Have you ever had one of those days when you feel that life is overwhelming and you simply need a quiet open space?
I’ve had more than my share in the last couple of years and even a short time away from “it all” is the best plan. I leave my lists on the table or desk, taping my future plans on the wall to look at later when my mind is clear and focused on what I know I can truly finish, or at least get my head into starting the work toward accomplishing something, anything.
When I was young, my mother started giving us a break from life with what she referred to as a “Beach Day.”
Mostly, I think it was her way of helping us cope with life’s difficulties and to give us a day of escape. We’d pack up a picnic, beach blankets and towels, grab a book and head out.
There is a simple calmness to walking up to a beach and through the warm sand heading toward the water.
If you watch people when they arrive at a beach, they usually spend the first few minutes staring out at the water and the horizon. Many people will first walk to the waters edge before they set up their seating arrangement.
I believe this is our way of saying hello to the water. The pull of the waters energy is part of our spirit base and needs to be recognized.
There is a sound barrier on beaches. I cannot tell you the scientific reasons behind the phenomenon, but I can tell you that the meditative quality of the sound of waves splashing on the shore, the feel of wind swirling around your body in the warm sun and the smell of the entire life force will lull anyone to sleep.
Living along the Third Coast of the Great Lakes is a blessing only those who live near can understand. The idea of such a large body of water in the midst of prime farm land and forests is unimaginable for those not personally involved with our part of the earth.
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you some of the great open spaces we are privy to here in the great north waterways. I won’t go into stories of the shores of our neighbors across the pond in the state of Michigan, they are as lucky as we are here in Wisconsin. Truth be told, I think they are a bit luckier because their shores are lined more heavily with sand and we are gifted with stones. However, if one is a rock collector, the western side is a treasure chest of sparkling joy!
The southern edge of Wisconsin is a geographically lower land area in the path of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Southport park and the prairie just south of the park are being watched closely and a great deal of money has been spent to combat the rising water levels and erosion. Even so, there are areas that are too late to save. I suggest seeing this now and note that we are dangerously close to changing the shape of the state of Wisconsin.
Midway through town is Eichelman Park. I think of this as our beach, mine, my families and childhood friends. We spent nearly every summer day at this beach and I believe as many times that we braved the waves before and after storms, we are lucky that we all survived to tell the stories. Lake Michigan has a strong undertow along most of the western shore and the waves can reach over 25 feet high.
My favorite beach in Kenosha is on the north side. On one side hwy 32 is the Pike River that drains into the lake on the south end of the beach. The beach across the road is Alford Park. I know very little about this park except that the beach is long and usually deserted. I think it isn’t popular because of the large rock content. It’s not fun to run on or lie down for a snooze, but it is quiet in its spiteful way of being so close to a highway.
In Racine you will find North Beach. Aptly named for being on the north side of the downtown area, and connected to what we used to call “The Zoo Beach”, although I believe it is all one park. It is a lovely long beach to stroll or lounge on. At the bottom of a bluff, it is relatively quiet and distanced from city noise, but it has become increasingly popular as a hangout. But still, it is a large beach with a rolling hill to the west where one can gaze dreamily at the waters and drifting clouds.
I’ll skip by some of the smaller parks and beaches because really, we Wisconsinites are graciously lucky to have more park along the lake than a lot of states probably have in their entire system. If you are eligible to travel to our great state, first I suggest that you read my blog, then I suggest taking a week long driving tour along our coast all the way though to the U.P.
On in to Milwaukee county. Grant park is one of the most rustic beaches in Wisconsin. It used to be much larger but again, the rising waters have reclaimed most of the northern edge. We used to be able to walk all the way to 7 Bridges but now the water level has reached well above the walkway and even where the water is low enough to wade through, tree’s have fallen and so the hike can be a precarious one. Again, strong undertow here can make swimming a negative experience. Besides, who wants to get hit by a falling tree while trying to navigate through 25 foot waves?
On the east side of Milwaukee is a long stretch of park. Starting across the lagoon from the Summerfest grounds you’ll find a man made Island dedicated to the state park system. Lakeshore State Park offers a nice walk through preserved prairie and powerful views of the lake and lighthouse.
