Exploring our inland waters: What’s your favorite?

By Linda Alice Dewey
Sun contributor

Everyone here has a favorite Lake Michigan beach. But what about those smaller lakes that dot our woods and meadows, or the creeks and rivers meandering through our woodlands? Which inland waters are preferred by locals who have lived in the area for a long time?

One of the most well-liked spots is no surprise — Glen Lake. On any fair day you’ll see boats of all kinds on the water. According to Carol McCahill, whose family owns On the Narrows Marina, one of the most popular current sports is wakeboarding, where you ride the wake behind a powerboat on a surfboard.

Glen Arbor residents Karen Van Nort and Carrie Ballou (the latter also of Williamston) enjoy kayaking on Glen Lake. “I’ve paddled [an ocean kayak] from the old Little Glen swim area through the mouth of the Crystal River up to the old Crystal River Marina,” says Ballou. “Although quite choppy in the middle of Big Glen, it was a fun adventure.”

A lot of folks love to gather on Little Glen in the evening, says McCahill. “Little Glen is shallower, and there’s a big sand bar there that goes way out where people anchor and watch the sunset.”

Forget the boats, some say. “The ultimate lazy thing to do,” shares Glen Arbor resident Bonnie Withee, “is float in Little Glen in a noodle chair on a hot day while gabbing with friends who are also in noodle chairs!”

Bonnie Gonzales likes to “water walk” in chest high water. The resistance gives good core exercise, she explains. At the same time, you are light on your feet. Although Little Glen, where Gonzales lives each summer, is too shallow, Big Glen isn’t. Gonzales begins at the access road directly across the street from La Becàsse in Burdickville. That section of Glen Lake is best, she says, because the bottom is even and sandy — no big rocks!

Canoe fishing on Bass Lake (the one by the ‘Centennial Barn’) is terrific, says Ballou, who also likes more quiet areas. Likewise, Glen Arbor’s Ron Smith prefers Shalda Creek by Good Harbor Bay.

Many cite North Bar Lake as their favorite. The surrounding low dunes allow space for visitors to spread their towels and enjoy the views. Nancy Janulis of Chicago, who summers in Glen Arbor, enjoys “[s]wimming out from the shallow shore into the deep water … Also, the stark contrast in water temperature when going between Lake Michigan and Bar Lake.”

North Bar Lake holds a key place in Ella Skrocki’s heart. “It’s pristine, calm, warm … Going back in the further corners of the lake, [you see] fun wildlife — beavers, otters, big turtles — swimming around with you as you paddle around.” Skrocki, whose family owns Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in Empire, feels that knowing the darker history of the lake augments the experience.

Ella’s mom, Beryl Skrocki, loves North Bar as well. “It’s fun when you go to that far end and there’s lots of beaver dams, and you feel like — even though there’s a zillion people around there — you feel kind of alone. It’s kind of strange.”

Those of us who have been here for a long time might have heard that no one could find the bottom of Bar Lake. What a thrill to swim across without knowing how deep was the lake below. “When I was a kid,” recalls Empire Heritage Museum’s Dave Taghon, “I remember hearing there was no bottom to North Bar; but in reality the US Geological Survey estimates it at about 8 meters or 26 feet from what I can find. Deepest seems to be the north end and then [it] tapers off to the south. I have seen some BIG catfish come out of there (up to 28 inches).”

And then there’s the channel (or “outlet”) that connects North Bar to Lake Michigan. In years when it’s deeper, it affords warmer early season swimming than most rivers and lakes. During shallow times, it’s the perfect place to skim board along the edge and for toddlers to play. (Beryl reports that the channel this year is not as deep as it was a year ago.)

South Bar Lake isn’t too shabby either. Accessed at the Empire Beach park, northeast of the swings, this little beach area features water play equipment for the little ones. But adults like Empire’s Kelly Harris appreciate it, too. Harris’s dogs always accompany her. “We like the people,” she says, “especially the children. I like that I can park near where I like to sit. We always walk on the ‘big water’ side all the way from the lighthouse down to the end of the park and back, then we go swim at South Barr. It is nice and warm, and the waves don’t upset the dogs…[E]veryone is usually so accommodating…”

Kayaking or canoeing the Crystal, or putting in at Crystal Harbor and going the other direction — across Fisher Lake toward Glen Lake — make for a lovely afternoon. “Ever since I can remember, I have always loved to get as close to the front of the boat as possible when entering the Fisher Lakes [from Glen Lake],” shares Gonzales. “I’ve always been fascinated by the clarity of the water and how the weeds look below the surface as it gets deeper and deeper. If it wasn’t illegal, I’d lay right down on my stomach across the front of [brother Jack Hegwood’s] pontoon, just to get a closer look.”

Don’t forget the smaller lakes, encourages Beryl Skrocki. “There’s Otter Lake, Bass Lake, Little Deer Lake — that’s a teeny tiny little lake. You have to get out of your car, go down the road …” (She pauses, unsure of the name of the road — perhaps Trails End?) “Go down,” she resumes. “To the right is Otter Lake. Go down a little farther. To the left is Bass Lake and Deer Lake. They’re all just really sweet little lakes. Frank [husband Frank Skrocki] and I have taken our paddleboards and paddled around. It’s real quiet there.”

Venture a little farther south, suggests Harris. “My favorite thing in the world to do is float my body in Platte River. I have never done the whole river, we just go down to the mouth and float down to Lake Michigan, and then crawl back up, let go and float back down again and again. It is fast, and people are so friendly. I love to take the dogs there, too.”

And so,
There are great inland waterways
Right out your door.
Summer’s here! Go ahead!
Get out and explore.