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Best Great Lakes Beaches article from Chicago Tribune



In case you didn't see it, this is from Sunday's Chicago Tribune
magazine.
Thank you Sabina Shaikh for bringing the article to our attention

 <http://www.chicagotribune.com/> chicagotribune.com

http://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/chi-070415beachessolomon-story,1,463386

1.story?coll=chi-homepagetravel-hed 

A Great Lake
The best of the Midwest's sandy shores
By Alan Solomon
Tribune staff reporter

April 14, 2007

Michele Kuder talks about the Indiana beach she loves. "I grew up
here,
before it was national lakeshore," she says. "You've got beautiful sand
and
really nice dunes, a couple of cliffy-looking things, a bunch of rocks.
"

Glenn Stutzky has been coming to his favorite beach in Michigan for 20
years. "It's kind of like a little secret tucked away here," he says.
"A
little gem."

Jason Martens is still dripping as he talks about a Wisconsin beach
unlike
any other. "Great beach. The stones, the clear water . . . "

Lake Michigan is ringed with beaches. It's not a solid ring. In some
places,
towns and docks and power plants and factories and marinas get in the
way;
in others, nature had other things in mind.

In some--Chicago and Milwaukee come to mind--great cities claimed
waterfront
for commercial use. But in both Chicago and Milwaukee, thanks to
visionaries, we still have beaches.

It's possible to circumnavigate Lake Michigan, the largest lake wholly
within the United States, by car and never be more than an hour or so
from a
place where sand--or, at the very least, sloping shoreline--meets
fresh
water and endures what passes here for surf.

What's surprising is how different beaches that share this body of
water can
be from one another. What's even more surprising is how startlingly
beautiful they can be, and not just at sunrise or sunset or while
we're
under the influence of freshly melted s'mores.

"It's gorgeous," says Rita Wagner, who collects fees at Michigan's
Ludington
State Park. "We had a lady here from New Jersey, and she says, 'I've
never
seen anything like this. I'm going here now instead of going to the
ocean.'
We have the best beaches."

Which are the best of the best? For many of you, the best is the beach
your
folks took you to and the one you take your kids to now, or the one by
the
cottage built by your grandparents.

For the rest of us: "Everybody's looking for something different," says
Ryan
Koepke, information clerk at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, near
Michigan
City. "Families, they want lifeguards. Younger people want more quiet
beaches--or they want the more active beaches. Some people want to see
the
scenery. They want to see the dunes.

So here's an assortment, one writer's opinion of the best on Lake
Michigan,
perfect beaches to share with your kids, or with that someone you like
a lot
or to enjoy alone with your thoughts on a cool November morning.

Al's Top Five. OVAL BEACH, Saugatuck, Mich.

Everything anyone could ask of a beach for the masses: manageable
size,
lifeguards, sugar sand, barrier dunes, clean water, good concessions
and a
bonus:

"There's tons of trails here that people can hike," says Beth Robinson,
who
operates the beach's concession stand. "If the weather's not great,
they can
still hike through the sand dunes."

There's also plenty of parking, though it still isn't enough on some
summer
weekends. That's when locals head for the relative solitude of nearby
Douglas Beach and Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

Somehow, even at peak times, Oval is a beach that retains a reasonable
naturalness and sanity while accommodating crowds drawn to the area by
the
charms of Saugatuck and Douglas Beach.

LUDINGTON STATE PARK

Ludington, Mich.

Here's what Ryan Koepke, of Indiana Dunes, says of Ludington: "It's
gorgeous. It blows this place [Indiana Dunes] away."

The park is 7 miles of beach, all of it backed by dunes, some of them
enormous. Most of the dunes are in turn backed by forest; if you can't
find
solitude here, you're too glued to your cell phone.

You enter the park and drive 3 miles between dunes. Over the dunes on
the
left is free beach. There's roadside parking. Past the pay station is a
lot
for 125 cars, concessions and restrooms and the beginning of even more
dramatic beach.

Even on the busiest days, says park supervisor Dan Flaherty, "If
you're
willing to hike up the shoreline a way, there's some very remote
sections."
All are as pristine as a 21st Century Michigan beach can get.

"Our job," says Flaherty, "is to keep it that way."

ESCH ROAD BEACH

Near Empire, Mich.

If this lake has a beach that challenges the ones in Hawaii or Mexico,
this
is it: sugar sand in what resembles a broad mountain cove, with those
"mountains" covered with what could pass--if you don't look too
closely--as
tropical jungle.

It's an illusion, of course, though a glorious one. The largest
mountains
are the massive Empire Bluffs, and high, forested dunes ring the cove.

