Recently, a viewer sent this comment to the website:
“I returned to Clark Lake after 45 or so years, boy was I surprised and disappointed. Clark Lake was a quiet and enjoyable, now it is over built and populated and commercialized, It just broke my heart.
Is he correct?
Rick Belcher responds.
Mr. Dickey’s comments inspired me to take a deep dive into lake history. When I hit the water, I found more than I anticipated. I gathered available historical facts and provided context.
For our Clark Lake journey, let me give you a frame of reference. I am fourth generation at the lake. My first swim took place when I was 6-months old. It took that long because I was born in December, and the ice had to go out first. I believe in those days, parents cradled their newborns in the water for their first dip. About five minutes later, kids were on their own. My memories of the lake start in the early 1950s.
To focus on the population comment, let’s start with some basic numbers. On August 9, 1972, Bill Ligibel got in his boat, circled the lake, and counted 346 lakefront cottages. Six years ago, Columbia Township records showed there were 377 lakefront property owners. Since then, several lots combined. In those cases, two or more adjacent properties were purchased, and the existing cottages taken down to be replaced by a single, larger dwelling. In other cases, the existing dwelling was taken down and not replaced, but turned into green space. Today’s number is something less than 377.
Have you ever owned a property in a planned community where an HOA controls everything from the exact shade of paint to your lighting fixtures? I have. The craze for sameness can be oppressive. What’s remarkable about Clark Lake is the variety—mansions, smaller year-around homes, and original cottages. Some of those originals aren’t winterized. Others have been. Recently a cottage that looked like a candidate for a bulldozer was completely renovated instead. It’s an example of the owner’s choice to preserve the cottage, improve the structure and install modern conveniences. If you favor that outcome, don’t be too quick to judge when an original can’t be saved. This winter, renovation began on an original. It went badly. As it was disassembled, workers discovered that it was full of mold and had unsolvable infrastructure faults. Now a new dwelling fills the same foot print. And did you know that some cottages rest not on a typical foundation, but on tree stumps?
At Clark Lake, renovated originals stand side by side with newer larger homes, adding to the variety. Overall, it’s safe to say that Clark Lake dwellings have improved dramatically. That will happen when a locale is desirable–and when it becomes a place to live year around, rather than summer only.
Mr. Dickey didn’t mention boats, but they are certainly part of our world. According to the 2020 Boat Count, boats have doubled since 1960. Data went missing from 1961 to 1986. From 1987 to 2020, the number increased by about 20%. Yet, in the last couple years, the number of boats has actually decreased. Gridlock on the water doesn’t happen because not everyone goes out at the same time. That’s not to say today’s traffic on a beautiful weekend isn’t heavy. Because it is, and not everybody likes that.
For context, let’s go back to a specific Sunday in the mid 1960s. I hopped in the family speedboat powered by a 75-hp Evinrude. The lake was busy, and I liked that. It was fun to zig-zag through the commotion. But as I rounded the Point, the level of activity was confounding. You could almost walk across the lake, one boat to another. And the counterclockwise rule was not observed. I turned around and went back to the dock. On any given Sunday now, notice the difference between 3 pm and 8 pm. By Monday morning at 10, you could be the only boat on the lake.
Is the lake busier today? Influencing lake traffic is the type of watercraft. On Sundays back then, the lake would fill with sailboat races. By the 1970s, it wasn’t just the slower moving Rebels, Interlakes and Lightnings. Introducing Fleet 58. Clark Lake received national recognition as the inland lake with the largest number of Hobies. With skippers and crews speeding to win, it could be a game of dodgem, not only for them, but for anyone on the lake. Today, rafts dominate, and traffic moves a bit slower, on average.
WHAT ELSE HAS CHANGED
One improvement not always recognized is water quality. Before sewers, leaky septic tanks tainted the lake. The effluent reached unsustainable levels. People reported the water sometimes had a phosphorescent glow. With septic fertilizer aplenty, weed growth went crazy. Something had to be done. Sewers ended that problem, and the lake recovered. Controversy swirls around the sewers today–but at least, what they carry doesn’t find its way into Clark Lake.
Something happened to me early this spring that adds to the story. While in my boat, I was cruising slowly along the Eagle Point shoreline. My eye caught something dark bobbing in the water. An animal of some sort? I pulled up next to it and saw the animal was actually a brown bottle. I picked it up. It had weeds growing inside it, and its shape and brand were not something found on the shelves of Country Market. The bottle had been on the bottom for years, and somehow developed buoyancy to rise to the surface. At one time, people threw bottles and who knows what else into the water. That’s rare today. We, as “guests” on this wonderful lake, have more respect for it, and as a result, are better caretakers.