Walking past the art museum you’ll pass through Veterans Park and a lovely lagoon with paddle boat rentals and a lot of joggers, walkers and bicyclists. Just beyond you will come to McKinley Park that is split in two by Lincoln Memorial Drive. There is a gentle (usually low wave heights) beach frequented by families with small children. Walking a bit further on you’ll come to the rocky beach known for a dog lovers play land. This is the only beach I know of in Milwaukee that allows dogs to run free.
The next beach you will hear before you see it. It has become the place to be all summer long for everyone between the age of 10 and 25, with a few stragglers in search of a cheeseburger and frozen custard from the stand.
The parking lots are always full, even on cold rainy days. On a sunny day, the beach is standing room only. They have put in a line of volleyball courts and what appears to be a beverage stand. I’ve not gotten close enough to this beach to find out if they serve alcohol or simply cold beverages. What I can tell you is that Bradford beach seems about half the size it was 10 years ago and that isn’t including the addition of volleyball nets. This is not a place for quiet contemplation unless you visit in the winter. (It is definitely a cool place to see in winter, cold but you can catch some great photos!)
I’m going to skip much further north to the Sheboygan area, partly because this is getting long, partly because I was there today but mostly because they have 2 wonderful beaches any visitor traveling to Wisconsin should see.
Starting in Harrington Beach State Park you’ll find grassy prairie trails and wooded trails lined with old curling cedar trees. You’ll walk through sand dunes and old hardwoods. There is a campground and lots of space to picnic. There is a trail that runs along the shore where you can step down to a reef and wade through the water on low days. I suggest that you avoid the reef of windy days when the waves are high. There is a lovely beach in the middle of the park with another beach south that used to be the dog beach but sadly it has eroded to the point of being inaccessible. The remainder of the park is a great place to camp or just hang out to sunset when you can build a fire in one of the pits. There is plenty of firewood along the shores and plenty of space to watch the stars.
Not far away to the north is one of my favorite beaches. Kohler-Andrae park, formerly known as Terry Andrae, is a beach of sand dunes. They are filled with craggy evergreens and twisted old trees with a winding corded wood trail running through north to south. They ask that folks not run or walk through the uncorded sections of the dunes, but the beach running along the water is a lovely place to spend an afternoon reading, swimming or napping. It is a long beach so most days it is easy to find a secluded spot where you’ll forget that other people exist. For the optimal experience, turn off your phone.
Finally I want to touch on the beaches of Door County. I don’t want to tell you too much because I love the whole peninsula and as it is already over run in summer, I want to keep it to myself. Just kidding! (Not really!)
Whitefish Dunes State Park is most excellent. It is a bit like Harrington Beach, more a lot like it, but the water is colder and the air is clearer. I could go so far as to say the clouds are fluffier and the sky is a brighter shade of blue. The park is located on the lake side of the Peninsula off of hwy 57 north of Sturgeon Bay and south of Jacksonport. If you are lucky enough to see this park, please take care, it is a gentle place and I think has possibly been overused.
On the north end of the county is Newport State Park. Close to but not directly across the peninsula from Ellison Bay, across from Rowley’s Bay is a very rustic park not for the faint of heart nor the urban weekender looking for a stroll through the woods.
This is a place for hikers and those who are not afraid of strong winds, sudden drops in temperature and very old forest. The kind of forest scary childhood stories were written about. Imagine the Brothers Grimm sending Hansel and Gretel out to hike to Grandmothers house without a cell phone tower for miles around.
There is camping in Newport, but you cannot drive to your site. You must carry in (and out!) everything that you need. There are no flush toilets, no showers, no garbage bins. There are pit toilets, fire rings with grills, “a bench or two” (that’s a direct quote) and water available at the park office or a seasonal solar pump near one of the camp sites. That being said, it’s one of the best camping experiences around. And the lake is there if you need a bath! The water is cold, yes, but clean.
I did pass over so many beaches along the way but I’d have to write a book to cover all or their glory. Besides, I am hoping that in reading my blog you will find a sense of forgotten adventure from your youth and go out to find some previously unknown to you places to explore.
Next week I will take you on a more detailed walk through one of these parks. I hope you’ll continue to follow along on this grand journey through Wisconsin.