August 19, 2002 at 4:42 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 4:12 AM
AVON LAKE, Ohio (AP) - After years of sneaking past "no trespassing" signs to watch the sunset over Lake Erie, 200 homeowners learned they share ownership of a small stretch of the rocky beach.
In all, Belmar Beach is less than an acre, owned by families on eight adjacent streets in the suburb of Avon Lake, 18 miles west of Cleveland.
"It's such a wonderful asset. If you can't move to Florida, this is the next best thing," Fran Wondrak said as her three sons and husband raked leaves Sunday and picked up sticks for bonfires.
The cleanup was organized by the revived Belmar Beach Association, which began in the 1930s and was active for about 30 years.
Over the years, residents quit using the beach as their children left home.
When James and Valerie Tanzilli moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago, they figured the "private, no trespassing" sign in front of the steps leading down to the beach meant them, too.
Bob Wondrak discreetly launched his kayak from the beach, figuring he should not be there.
The residents who did know they owned the beach were not sure what to do with it. The property had become littered with branches and other debris washed in from the lake. A few of them kept the staircase in working order and paid the small property tax bill.
This summer a few older residents organized a neighborhood meeting. About 75 people attended, and the association was reborn.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)