There's a flaw: This is a popular beach for fires, and pits of dormant
coals
mar much of the beach near the entry area. There is also a sign
reminding
visitors that Michigan doesn't like nudity on its beaches, which
suggests
nudity here sometimes happens; whether that's a flaw depends on you.

Limited parking. Primitive toilets.

POINT BEACH STATE FOREST

Near Two Rivers, Wis.

Whitefish Dunes without the mobs: nice sand, nice dunes, not entirely
wild
(there's a playground by a picnic area) but largely unpopulated for
considerable stretches. Also, unlike sections of Whitefish, the
beachside
dunes aren't off-limits.

"People can walk on them," says superintendent Guy Willman. "We just
ask
them to tread lightly, because the plants are so sensitive."

Serious naturalists will appreciate the unusual ridges and the mix of
trees--hemlock, balsam fir, red pine--more typical to the North Woods
but
happy here in this shoreline microclimate. Good parking and a
lighthouse
that's off-limits but photogenic.

NORTH AVENUE BEACH

Chicago

Most of Chicago's beaches, north and south of Buckingham Fountain,
have
their constituencies and sub-constituencies--racial, cultural,
sexual-preferential, whatever. You can't deny that Oak Street Beach,
within
walking distance of the Drake Hotel, Bloomingdale's and California
Pizza
Kitchen (and with an often spectacular constituency), is a wow.

But no beach better represents the marvelous mix that is Chicago than
the
beach at North Avenue. It's diverse in every way: Footballs coexist
with
volleyballs, soccer balls and Frisbees, and it's remarkably clean and
full
of life. The bonus: Like Oak Street Beach, a look in any direction but
east
assures you you're in the greatest of Midwestern cities. Plenty of
concessions, restrooms; limited parking.

...and the best of the rest

IINDIANA DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE, Near Michigan City, Ind.

Miles of beach, some with names and certain characteristics: Lakeview
is
nice for families, Central is one of the rare public-beach areas that
invites your dog to swim along. Plus there are dunes trails and
quality
exhibits and programs we've come to expect from the National Park
Service.

It's very crowded on summer weekends. Two million come here annually,
mostly
in summer; another million come to the adjacent state park.

"Summer's always fun," says Koepke, who grew up in the shadow of the
park's
famous dune, 123-foot-high Mt. Baldy, "but I like the fall too. Much
less
crowded, and if the wind is right and the lake is right, you can still
have
warm lake temperatures."

One downside: Michigan City's huge shoreline power plant, well to the
east
but a lurking presence nonetheless. Another: Parking on a summer Sunday
can
be gone well before church lets out.

SOUTH BEACH,

South Haven, Mich.

With St. Joseph's Silver Beach and City Beach in Grand Haven (and its
state
park next door), this is one of three exceptional town beaches on a
75-mile
stretch of Michigan shoreline. All feature great sand, lifeguards,
playgrounds and unique lighthouses that provide character to those
family
photos.

Which to choose depends on where you stay. St. Joe and South Haven
have
longer traditions of tourism than Grand Haven, which is still
transitioning.

What elevates South Beach are the dunes south of the pier that shield
the
beach from the residential area, providing at least an illusion of
being
away from lawns and SUVs. Street parking is where you can find it.

P. J. HOFFMASTER STATE PARK

Near Grand Haven, Mich.

Rarely crowded, this is a dazzling beach with wonderful dunes that's
relatively little known in a region full of more popular destinations.

"It reminds me of Sleeping Bear," says Glenn Stutzky, an instructor in
social work at Michigan State. "It's just a little slice of that."

It's also much like nearby Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Key difference:
While
the Saugatuck Dunes beach can be a 20-minute hike on a forest path
with
challenging slopes, Hoffmaster is a breeze.

CHARLES MEARS STATE PARK

Pentwater, Mich.

Smaller than some of Michigan's other state beaches--the "private"
signs
come up kind of fast--this nonetheless is a charmer that combines the
convenience of a town beach, including easy parking, with hints of the
rawness of the dunes-bordered stretches. It helps that even the
obligatory
campground is tucked behind the dunes and trees.

The family necessities--concessions, toilets, picnic tables, the
rest--are
handy. Even better, the jewel that is Pentwater's Hancock Street is
just a
couple of blocks away.

NORDHOUSE DUNES WILDERNESS

Near Manistee, Mich.

There's more of the same amazing beach that brings people to Ludington
State
Park. This is Ludington with far less traffic congestion but a little
less
ease of access.

The parking lot, large and largely empty on a weekday visit, is about
150
yards from the beginning of the sand, and the slope down the first dune
is
just steep enough to discourage a run back to the car for supplies.

But if solitude is what you want, or a magical sunset far from the
distractions of civilization, this is a blessed option.