Then there was this.
On the lake one morning several summers ago, my cell phone rang. On the other end I heard an agitated Roger Lyons. While on the lake he had spotted some scary looking weeds–scary because they lurked just below the surface and there was a massive amount of them. I reached out to another friend, John Deming, who has always taken a strong interest in the outdoors, and in particular, the ecological well-being of Clark Lake. He joined me for a boat ride. We dredged up some samples, and John sent them out for testing. The result? Hybrid Eurasian water milfoil. Clark Lake was under attack.
When I presented the findings to the directors of the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation, they quickly voted to fund the preliminary testing. When alerted to the threat, interested Clark Lakers joined together to form a committee and elected John, chairman.
Calls went out to other lakes, and feedback came back. This one thing drove our committee to find a solution: lakes that didn’t take action paid a big price. Invasive weeds can rapidly cause havoc with boating, destroy habitat, and diminish property values.
After exploring every known treatment program, the committee concluded only one had a chance of working. It required treating weeds anywhere found in the lake. To enable that, we would have to involve the government. The committee went door to door with a petition to establish a program. Seventy percent of lake front property owners were reached, and 95% of them signed the petition. That’s about as close to unanimous as you will ever find with a public issue. It also demonstrates the high level of concern and care Clark Lakers have for the lake.
How does the weed story end? The entire lake was treated in 2019. The survey this season showed 99.9% of the invader is gone, a spectacular outcome. Oh, but the story doesn’t really end. Last summer, Starry Stonewort was found near the County Park and at the Eagle Point boat launch. Starry has wrecked some lakes. At a nearby (but unnamed) lake this week, one owner could not move his boat and his kids couldn’t swim from the dock. The algae was that thick. It’s a red flag. Vigilance is the answer against this invader, or some surprise monster of the future.
COMMERCIALIZATION AT CLARK LAKE
Let’s hop into Doc Brown’s DeLorean, dial back to the 60s and 70s, and take a drive on Ocean Beach Road. Starting at the Jefferson Road intersection, we find a miniature golf course (or some other failed endeavor). Moving north, Elsie’s Restaurant is on the left. On the right is a convenience store (Mugsy’s today). We come next to the Beach Bar. It’s been there since 1946. On the lakeside is Dave’s Marina, offering outboard motor repair. Closer to the park is the Lighthouse Restaurant and Teen Town. Inside Teen Town you find pool tables and pinball machines. Parents are suspicious.
Fast forward to today. At Ocean Beach and Jefferson is the first successful enterprise at that location—Lucero’s Restaurant. Who saw that coming? The Beach Bar remains steadfast with marina slips added around the pier. Dave’s Marina has been replaced with the Gear Garage. It sells branded lake items and ice cream cones. Also, on the left is the dam, critically important to the water level. Through the Foundation’s efforts, the dam was saved twice. Dam Strong also turned a tangled mess around the dam into a welcoming mini-park. Elsie’s and Teen Town are gone. The Lighthouse is now a private dwelling.
Today the Triangle at Ocean Beach and North Lake is carefully managed to increase the beauty of the lake. The Foundation’s recent grant to the Garden Angels for an automatic irrigation system means Bigger Blooms for Thirsty Plants. And the Angels awesome work around the Community Center is not to be overlooked.
Let’s stay in the present for a few more moments. We must recognize something special that didn’t exist in the 60s and 70s—the Clark Lake Spirit Trail. Thank you, Tom Collins for your inspiration. “If common cause is needed as a focal point around which to rally, let us build a PATH.” In the 60s and 70s, it was nearly impossible to run, walk or bike around the lake without climbing through bramble or risking your life on Jefferson Road. The Spirit Trial changed that. It only happened because the community joined together in a “common cause,” and this was not the work of government.
Atop the hill in the County Park sets an historic building. The 120-year old Graziani house is now the Community Center. No magic wand moved it from Kentucky Point. It was through the ingenuity and support of Clark Lakers that this iconic cottage was saved from destruction and floated down the lake. Amazingly, this herculean task was accomplished at the same time the Trail was under construction. In addition to providing a place for gatherings, the Center connects the lake to its past, and is dedicated to preserving its history.
On North Lake, we see something new that didn’t exist last year or in the 60s and 70s—the Welcome to Clark Lake Sign on the Trail. Because of local talent and the hard work of many, this mural now graces the curve.
