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      Grab a buck if you're heading to the beach

      Village officials approved parking fees for visitors heading to Empire Beach along the Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore.

      Anyone planning on visiting Empire Beach this summer will have to pay for parking.

      Village officials decided Tuesday night to stand by a decision they made in April approving a parking fee at the beach.

      The village decided money needs to be raised to address growing traffic issues at the beach. They approved a dollar per hour parking fee which will go toward beach patrols and maintenance.

      Earlier in May, the township received a petition with more than 300 signatures from people in northern Michigan against the plan. Because of that, council members decided to get more feedback before making the decision final.

      Tuesday night, a petition with nearly 200 Empire residents?? signatures was given to the council in support of the parking fee plans.

      ??It does seem to me that there ought to be a way to get some of the folks that use the beach to contribute toward the expense,?? said Mel Laracey of Empire. ??We're just lucky to live here and to be able to enjoy it and to have little problems like how to deal with so many people that want to enjoy the beauty.??

      Business owners aren't so sure it's a good idea. With an eight week window for many of them to make their yearly budgets, any changes to traffic flow could have a big impact on their sales.

      ??I think it will impede our business in a negative fashion,?? said Beryl Skrocki, owner of Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak. ??We have to teeniest, shortest, fastest season. People will go elsewhere. People won't be able to run into Deerings. They won't be able to run into Friendly's, or into our shop.??

      Skrocki said the hourly charge will impact locals the most.

      ??It may be a nominal fee to people from Detroit or Chicago, but not the people within a 30 mile radius,?? said Skrocki.

      Many community members said the added fee won't deter people from coming and that the rate is reasonable.

      ??I don't think it'll scare anybody away. If it does there'll be somebody else who's willing to pay that dollar an hour,?? said Laracey.

      Proponents of the idea say the fee will encourage carpooling and ridesharing, cutting back on the environmental impact to the beach.

      The parking fees will go into effect as soon as township officials iron out all the details. They hope to have everything in place in the next few weeks.

      Skrocki was disappointed the decision was made so soon. ??Let's not plan on doing this at the end of May when we're all gearing up for two weeks when we think people are going to start coming.??