Finally, Girls to the Beach

Published: June 15th 2018
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Platte River Campground, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Honor, Michigan

When I think of a ‘Seashore’ or a ‘Lakeshore’ what immediately comes to mind is a sandy beach. We’ve been fortunate in our travels to see lots of them in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and California. On this trip, we’ve been on another beach on Lake Michigan, at Indiana Dunes down at the southern tip of the lake. But here we were on the last day of our stay at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and we had yet to actually walk the sands of the beach. So that’s what we did yesterday. We also realized that we hadn’t been able to spend much time with the girls, so decided to take them with us.

There was a small, maybe half-mile section of the beach just down the main highway from our campground that was identified as dog-friendly, and since we hadn’t actually spent time on the beach yet, we drove the short distance out there with the girls just to spend a couple of hours there with them. After reaching the main road, we drove up about a mile and then down Peterson Road, a tree-covered dirt road that went on for maybe two miles before it opened up to a small parking lot at the sand dunes. A boardwalk took us across to the beach. There were a few other people there, but the dog section of the beach was empty.

Joan and I took off our shoes and walked slowly at the edge of the water. The water was definitely cold - park rangers said it was about 50 degrees. That will certainly cool you off on a hot day, but spend too much time in it and you could easily start to suffer hypothermia. There were two hearty souls who ventured into the water, but most everyone was doing what we were - playing at the edge.

The day was perfect, with air temps in the low 70s and a powder blue sky dotted with some high clouds. The sand was fine and squished through my toes. The breeze was just enough to blow the bugs away. It was a terrific day.

And the girls loved it. Our dogs have two distinct personalities. Fleur loves the sand and enjoys rolling in it over and over. She also digs in it, emerging with sand all over her nose and eyebrows. Unfortunately she also likes to run in it and does so with such vigor that, the next day, her leg hurts and she’s limping. Smoochie is our bathing suit princess and loves to get into the water way up to her short little ankles. Sometimes an unexpected wave will douse her entire body, but she doesn’t seem to mind a whole lot. We usually have some wiping down on her to get rid of all the sand.

After an hour or so playing on the half-mile section of the beach, Joan and I sat down and just looked out over the vast blueness of the lake. We are still very overwhelmed by the size of these lakes - these just aren’t lakes by any normal definition. They behave, and are used, like oceans, but are fresh water. That is just an amazing fact to us. We sat there trying to absorb it all in.

After a while, we got up and took the girls back home. They didn’t need much but truly appreciated the time spent with us, as well as a chance to explore the beach. Back at the trailer, we settled in for a nap, After getting up, it was shower time, and that was followed by a taco salad dinner.

I finished The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan last night and heartily recommend the book if you have any interest in this region or in stories of ecology. The book lays out the ecological disasters that have plagued these waters, starting with the invasion of non-native species. The first big invasion was the quagga mussels which, we are pretty sure, came in the ballast holds of Asian freighters after we opened up the St. Lawrence Seaway, and connected the lakes with shipping-channel-size locks and canals. Although gravity, and water flowing downhill would have generally protected the lakes from foreign plants and animals, the problem seems to have been the ballast water that ships brought inward and then discharged into the lakes to take on freight loads.

There were several waves of foreign species, but the most significant disaster was the quagga mussels from Asia. They now populate the bottom of the lakes by the billions and are responsible for the unnatural transparency of the water. Joan and I have been amazed at how clear the water is, but that is not necessarily a good thing because it means that the plankton have been removed from the food chain. That has had a seriously damaging effect on lake life, completely destroying the original fish stocks. The author points out that the problem could have been prevented entirely if we had just closed the St. Lawrence seaway to ocean - going vessels. It is estimated that there are now less than two of them per day and that we could have spent a small amount of money to load and unload that volume of shipping onto trucks or railroads. Instead, though, we have spent billions of dollars trying to fight these mussels. They are now moving through the lake system of the entire country by attaching themselves to the bottoms of pleasure boats which are then taken out of the Great Lakes and used in lakes all over the rest of the country. Mussel problems are now emerging in lake systems throughout the country, bringing down healthy fish populations because the mussels are eating up the bottom of the food chain. The cost in fighting these mussels has been enormously more than the value of the international shipping gained - another case of how shortsighted capitalism is.

The other hole in the isolated eco-system that used to be the Great Lakes, is the Chicago canal which, by reversing the Chicago river, has actually allowed non-native fish, especially Asian carp, to enter the lakes by coming up the Mississippi River basin. That is happening now and has resulted in another deadly blow to the traditional fishing opportunities in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes ecology is changing and will never be what it used to be.

The long-range message here is that we should really pay more attention to what we do to our environment and investigate what the impacts are likely to be before we make big changes, like opening up the Great Lakes to the ocean, or try to change the flow of rivers. We may not like the unintended effects.

We are leaving Sleeping Bear Dunes today, headed north into a new set of adventures. it has been a terrific park and we will miss it.

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Towards Sleeping Bear Dunes

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