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Carthage College fighting to hold back Lake Michigan as beach disappears

Carthage College fighting to hold back Lake Michigan as beach disappears

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KENOSHA — There aren’t many college campuses in the country — much less the Midwest — that can offer breathtaking sunrises, crashing waves and sandy beaches.

Carthage College is one of them.

“It’s a great asset,” Carthage President John R. Swallow said. “It’s part of the reason the institution was so excited to move to Kenosha.”

While no one will ever confuse Pennoyer Park with Laguna Beach, the Carthage College Board of Trustees voted unanimously in 1957 to relocate the school from landlocked Carthage, Ill., to two-thirds of a mile of beachfront property along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

For decades, students would stroll along the beach between classes before Arctic-like conditions arrived each winter.

There are still breathtaking sunrises and no shortage of waves on the Carthage campus.

The beach, however, has vastly disappeared.

According to the National Weather Service, it takes 2.3 trillion gallons of water to raise Lake Michigan by half a foot. Lake Michigan has risen nearly 1 foot per year since 2013, putting water levels at their highest mark in over three decades.

If there’s a beach at Carthage, it’s primarily underwater.

Taking necessary measures to make sure its campus isn’t next, Carthage officials recently hired a Milwaukee-area revetment company to reinforce the school’s shoreline.

The cost of the six-week project was described as “substantial,” according to Swallow.

Protection from the lake

Carthage students and staff have noticed a large barge and crane on the water, installing new granite and quartz boulders as well as repositioning old stones that are submerged.

“We’ve had unprecedented erosion because of the rise of Lake Michigan,” Swallow said. “I believe there was a significant amount of work done decades ago.

This is the beginning of another wave, and we’ll probably have to continue doing this, just as the city (of Kenosha) does, to protect us from the lakefront.”

In 2013, the center of campus had about 50 feet of beach. The only beach remaining is a small section near The Tower Residence Hall, just past the school’s sand volleyball courts.

Lentz Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, received a major renovation in 2005 with a new entryway, stairs, landscaping and Lannon stone facing. It’s basement is now below the water line.

Ted Fares, associate vice president of campus operations, said most of the school’s 3,500 linear feet of shoreline remains protected.

“There are four or five areas where we need to add stone,” Fares said. “Over the last four or five years, we’ve lost a lot of them because the lake has gone up 5 feet. Some of the shore is still standing pretty good. Some of it is in dire (condition).”

Flooding woes

In addition to its lakefront shoreline, Carthage also has the Pike River running through its campus. Recent heavy rainfall flooded parts of school, creating a second swimming pool at the Tarble Athletic and Recreation Center. There was nearly a foot of water in the building’s basement, according to Fares.

Sand bags were needed to prevent flooding in other areas of the campus. Augie Schmidt Field, the school’s baseball diamond, was partially underwater for a time. Additional rainfall flooded a campus parking lot.

“Right now, we’re dealing with a pretty bad situation at the TARC,” Fares said. “We had a lot of water come in right through the door. The sump pumps could not keep up. There was more water coming in than going out.”


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