Nature's Paradise

2019 Calendar of Events

• Feb. 3: Muskegon Winter Sports Complex Winter Try-Athalon
• Mar. 16: Muskegon St. Patrick’s Day Parade
• Apr. 26: West Michigan Symphony Presents: Disney in Concert: Around the World
• May 18: ForeShore Adventure Run
• May 26: 31st Annual Lost Boat Ceremony
• June–Oct. (Wed. & Sat.): Montague Farmer’s Market
• June–Sept. (1st Sat. of each month): Montague Artisan Market
• June–Aug. (Tuesdays): Montague Summer Concert Series
• June–Aug. (Fridays): Parties in the Park
• June–Oct. (1st Sat.): White Lake Nature Walks
• June 1: D-Day Plus 75
• June 5: 36th Annual White Lake Area Chamber Golf Classic
• June 11–15: Miss Michigan Scholarship / Miss Michigan Teen Scholarship Pageants
• June 13–15: Muskegon Heights Festival
• June 14–15: Taste of Muskegon
• June 14–16: Muskegon Powerboat Weekend
• June 15–16: White Lake Arts & Crafts Festival
• June 15–16: 41st Annual White Lake Arts & Crafts Fest
• July 4: Fourth of July Parade & Fireworks
• July 4–6: RockStock
• July 5–6: Lakeshore Art Festival
• July 21–27: Muskegon County Youth Fair
• July 27: CRUZ’IN Classic Car Show
• Aug. 2–11: White Lake Chamber Music Festival
• Aug. 3: RunIT 5K Run/Walk
• Aug. 16–17: Arts & Drafts Festival
• Aug. 17: Bright Lights Muskegon Lighthouse Fest
• Aug. 17: Great Lakes Surf Festival
• Aug. 22–25: Shoreline Jazz Festival
• Aug. 30–31: Muskegon Polish Festival
• Sept. 2: Annual Labor Day Community Walk
• Sept. 2: Labor Day Parade
• Sept. 12-15: Michigan Irish Music Festival
• Oct. 5, 12 & 19: Depot to Depot Fall Color Tour
• Nov. 20–Dec. 1: Muskegon Museum of Art’s 15th Annual Festival of Trees

Uniquely West Michigan

The Lake Express Ferry (above) runs three times a day during the season, connecting passengers from Muskegon to Milwaukee on a 2.5-hour journey.

Tour the National Historic Landmark, the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper, which was originally launched in 1904 and now is docked across from the Lake Express. Tours start Memorial Day weekend and run until Labor Day weekend.

The 210-guest Pearl Mist cruise ship docks 10 times a year at Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake.

There are a lot of thrills at Michigan’s Adventure, a 250-acre amusement and water park. Located halfway between Muskegon Lake and White Lake, the park offers a variety of rides, including Thunderhawk, the first suspended looping coaster in the state with an 85-foot freefall and speeds up to 50 mph.


Nature's Paradise

by Jane Simon Ammeson
A tale of three cities, five lakes and two rivers in Muskegon County, Michigan. The cities of Muskegon, Whitehall and Montague offer first-rate fishing, waterfront restaurants, boutique shops and a charming mix of old and new.
Seventeen years ago, many people thought Ted Fricano was, as he describes it, “crazy” when he decided to transform a building slated for demolition in Muskegon into a 250-seat pizzeria. 

But Fricano’s Pizza was ahead of the curve and a driving factor in the revitalization of downtown Muskegon, helping to create its cool, urban vibe and burgeoning scene of shops, restaurants, art galleries, breweries and distillery.

Now a destination, both the downtown (reachable for boaters via taxis or ride-sharing) and the Lakeside District, which runs along the shoreline of Muskegon Lake, offer a multitude of fun and cultural activities — many within walking distance of the marinas.

“We have several tie-up restaurants where people can dock and go eat,” says Hayden Hall, sales manager of the family owned Hall’s Sport Center, which sells new and pre-owned boats, accessories and parts, and has a service department. “Docker’s is great for its atmosphere, and The Lake House Waterfront Grille is known for having fantastic food.”

