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Ah summer on the islands, gentle breezes, warm summer nights, parties and family get-togethers and it’s all just a few scant weeks away. It seems to me that hardly a day goes by here in Put-in-Bay during the summer that you don’t hear someone ask: “where’s the beach?” I usually tell them “you’re on the wrong island” or “if you like rocks have I got a beach for you”.

It is hard for many visitors coming to Put-in-Bay to believe that an island like South Bass does not have a sandy beach. And in fact it did. 50 years ago, a beautiful sand beach at the end of Delaware Ave. (the main street downtown) was the envy of the islands. There was a bathhouse and wonderful sand to play in, sun bathe or just enjoy a leisurely swim. But over the years it fell into complete disarray. No sand, no kids, no beach, no fun!

But there is hope on the way. The Put-in-Bay Garden Club! Garden club? Yes really the Garden club. It was mid summer 2009, and a garden club was just a lunchtime daydream fantasy; Some friends sitting around talking smack about annuals versus perennials thinking out loud about why it might be fun to have a garden club on South Bass. Sally Duffy, the Put-in-Bay Garden Club founder thought “hey if they’re serious I’ll put a notice in the paper”.
It turns out if you print it they will come. The next month 35 like-minded people from plant killers (like me) to master gardeners got together at The Goat Soup and Whisky Restaurant. A month later they had officers and a mission; “Beautification of Public Lands”.
Of course beach restoration was not the first thing on the clubs “to do” list, the industrious group’s first task was to take on a visible public beautification project. So they raised money and purchased heavy wire baskets for the antique light poles surrounding DeRivera Park in the center of the Village. In May of 2010, a gaggle of volunteers descended on the Park installed, planted, fertilized and watered the new pole mounted flower baskets.

So now when you visit the island this summer you may notice that the difference between “just ok” and “wow” on the streets of Put-in-Bay is really those beautiful flower baskets. It takes a lot of love and dedicated volunteers like Kelly and Marti Farris, Bob and Diane Smith, Kim Stoiber, Skip Morrison, the Leopolds, Doug and Mary Meyers, Laureen Mooney (and so many more) to keep them alive especially during a drought like we had in 2010 and 2011.
But the club did not rest on their Laurels and Petunias alone. No, they decided to do something amazing. Take on the lost Sandy Beach at the end of Delaware. In August of 2010 the club learned about the “Adopt a beach” initiative started by the Alliance for the Great Lakes (http://www.greatlakes.org/). A group of Put-in-Bay Garden Club members and interested community folks got together, funded by a small grant from Barefoot Wines, took the first step and cleaned up the beach of the accumulated flotsam and jetsam that had piled up over the past decades. Finally you could see the sand from the muck.

A garden club group led by Jody Frimel, long time summer resident and owner of the Mill Hollow Nursery in Vermilion, took this process one step further in 2011. They formulated a plan for the beaches restoration and worked with Liz Knauer to write a grant under the state of Ohio’s “Nature Works” program administered by the ODNR. (The grant for 22k was awarded to the Village of Put-in-Bay this year).
On a warm Saturday morning last July members of the garden club and the Black Swamp Conservancy converged on the Delaware Avenue beach with shovels, rakes and other implements of reconstruction including heavy equipment loaned by Put-in-Bay Investments. With “technical help” from Lee Krendl and Craig Cox, they cleaned, sifted, moved and re-graded the beach. The group removed a dilapidated chain link fence and created a new live fence with a Yucca variety known as “Adam’s Needle” and Switch Grass. They planted 45 bushes and set the course for this year’s next phase.

With the awarded grant funds “in the bank” and a master plan created by the garden club in hand, the Village of Put-in-Bay now will take on a recurring drainage problem that has caused the constant erosion of beach sand. A new swale and increased drainage will now be installed that will divert the rainwater away from the beach. Regular maintenance, a large planter, and additional plantings will be part of this year’s sandy beach upgrade spearheaded by Jody Frimel, the Village of Put-in-Bay and the Garden Club.

Sally (McMonagle) Duffy, the current president of the garden club, spent summers as a child in the cottage compound once owned by Leona Blocker, adjacent to the Delaware Avenue beach. She has fond memories of the beach, and working at the old bathhouse with Viv Ladd. Three years ago when Sally ‘got this party started’ she joked that her mom would be rolling in her grave knowing that Sally, whose best previous effort was regularly avoiding having one, had started a garden club.

You can’t help but smile seeing what they all have accomplished in just three short years. I guess it really doesn’t take a green thumb to bring a little beauty to your community, just some vision and a rake. The Put-in-Bay Garden Club continues to grow (ouch)! Special projects like the phenology garden, seminars on xeriscaping, and summer home garden tours, keeps the members planting new dreams. So this summer bring your sunscreen, shovel and bucket. They’re building sand castles again in Put-in-Bay.

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