GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Haven State Park beach was back open Tuesday after multiple fights forced police to close the beach and south pier for several hours on Independence Day.
“The last three years is when this started happening,” said Pat Zoeller, whose camper was parked near the area where the fights broke out. “Three years ago, I was down further on the beach and it happened behind my trailer down there.”
In 2017, police in Grand Haven tightened security after a beach brawl involving upwards of 300 people broke out the day before Independence Day. Officials added extra rangers from other local parks, additional Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and deputies from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office to patrol the beach. In 2019, Grand Haven police shut down the pier after a large fight broke out. Police used pepper spray to break up the crowd.
Andrew Lundborg with the DNR estimates several hundred people were crowded on the beach when the fights broke out Monday. He said conservation officers witnessed at least two fights. Police arrested one person on an assault charge. They say to their knowledge, no one was seriously hurt.
Though alcohol is banned at the state park, DNR officers say they believe it played a large role in the fights.
“It was disappointing but I think it was expected on our part to see that because we go through this each year here,” said Jason Wolters, who was vacationing with family at the state park. “They do smuggle alcohol onto the beach (and) the smell of marijuana was very prevalent on the beach. You take those two factors and you got trouble.”
“I kind of gave up on the Fourth of July because of what goes on,” Zoeller said. “You want to say, ‘Kids, have a good time,’ but (they should be) doing the regular things on the beach like we used to do.”
Police say though they meet with city leaders and organizers before every event, they will be debriefing in the days to come to see if there are any improvements that can be made to prevent violence at other large events like the upcoming Coast Guard Festival. Coast Guard Festival organizers say they don’t anticipate any problems and plan to have the appropriate security in place over the course of the 10-day event.
The city says while alcohol seemed to be a problem on the beach Monday, it doesn’t anticipate any changes to social zones in nearby downtown.
“The events that took place at the State Park and Pier have no correlation to the function of our Social District. The State Park and Grand Haven Department of Public Safety have long experienced similar problems at the beach during peak high traffic events; long before the social district was enacted,” Interim City Manager Ashley Latsch said in a statement. “The Department of Public Safety received a variety of calls downtown on the Fourth of July, but none of the calls were related to Social District alcohol sales. The Social District will remain open during Coast Guard Festival and GHDPS will cautiously evaluate it daily.”