The sheer number of inland lakes in Michigan is something that sets us apart from many other states, and it seems that everywhere you turn there is another lake. But what if a particular turn takes you down a public road that ends at the water’s edge of one of those lakes? You may ask yourself what rights you or the public in general have, if any, to access or otherwise use that area where the road ends.
In 2012, the Michigan Legislature answered that question by enacting what is commonly known as the Michigan Public Road Ends at Lake Law. The new Law is codified at MCL 324.30111b, and through negative implication it provides not just the rights of the public but also penalties for violating the restrictions set forth therein.
In particular, the Law states, in pertinent part, that a public road end shall not be used for: (a) the construction or use of boat hoists or anchorage devices; (b) the mooring or docking of a vessel between midnight and sunrise; and (c) any activity that obstructs ingress to or egress from the inland lake or stream. Nevertheless, the Law does allow a single seasonal public dock or wharf to be constructed so long as it is authorized by the local unit of government. For persons who violate these restrictions, the Law makes such violation a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
There are however a few limitations to the Law. First, the Law does not apply if the road is private or if the user has a recorded easement or other right expressly granting access to the lake. Second, the Law only applies to inland lakes or streams, which essentially just means that it does not apply to any of the Great Lakes. Finally, on its face, the Law does not prohibit lounging, sunbathing, picnicking, or camping – subject to the prohibition on obstructing ingress and egress.
Significantly, the Law also recognizes the need to protect the rights of neighboring property owners who may live next to one of these public road ends. Specifically, the Law states that it does not prohibit a person (or agency) from commencing a civil action against an individual for violating the restrictions of the Law. This is an especially important provision for those neighboring property owners who may be negatively affected by someone acting in violation of the Law. If you are dealing with a situation involving a public road ending at a lake, whether as a neighboring property owner or member of the public, the attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have the knowledge and experience to help protect your rights.