Our DeLorean ride is now whisking us back to the 60s and 70s. We see the Pleasant View Hotel and Pavilion. Depending on when, the Pavilion or hotel houses a beer garden, bar and the Clark Lake Players. In its last days, it is the Clark Lake Lodge. Today all of that has been replaced by private residences.
Approaching present day Hyde Road, we see the work of another Clark Laker who cares for the triangle at the intersection. No one asked him to do it. Like a lot of what happens at the lake, people simply pitch in.
Back in time on Hyde we see two small groceries—Roberts’ and Lakeside. Hoppy’s Lakeside and the Post Office adjoin each other. A Citi-Service station operates on the north side of Vining, offering gas for boats and auto repair. To the north is the Burg Restaurant. To the the south, is the County garage. On the lake is the Clark Lake Schoolhouse. At the Jefferson Road intersection is another place you can take your 3-hp Johnson for repair, Roosa’s Garage. We gently whoosh back to 2020 (sorry about the time-travel whiplash). Now only Doyle’s, successor to Roberts’, serves west end convenience needs. Your Home Town, a print shop, replaced the Citi-Service station. The Post Office moved next to Doyle’s. Roosa’s and the Burg no longer exist. The schoolhouse is gone, replaced by the Columbia Township Park. And the Clarklake Community Church has remained in its current location since 1961. The County Garage is now under private ownership and is adjoined by a boat storage facility.
Below are some historic photos of Hyde Road that were part of a school term paper written by Norma Gallaway in 1947. To read the entire paper, please click here.
We’re back to the 60s and 70s and have arrived at Eagle Point. A major portion of the Hotel burned in 1957, but part of it still stands. Before the fire, the Hotel included a restaurant, and a store. At Bill’s you can get a milk shake, Coke or beer. Depending on the year, the pavilion houses a roller-skating rink, a summer playhouse, a venue for music groups, boat service, boat storage, gas station, restaurant, and convenience store. Today, the various restaurants, including the Eagle’s Nest, have been replaced by the Pointe Bar and Grill. The Marina offers boat service, storage, and boat slips. Across from the Shipwreck Party Store are cottage rentals.
I took this photo at the tip of Eagle Point in July 1962. You can see Pleasant View across the lake. Also in the foreground is the post that held a gasoline sign. What you can’t see is what was behind me—the Pavilion, marina dock, etc., and what remained of the Hotel.
If you’re wondering about the Yacht Club, it moved from Pleasant View to its present location, the C.B. Hayes cottage, in 1960. This photo shows the cottage before the Yacht Club moved in.
Does Mr. Dickey’s over-commercialized charge ring true? The look and feel of businesses at Clark Lake certainly have changed. The number of enterprises hasn’t increased. In fact, it looks as if there are fewer.
What our visitor did not see are Clark Lake events, some that occur annually. They contribute mightily to the Clark Lake Spirit. Here are some of them.
Time to come up for air from the deep dive into Clark Lake’s past, and to take another look at our community.
People are at Clark Lake because they want to be here. Some have made sacrifices to enable that. And why? Clark Lake’s essence includes all of its wonderful physical attributes—who doesn’t love the sparkling water and frequently awesome sunsets? Clark Lake also embraces preserving its past, the improvements of today, and the activities that make it a community. Follow the major thread running through this piece and you find the Clark Lake Spirit that unites us through our love of the lake.
Clark Lakers have a strong interest in its history. For good reason. The lake’s past helps us understand who we are today. Regarding Mr. Dickey’s disappointment, visiting your past or someone else’s has its hazards. If we expect a place to remain unchanged through decades, we’ll be disappointed. Even a mostly unchanged location may not recreate what we’re looking for.
About 20-years ago I was with a bunch of guys up north. We were at the house of one of them. His place was on the water, and we were there to sail. His inside walls were lined with bookcases filled with large historical collections, many of them about life in England in the 1700-1800s. Outside of sailing, I suspected he occupied his leisure with those books. He made the comment that he’d be happy to be transported to England and live during those times. Being a smart-ass for the moment, I asked him how he would feel about sanitary practices? Each day at a certain time, chamber pots were emptied from second story windows onto the pavement below. You were advised not to walk on the streets then. The stench was only mitigated when it rained. Well, by his reaction, I think I rained on his parade. I took this away from the encounter. It can be rewarding to visit the past. We can learn from it, find relief from current day troubles, and simply enjoy a stroll down memory lane. However, we have only the present. Let us make the most of it where we are, right now.