Hall also likes to steer his boat through the shallow channel connecting Muskegon River and the 415-acre Bear Lake and dock at Thrasher’s Bear Lake Tavern. Open since 1929, Muskegon County’s oldest restaurant offers its famous yellow belly perch and several “stone age” menu items: Raw food cooked by guests over 700-degree sizzling hot lava rocks.

“There’s a lot to do near the marinas on the south side of Muskegon Lake,” says Bob Lukens, CDME, community development director of Muskegon County, and many of the marinas offer transient slips.

Harbour Towne Marina, just south of the channel connecting Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake, has both transient and dock-end slips, and is located near Docker’s, beaches and the 1903 South Pierhead Light. On-site boat and watercraft rentals are available at Terrace Point Marina, part of the 144-room Shoreline Inn complex where The Lake House Waterfront Grille and The Lake Effect Bistro & Lounge (offering dockside service) are located. Se4sons is the city’s first gastropub, and The Deck on Pere Marquette Beach, named one of the best beach bars in 2017 by Thrillist, combines house-smoked barbecue and scenic views. 

Culture trip

“Muskegon has great museums,” says Lukens, mentioning the USS Silversides Submarine Museum, a Gato-Class World War II submarine; the stunning Hackley and Hume Historic Site, two elaborate Queen Anne and Victorian-style homes; as well as the Muskegon Museum of Art. 

Though Muskegon Winter Sports Complex features an Olympic-design luge track, ice skating, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding, it’s not all about snow. Its Summer Adventures held on weekends in the summer include luge experiences on the only wheel luge track in North America, as well as kayaking and paddleboarding.

The lakeside Heritage Landing is the place for fishing, events, concerts, and also has a child’s playground and a Tall Ship dock.

A tale of two cities

The nearby cities of Whitehall and Montague, separated by a bridge spanning the White River as it flows into White Lake, retain their quaint charm. New construction is revitalizing the downtown, but the past is not forgotten as historic buildings are being repurposed. An old bank in Whitehall is now Fetch Brewing Company, and the United Methodist Church constructed in 1872 now houses the Montague Museum. One thing remains the same though: An early 1960s-style Dog ‘n Suds with flying buttresses and drive-in slots with call buttons on the White River in Montague. 

Pitkin Drug & Gift Shoppe, with its large orange and blue Rexall signage, has been a Whitehall stalwart for more over 135 years. While it’s still a pharmacy, Pitkin now also sells beachwear, souvenirs and home décor. Next door, its Posh by Pitkin boutique clothing store caters to women of all ages. First opened in 1878, Lipka’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain in Montague is no longer a pharmacy but retains its namesake’s old-fashioned soda fountain, serving shakes, ice cream and sandwiches. The Book Nook & Java Shop & Best Cellars Wine Bar just around the corner is the place to go for — you guessed it — books, wine and lattes, as well as fresh pastries and live entertainment. The space is very cozy, with a two-sided fireplace and lots of comfy chairs in a 19th century building. Figg’s Boutique in Montague is a new addition to the area. This women’s clothing boutique offers both casual and formal apparel, home decor and accessories. 

The kitchen belonging to Valerie Hanson, owner of Amanda’s Bequest and Bygone Basics, cooks up farm-style meals, teaches classes on canning techniques for preserving fresh fruit, as well as how to make soap, cheese, yogurt, sour cream and butter. Hanson also does a lot of baking in her 1872 kitchen, the oldest historic home in Montague. She makes breads, cakes, pies, cookies and pastries to order — just be sure to call ahead. 

The plethora of attractions — restaurants, a cinema, art galleries and unique shops like Beth I’s Pies (the place to go, as far as I’m concerned, for sugar cream pie) — are within walking distance of many of the marinas. Transient slips can be had at the White Lake Municipal Marina, Whitehall Landing, Montague Marina, Crosswinds Marine Service and Ellenwood Landing Marine and Yacht Club.