PLATTE RIVER POINT

Near Honor, Mich.

This, within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is where
Michigan's
Platte River enters Lake Michigan. On one side of the river the beach
is a
mix of sand and stones. Those multicolored stones bring collectors.

Wade across the river and through the low, grassy dunes, and the sand
softens into the more familiar stuff. It's like two separate beaches
divided
by a shallow stream that warms nicely.

"On a clear day," says Chuck Retallick, attendant for parking lot at
the
site, "North and South Manitou [Islands] are visible out there. Just a
beautiful, beautiful corner."

Plus it's a prime spot to see Great Lakes piping plovers, an
endangered
species.

FISHERMAN'S ISLAND STATE PARK

Charlevoix, Mich.

More interesting than the wholly adequate, kid-friendly but
unsurprising
Lake Michigan Beach near town, this one begins with an end-of-the-road
patch
of sand popular with hunters of Petoskey stones, fossilized coral that,
when
polished, is used for jewelry and other keepsakes.

The romance of that part of the beach is compromised by the cement
plant
that hovers nearby. But a drive or hike into the wooded campground
area
reveals tent and camper sites backing almost to the water--unusual in
these
parts--and a beach that's generally more rocky than sandy but
nonetheless
pleasant.

Toward road's end is a parking lot and facilities. Not for everyone.

PETOSKEY STATE PARK

Near Petoskey, Mich.

Last of the big-dunes beaches on this shore, this is a full-service
beach--toilets, concessions, playground, parking--that has everything
but a
sense of wilderness.

Appropriately, this is another area scanned for Petoskey stones,
especially
in damp weather.

"When it's raining," explains a veteran hunter, "you can spot 'em right
off
the bat." When it isn't raining, you have to somehow wash off the dust
to
spot the telltale markings.

The sand's OK but a little stony. In general, Petoskey isn't as subdued
as
Harbor Springs' sweet but clubby-feeling town beaches north of here.

LAKE MICHIGAN RECREATION AREA, Near Brevort, Mich.

U.S. Highway 2 west of the Mackinac Bridge glides along the bottom of
the
Upper Peninsula. Beyond Epoufette, the Hiawatha National Forest
includes
stretches of beach that rival the first few miles of Ludington State
Park
for raw beauty. Here and there, big dunes make their own natural
statement.

As most travelers are content to pass by on the way to or from the
bridge
and Mackinac ferries, there's an opportunity to have this one to
yourself.
Not much in the way of help to the beach, aside from a few welcome
step-structures. Roadside parking until the west gate, where there's a
lot,
toilets and camp facilities.

SCHOOLHOUSE BEACH

Washington Island, Wis.

A compact, pretty beach on the island's north shore that's special
primarily
because, instead of sand, it's covered with smooth stones the size of
small
potatoes. Which doesn't keep people from spreading out a towel and
sunbathing.

Hurt? "A little bit," concedes Tiffany Sodergren of Chicago. "You have
to
find your right spot."

Kids can't make castles, but instead they amuse themselves by throwing
the
stones into the water. (No charge for that; pocketing a stone, on the
other
hand, is a $250 fine.) The stone-covered shallows also keep the water
impossibly clear. Some parking, a raft to swim to, and that's about it.
It's
a popular bicycle destination on this bike-happy retreat off the Door
Peninsula.

WHITEFISH DUNES STATE PARK

Near Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

Door County's preeminent beach: 3 miles of sand and Michigan-quality
dunes,
backed by woods and terrific hiking trails that relieve some of the
pressure
generated by summer crowds.

Large as it is and near-natural as it is and remote as it is from the
county's resorts, restaurants and shopping, in high season there's no
chance
of finding solitude here. This is, first and foremost, a family beach,
with
everything that brings, and that's great if you're a family.

But in spring and fall, when the only other intruders may be the
occasional
hiker or sketch artist, and in winter, if you're properly outfitted,
this is
a treasure for those seeking quiet inspiration. Ample parking,
restrooms.

KOHLER-ANDRAE STATE PARK

Near Sheboygan, Wis.

It's about half the length of nearby Point Beach and capacity-strained
on
summer weekends. But this is the southernmost significant expanse of
well-duned beach on the Wisconsin side of the lake, and it's truly
beautiful.

Sadly, water quality has become an issue here. The beach had to be
closed to
swimming nine days last summer, vs. four for Point Beach, and many
other
days the water tested out "poor" though tolerable for most swimmers.

"We have a couple of rivers that come out just to the north of us,"
says Jim
Buchholz, park superintendent. "But we have never had anybody come back
and
say, 'Hey, I got sick from your park.' " 

Copyright C 2007, Chicago Tribune <http://www.chicagotribune.com/>  




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