This type of morning reminds me of downtown Manistee on a weekday morning with Monica, from years ago when we used to do such things. The sun, the cool breeze, the gulls flying everywhere (well, we don't have as many gulls as Manistee).
We began going to Manistee, and the west coast of this great state of ours, when we were first married. We spent many nights at the Lake Michigan campground, in the Manistee National Forest.
Situated right on the Lake Michigan dunes halfway between Manistee and Ludington, this campground has 99 sites in four circular loops, a parking area for day trippers, and flush toilets. The sites are separated from each other so that you don't have to smell your neighbor's b.o. like most state park campgrounds we've experienced. There are trees and ferns and a small berm between you and the big lake. You can't see the lake from the campground, but all night you can hear the calming swoosh, swoooooosh, swosh of the waves on the sand. We would get up and take a brisk bath (with Coghlan's biodegradable soap) in the cool refreshing waters, and have our devotions with a cup of campfire coffee (full of sticks and ashes - and better than ANY cup of office coffee I've ever had) at our site table. We'd spend the day on the beach, or driving around exploring, or window shopping, or looking at houses and dreaming of living THAT close to the big lake - all while we were in absolutely no hurry whatsoever.
Sometimes we'd drive to one of the three public beaches in Manistee to spend the day. Each had its own beauty and amenities, and I have wonderful memories from each.
The First Street beach is on the south side of where the Manistee river empties into Lake Michigan. You take First Street west out of downtown and end up at Douglas Park, with a huge boat launch area, fish station, ample parking for your boat trailer, several picnic shelters, a large gathering building, a huge lion who has posed for generations of photos, and two piers. The southern one is the big one; there are two sections and leads to the Manistee light, which has a storied history. The northern pier, along the river, is much shorter and straighter, and has a little warning light at the end. Between the two piers is a calm beach, and you can bring your dog there.
(I see in a recent photo that the concession/band stand that served coffee and hot dogs is no longer where it used to sit, west of the boat launch and across the road from the fish station. The owner/proprietor was always hanging around outside telling stories, and on one fine summer day, he provided Moni and me with a free organ with foot pedals that worked...thankful for the Ford Ranger that day I can tell you. More on that story in another post.)
South of the big pier, is the big beach, with a parking lot, some playground equipment, and a bath house with toilets that always smelled of urine (in spite of the large, jet-like fans always blowing, which cause you to have to yell, if you need to talk to the person in the stall next to you).
The farther south you venture (away from the piers), the larger the waves get. And the farther you go out into the Lake, the deeper the water gets.
Across the road from this parking lot is the Lakeshore Motel (lakeshoremotelmanistee.com), where pets are welcome and you can watch the beautiful sunsets from your front porch. No room amenities whatsoever, other than the proximity to and the views of that beautiful Lake.
If you follow the loop southward, there is a new fenced in pet area at the southern apex, then tennis courts and softball diamonds as you head back towards First Street.
Moni and I used to play tennis there, with our jug of water, and my pack of Marlboros. That was over twenty years ago! We played tennis....together! wow
I also took a small group of alternative ed kids there when I taught in Big Rapids, to study the aquifer structure in the area, and to play football at Douglas Park.
And when I coached baseball in Onekama, we always dropped the girls softball team (who we shared the bus with) off at the diamonds, when we played Manistee Catholic Central.
ON the north side of the Manistee River is 5th Avenue Beach. This area has undergone many changes over the years - including the development of the immediate surroundings into a condo/townhouse community. As you drive through the quaint marine-themed cottages and condos, you enter the public beach area from the north. The first parking lot is the biggest one; the beach here is huge and has recently updated bath house/concessions and play equipment. There are also two tennis courts that always had tons of sand on them, but I fondly remember several sets of fun there with my bride.
Just past the courts as you're heading south, you come to 5th Avenue and the River. Immediately ahead is the new Coast Guard station. If you turn left, you're on a short dead end with three houses on it, one of which we coveted for several years. It ended up being sold, and last I knew it was a rental.
If you turn right, you can get to another parking lot even closer to the Big Lake, but again, you're near the pier and so there are no big waves. And the big waves - in my ever so humble opinion - are one of the compelling factors of this area, darnitall.
The third public beach is one you find if you take 31 north out of Manistee and immediately turn left on 110 (at the Burger King). Lakeshore Road, as it is called there, takes you north past Orchard Beach State Park (stories about this campground will definitely follow) and goes all the way up to Onekama. A couple miles north of 31 though, with Bar Lake on the right, all of a sudden the trees give way and you are gifted with a beautiful view of Lake Michigan on your left, with about 200 feet of lake-shore sand available for your pure Michigan pleasure. The shoulder on the west side of the road is a little wider than normal, and you can park right there, walk forty feet or so and be up to your ankles in cool big lake water! No signs, no rules (we had Sierra with us several times here), just four park benches and a port-a-john. Brilliant!
In the coming months I will endeavour to sort through photos from our different excursions and share them here. I am thankful for an adventuresome wife, and the time and resources to be able to visit different places in this great state of ours.
Blessed be God forever!