Torch Lake quiet after judge bans sandbar party

John L. Russell
Special to The Detroit News

Rapid City — Calm returned to Torch Lake this holiday weekend, after a massive party on a sandbar was banned by a judge and police beefed up patrols.

One year after law enforcement made 166 arrests and citations and responded to 62 medical calls, locals reported fewer problems over the Independence Day weekend.

“It looks like sanity has returned to the sandbar this year,” said Jeff Layer, who voluntarily cleans the sandbar at the south end of Torch Lake, which is about 17 miles northeast of Traverse City in northern Michigan.

“We can enjoy the lake again without being visually assaulted by debris. The lake is clean. We had a large crowd on the sandbar (over the weekend) with few problems”

Following an outcry from residents, Kalkaska County Circuit Judge George Mertz declared the party a nuisance and banned it for five years. He ruled it violated Clearwater Township’s zoning ordinance, along with the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act and the Marine Safety Act.

In a lawsuit filed by the Torch Lake Protection Alliance, Mertz issued a default judgment prohibiting three defendants from holding parties on the sandbar in the future without adequate measures in place to control sanitation, noise, waste and security issues.

Party promoter Brooks Ehlert of Saginaw joined with and Beatbox Beverages to sponsor the 2015 July 4 event that drew about 10,000 people.

Instead, the group hosted this year’s event on another sandbar, farther south in Wixom Lake near Midland from Saturday to Monday. The event’s Facebook page stated it would be “three days of non-stop fun and partying with music.”

Ehlert could not be reached for comment. In other media stories, he promised the Wixom Lake event would be different. Planned for a part of the lake known as Pontoon Alley, Ehlert the party only would be accessible by boat and accommodate about 1,000 people.

Midland County sheriff’s officials couldn’t be reached for comment Monday evening.

Back on Torch Lake, marine patrols from Antrim and Kalkaska counties, along with state law enforcement kept trouble at bay.

“It’s been great this year,” said Greg Payne, president of the Torch lake Preservation Alliance, a group formed in 1994 to provide a unified voice in regard to the preservation of Torch Lake.

Torch Lake business owner Paul Fabiano described it as “just another typical weekend.”

“It just happens to fall on a three-day national holiday,” said Fabiano of Fabiano’s On The River, a popular grocery and gas store just south of the mouth of the river near Torch Lake

John Russell is a writer and photojournalist in Traverse City.