Beach restoration in Wisconsin

reduces pollution in Lake Michigan

Planting dune grasses, adding new sand, and reshaping six beaches around Wisconsin’s Door County have helped reduce polluted runoff into Lake Michigan.


Tourism is a huge part of the economy in Door County, Wis., accounting for more than $800 million in 2014 alone. In part, tourism is dependent on clean, reliable recreation: hunting, fishing, swimming, and wildlife watching. Several beaches around Door County were being closed several times in a season due to high levels of E. coli—a bacteria that can cause diarrhea and other ailments—which tended to spike after heavy rains. In an effort to reduce beach closures, prevent pollution in the lakes, and protect tourism dollars, six beaches were revitalized with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Beach pollution was largely due to a combination of stormwater runoff and too many waterfowl utilizing the beach. Funding allowed Europe-Hotz Memorial Park, Haines Park Beach, Portage Park Beach, Lakeside Park Beach, Murphy Beach, and Sand Bay Beach to be restored and now contribute even more to the Door County economy, while also preventing runoff from polluting Lake Michigan.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Polluted runoff
  • Closed beaches


Beach on the Door County Peninsula

A view of Haines Beach prior to restoration. Wet, compacted sand, pictured here, can be a perfect environment for bacteria to breed. Credit: Door County Soil and Water District.

Results and Accomplishments

On all six beaches topography was changed to slow the flow of stormwater, giving it more time to be absorbed into the ground and reducing the amount that reaches Lake Michigan. New coarser sand was delivered, too. This sand dries faster and allows more infiltration which in turn provides an environment where bacteria have a harder time surviving in it. Dune grasses planted along ridges and in swales served as a deterrent to waterfowl—they prefer open areas—while also increasing the ability of the sand to absorb stormwater. Together, these features have made the beaches a cleaner, more inviting place to visit. As a result, beach visits have increased. The health of Lake Michigan has been improved too thanks to reduced runoff.