Digest>Archives> September 1997

Big Red Belongs to the Public


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Michigan's Holland Harbor Light
Photo by: Alice F. Sears of Woodville, OH

Not a day goes by that we don't receive letters and E-mail about the problems surrounding access to Holland, Michigan's Big Red Lighthouse.

So far all the mail, that's 100% of it, supports the public's right to access of Big Red. The local property owners disagree and have cut off access. We have never received any mail from the property owners, or Amway Corp which owns the nearby former resort. It seems that when Amway bought the resort the problems started with access.

A letter from David Harbey of Holland, Michigan, that appeared in the Holland Sentinel Newspaper says it all and we quote . . .

" Private landowners near Holland State Park have formed an association, and have decided to restrict public access to the beach twice a year. No motor vehicles will be allowed within 500 feet of the current entrance. A limited number of visitors will, instead, be allowed to walk out to the beach or the pier for one or two hour visits.

This scenario is unthinkable. First landowners would never be so presumptuous to suggest such a thing. Second, the state (state, in general terms) would never allow such infringements on the public's right of access. Finally, the people would never stand for such a thing. This claim of private property would be too outrageous, but just across the channel, public access to an important historical landmark is being restricted by private landed interests. 'Rights are privileges frequently exercised.'

'Rights unexercised are lost.'

Up to this point, the people of this city have left it to the landowners to see that it is not only the people's best interest that they allow the least restrictive equal public access to the Holland Harbor lighthouse, but it is in their own. We are all better off if we determine to live together in a democratic way, facing our problems together. The landowners on the south channel have not been so enlightened (a guard station having been constructed to keep out the good people of this city and other comers). They are aware of no incentive to do the right thing.

Private property is not an unlimited right. It is narrowly defined by law. Private property is a right granted by the State with the understanding that the owner will use his/her property in the public interest; make a home, run a business, or raise a family. Private property owners are not allowed to use their property in such a way as would be counter to the public good. Owners may not dump toxins into the water. They may not cut down trees with spotted owls in them. They may not assemble MX missiles. They may also not restrict access to the property of others.

It is the state which is charged with insuring and assuring the public's rights. Under the federal constitution, everyone has equal protection under the law. If the law provides that some people have land access to public property, and that others (with less money) only have water access to the same property, that is not equal protection.

The people should not stand for this. Demand justice from your elected leaders. Sign petitions condemning a right of way and sufficient parking on what is now private property to allow the least restrictive equal access to all, and resolve to exercise your rights to insure that they are never taken from you again."

This story appeared in the September 1997 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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