Armstrong Marina on White Lake has day-only transient slips. The Municipal Boat Launch & Fish Cleaning Station in Montague has six launch docks, restrooms and a cleaning station. Because access to the beautiful waters is what it’s all about, there are numerous public launch sites, as well as rentals for boats, paddleboards, kayaks, pontoons and bicycles. 

The fish runs through it

“Walleye travel back and forth between Muskegon Lake and Bear Lake, which is really shallow — about 10 feet deep,” says Captain Patrick Shiller, owner of charter boats Shelly Lee and No Problem. He notes that both Bear Lake and Muskegon Lake abound with largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, perch and catfish. 

“Here, near Lake Michigan, is great for fishing for Coho, walleye and salmon,” says Jim St. John, a local fisherman, as he casts a line. “White Lake is known for its bass.”

Panfish aficionados and those who like fly fishing for bluegill in early summer should check out Duck Lake, a 728-acre day-use state park separated by a bridge from Lake Michigan. The park boasts a marvelously picturesque beach dotted with driftwood and marked by a towering sand dune standing sentinel above the water’s edge. 

“On weekends at sunset, this area is often full of cars with people coming for the view,” says Amy VanLoon, executive director of the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

In spring, summer and fall, Captain Dan Scheib, owner of Getaway Charters in Whitehall, offers fishing charters on Lake Michigan aboard his 33-foot Wellcraft Coastal. During the winter, Scheib’s son, Isaac, runs trips for salmon and steelhead on nearby rivers, including the White River, which is only navigable by small boats, canoes and kayaks. 

Not just for anglers

“We’re about relaxation and enjoying the lake,” says Cathy Russell, whose husband, Ron Russell, is captain of Third Swan Charters, a 40-foot twin diesel motoryacht offering sunset cruises and afternoon shoreline tours on White Lake and Lake Michigan. “It’s about gathering with friends and family to enjoy a great lake for boating.”

In keeping with their Swan brand, the couple’s White Swan Inn, a lovely 1884 bed and breakfast in Whitehall, is an easy walk from White Lake Moorings where their cruiser is docked. The inn is just steps away from the Historic Howmet Playhouse, which opened in 1916, and downtown Whitehall.

Hit the Trail

Bike paths, including the 22.7-mile William Field Memorial Hart- Montague Trail State Park, are the No. 3 tourist draw near White Lake, VanLoon tells me, noting that the trail heads south and will eventually connect to Muskegon. Those taking the northern route can cross the bike bridge traversing the White River into Montague; be sure to note the world’s largest weather vane as you go by.

“It’s the state’s first linear trail and has 15 different pieces of public art along the way,” VanLoon says about the bikeway that was once a railroad track. 

Farther south, the Lakeshore Trail, a 12-mile paved road running from Pere Marquette Park and Beach to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, provides peddlers views of the lakes and dunes. The 26-mile Musketawa Trail is an interior trail coursing between Muskegon and Mame. 

“There’s so much to see and do here, and people are so friendly,” VanLoon says, as she drives through Tannery Bay, a new housing community going up at the former site of the Whitehall Leather Co. tannery. “There’s always something new — and old — to discover.” 

Get Your Camera Ready

Scenic South Shore Drive parallels White Lake, taking travelers to such gems as the brick Norman Gothic-style White River Light Station Museum. Here, I ran into the museum’s curator, Matt Barnum, who, although it was his day off, was working on a building project.

“I just thought I’d stop by and get a few things done,” Barnum says. It’s this type of dedication that led to the formation of Lighthouse Friends, whose goal was to save and maintain the White River Light Station after it was decommissioned. Raising funds for restoration, the 1875 station is now a maritime museum and major tourist attraction offering a glimpse into life on the Great Lakes through the centuries.

Located on the south pier, the station offers panoramic views of the Lake Michigan, White Lake and the dunes.

South Shore JUN17
South Shore JUN17