The choppy waters of Lake Michigan didn’t seem to want to let my kayak off the beach at Michigan Beach Park in Charlevoix, and it would have been tempting just to spread a towel down on the sand and soak up the sun with all the beachcombers. I pushed out into the waves, though, and was soon battling them on a 20-mile paddle to my campsite at Young State Park near Boyne City on Lake Charlevoix. For the opportunity, I had a 54-year-old federal law to thank: the since-expired Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Since 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has invested more than $329 million in Michigan, including public access recreation sites like Michigan Beach Park on the local level and Young State Park, managed by the Michigan DNR. The LWCF operates like Michigan’s Natural Resources Trust Fund. It takes royalties from offshore energy development and invests them in communities around the country for outdoor recreation opportunities: in fact, every single county in Michigan has benefitted from the LWCF.
My adventure depended on it. I wanted to paddle inland from Lake Michigan, through the Pine River Channel and Round Lake to and around Lake Charlevoix. The Lake Charlevoix shoreline is smothered in private vacation homes, so there are few places where paddling into a campsite for the night would even be possible. Established in 1921, Young State Park received a $100,000 development grant from the LWCF in 1967. It now offers 240 campsites, two rental cabins, miles of birding and hiking trails, and beach and lake access for anglers, boaters, jet-skiers and paddlers like me.
To get there, though, I had to find a place to park overnight and launch my kayak. Michigan Beach Park lies just outside the Pine River channel and the famous Charlevoix lighthouse, making it the perfect launching point for my adventure. It received an $11,000 LWCF development grant in 1976. I skirted outside the designated swim area in Lake Michigan’s choppy surf. I had only a few hundred yards to go before I turned into the Pine River channel, which was even choppier. Yachts passed me on their way into Round Lake to dock, as well as another kayaker swifter than me. We talked a little on our way through and I learned he was a Michigan State student (my alma mater).
The waves crashed over my overloaded stern, holding a tackle box and dry bag stuffed with overnight camping gear. What I didn’t realize was that it was also leaking into my dry hatch and filling up the cavity of my sit-on-top kayak. I paddled through the channel and out into Round Lake, marveling at the boat garages around the shore and the vintage sailboats anchored in the harbor. I continued on past the Coast Guard station into Lake Charlevoix, using my paddle to navigate the waves coming from behind me and from the side.
Out in the middle of the Lake, my kayak felt sluggish — too sluggish. I felt the cargo area behind me and it was completely filled with water, spilling over into my seat. I paddled furiously toward shore, but I only bobbed side to side as my stern sunk below the surface, finally capsizing and tipping me into the lake.
I was wearing my lifejacket and all my gear was lashed to the kayak except the fishing pole my grandpa gave me back in college, which sunk to the bottom near Horton’s Bay. My only solace was that maybe it joined one of Ernest Hemingway’s lost rods or lines or lures. He used to hang around Horton’s Bay, which provided the setting for some of his Nick Adams short stories (my favorite).
That was far from my mind at the time, though, as I tried to backstroke toward shore with one arm while the other pulled my overturned kayak. A boat slowed as it neared me and I raised my paddle in the air to call for help. A family out for a cruise — including a member of the Coast Guard taking a vacation day — towed my kayak to shore and gave me a granola bar.
I thanked them, exchanged information and then unpacked my kayak and emptied the water from it. I repacked it so that the weight was more evenly distributed, including lashing my tackle bag in the smaller bow cargo area. For the rest of the trip, I also hugged the shoreline, stopping twice to again empty water from my kayak before it capsized.
After six hours and more than 20 miles of hard paddling, I saw the sandy shore of Young State Park. I let the waves push me in, beached my kayak, shouldered my dry bag and hiked to the ranger station to check into my campsite.
My hammock and bug net was a little out of place sandwiched between two RV’s plugged in to electric hook-ups, particularly with my registration card tied to my kayak where other campsites had pickups and SUV’s. What we shared, though, was the Great American Campout. While full families around me cooked burgers on propane grills, I heated a Paleo Meals to Go packet with water boiled on an isobutene backpacking stove. I drifted to sleep in my hammock counting endless stars.
Whether by pickup and RV or kayak and hammock, we all had equal access to miles of trails and shoreline on one of Michigan’s most beautiful lakes, an opportunity which wouldn’t exist for many of us without the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In Michigan, these opportunities contribute to a $26.6 billion outdoor recreation economy, according to the Outdoor Recreation Industry Association.
The LWCF expired in September 2018, but Congress is considering a comprehensive public lands package that would renew it. Please take action and tell your member of Congress to renew the LWCF by passing the Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) with the National Wildlife Federation's action alert linked here.
Drew YoungeDyke is an award-winning outdoor writer and a senior communications coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. He is also the host of the National Wildlife Federation Outdoors podcast, a committee member for 2% for Conservation, a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, a board member for the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association, and a state-appointed member of the Pigeon River Country State Forest Advisory Council.
All posts at Michigan Outside are independent and do not necessarily reflect the views of NWF, OWAA, AGLOW, MOWA, the PRCAC, or any other entity.