INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in a landmark decision that Lake Michigan’s shoreline is open to all, and adjacent property owners can’t exercise exclusive control of the beach between their homes and the water.
The 4-0 ruling Wednesday sets the ordinary high water mark as the boundary between the state-owned land under Lake Michigan and the interests of private property owners, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported. The high water mark is defined as the line on the shore created by the fluctuations of water.
The ruling settled a longstanding dispute with Don and Bobbie Gunderson, who alleged the deed to their lake-adjacent property showed it extending to the water’s edge, regardless of where the water’s edge is at any given time. Their attorney argued that landowners have the right to limit who uses the beaches abutting their properties.
Justice Mark Massa said the land extending from that line and continuing into and under the water of Lake Michigan was granted to Indiana at statehood, and has continuously been held in trust for residents since 1816. Individuals are entitled to access the water for navigation, commerce or fishing.
The high court also ruled that at a minimum, walking on the beach is a protected public use. But the justices also said it’s up to the General Assembly to decide whether to enact “any enlargement of public rights on the beaches of Lake Michigan.”
The ruling could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.