laid the foundation for the renovation that’s taken place during the past few years, with a park re-dedication and groundbreaking ceremony on the 30th anniversary of the original dedication of the park – May 19, 2014.
Kinzelman said during a recent interview at the park that the goals of the renovation are to: address pollution, manage invasive species, restore coastal habitat, improve site aesthetics and create recreational value.
Kinzelman summarized the progress that’s taken place so far in a report she prepared for the international judges who visited the park on July 11 for the Communities in Bloom competition:
“Multiple pollution sources were identified, a wetland delineation performed, engineering plans developed and permits secured. Modifications are improving water quality, preventing direct stormwater runoff from reaching the shoreline, increasing accessibility and enhancing aesthetics, as well as restoring coastal wetland, dune and dry prairie ecosystems in a migratory bird flyway.
“As part of the restoration process, invasive species such as Phragmites australis (common reed), Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) and other non-indigenous species are being removed. Approximately five acres of Phragmites and hundreds of pounds of garlic mustard have been removed since 2013. Over 30,000 native species have been planted since the spring of 2015. As a result, wildlife is returning, toads have multiplied and numerous shorebirds have been sighted. Sam Myers is now the #2 birding hotspot in Racine, with 35 new species seen since 2014.”
With new plantings taking hold on the dry prairie, sand dunes and wetlands, as well as part of the boardwalk in place, the new and improved park is coming to life.
Visitors are welcome to the park during renovation, but Kinzelman asks that people stay within the designated areas so that new plantings don’t get damaged.
Apart from the Health Department staff time devoted to the project, all the research, engineering, permitting, invasive species management and construction costs totaling $705,758 to date have been covered by grants and in-kind or cash donations. To date, no tax levy dollars have been utilized.
The newest addition to the park is a gazebo funded by a $35,000 donation from the Kiwanis Club of Racine, as well as an in-kind donation from A.W. Oakes & Sons for the grading, footings and slab.
Kinzelman said that she’s purchased a Mobi-Mat (similar to the blue mat on North Beach), which will be installed after the next round of construction is complete. It will give mobility-challenged individuals access to the beach.
She estimated that additional funding of $175,000 is needed to complete the project.
What’s left is the elevated boardwalk and lookout decks, ADA-compliant picnic area, and butterfly gardens along with some additional stormwater management features.
Tax-deductible donations to the project can be made through the Friends of Myers Park. Donations of time are also appreciated on designated work days organized by the Health Department and picking up litter is encouraged. For more information, call Dr. Julie Kinzelman (262-636-9501) or Adrian Koski (262-636-9571).
Once the restoration is complete, the park and inlet will surely exceed Samuel Myers expectations by restoring the natural habitat along the shoreline and healthy water quality in the inlet. Soon canoeists and kayakers will be able to launch from the shore, the inlet will become a boater’s beach and local students will have additional outdoor classroom space, while visitors to the park will enjoy bird watching, walking on the boardwalk, looking for sea glass on the beach and just plain enjoying Racine’s newest lakefront attraction, the only such amenity between Milwaukee and Chicago.