The Lake Elixir

In our childhood days my friends and I often found ourselves wondering why so many visitors flocked to our hometown. We didn’t know any place else, and this place didn’t seem all that special. It was our home, the place where we did chores, road the bus, and sweated through hot summer days washing dishes in restaurant kitchens.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I started to get it, when I finally got out on the water. Our little gang of Egg Harbor boys had always spent long days jumping off the dock at Alpine Beach, but a boat was always out of our reach (ironic, considering that when my parents first moved here in the 1970s they sold and repaired boats). Yes, a bike ride in the park, a climb up Eagle Tower, or a day spent on a beach towel can help you appreciate the beauty of Door County, but getting out on the water brings a different perspective.

As I’ve aged I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few friends who’ve taken the plunge into the treacherous waters of boat ownership (as one friend told me, “you might as well just crumple up dollar bills and flush ’em down the toilet”). Every once in a while I get the chance to mooch off a friend’s risk, and each time I do I’m amazed anew by the transformation in mindset that a simple, short sail brings. For none is this more true than for those in the service industry, who spend their days jealously waiting on table after table as they come in off the water, complaining about how sapped they are from soaking in that hot sun all day. (No matter how true this may be, it is never an appropriate complaint to bring up with your server. It will not elicit sympathy, and it is not an excuse to not give a crap that your child is running wild all over the restaurant, or for indecisively stalling your server at your table as you debate the merits of lemonade versus lite beer with your friends.)

From the outside looking in you realize why people develop such a love affair with this place, why they invest so much just to be on the lake a couple months each year, and why they spend the rest of the year clamoring to come back. Once, when first-time visitors asked me what they should do while they’re in Door County, my mind would bounce to restaurants, beaches, stores and parks.

Now my answer is simple: find a way onto the water, any way. It’s the best chance to lure them back.