Harboring a little peace

Posted on May 17, 2011


I’ve been holding out on you. I spent a morning wandering around the Elk Rapids Harbor the day the first and second boats went into their slips. There’s always a lot of work to be done in spring to get ready for the season, but there was no sense of hurry on a perfect morning. Just people tending to things they know how to do well. Easing the boats in. Making this little repair and that on the docks. Fishing. And off beyond the fishing platforms, the Dam Beach waited for summer.

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The Dam Beach has its own spot in the hearts of everyone who grew up in Elk Rapids. It has the distinction of being the local beach, as opposed to the tourist beaches. It’s simple. There are no amenities beyond a couple of picnic tables. Walk there in your flipflops, spread a towel on the sand, eat your sandwich. Then of course you have to wait an hour before you can go in. Make a sand castle while you wait. Persuade your mother the hour is up. OK, well, you can go in to wade, but you can’t actually swim for another 15 minutes. Run down to the shore and splash in up to your knees. Shriek because it’s cold. Laugh because it’s wonderful. Splash your brother. It must be time now. Hold your nose and plunge all the way in. It’s summer.

There was a move awhile ago to gild the lily. Add paved parking and restrooms and walkways. I don’t know what-all. People were incensed. They rose up in a mighty wave and said NO!!!! The went to meetings and appeared in parades wearing shirts that said Save the Dam Beach. They have, for the moment, prevailed.

There is a lot of history in this spot. Old wooden pilings reach out into the Bay, marking the place where the steamers used to dock. First they came bringing commerce and carrying away the products of industry. Later they brought the first tourists. Traces of the industrial past remain, beginning with the dam itself. Off in the distance, the harbor fills with the pleasure boats that bring summer visitors these days. In front of you the Bay sparkles, or tosses, depending. Beyond it Old Mission Peninsula reaches north into the Big Lake. The lake itself seems eternal. And you have your place in the great sweep, sitting here on the sand where you have planted yourself.