by Rick Belcher

On August 16, 2013, the Clark Lake Spirit website emerged from a mass of complicated code to a platform that would tell the world about our lake.   So that there would be something to see when it went live, a few stories had been preloaded.

A lot of water has fallen over the dam since then.  Since I get questions about the website from time to time, I thought it would be interesting to address them in this article.  I’ve appointed an avatar to ask the questions.

How do you feel about this ten year anniversary?

I’m deeply grateful.  A lot goes into publishing the website.  Based on feedback and Google Analytics, many visit it.  That makes the effort worthwhile, in my opinion.

Could you be more specific?

Since that day in August 2013, Google Analytics has recorded over 1.5 million pageviews.   That’s a lot of action for a small community.  The statistics show many return visits, and that’s a good thing.  Would Starbucks be successful if each customer bought only one coffee and never came back?  The analytics also shows viewer’s general location. When a story goes up, local viewers are joined by those in Washington state, California, Arizona, up and down the East coast, Florida, and beyond.  Clark Lake connections are widespread.  You may leave the lake, but it never quite leaves you. When I lived in Oregon, I would search for something about Clark Lake.  Not much existed back then.  That’s changed now.

What inspired you to start this website?

What’s common to all of us – the love of Clark Lake.  The love is built on connections to family and friends, one’s personal history here, and the lake’s fascinating past.  As I work on the website, I increasingly appreciate the talents, knowledge, skills, and motivations of Clark Lakers.  That includes their care for the community and for each other.  Differences may arise, but we’re united in love of the lake.  That Clark Lake Spirit is the basis on which the website is founded and maintained.

How did the website come to mind?

I had just been asked to join the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation board.  At my first meeting, one of the directors commented on how it was difficult to communicate to the lake the community about projects it was doing.  “Website” instantly popped into my mind.  Later, I put together a proposal and presented it at the next meeting.  I promised it would cover news and events, history, and more.  The directors gave it a thumbs-up.

You can build something, but will they come?

Good question, Ava. During that period, I had been running daily the 7.3 miles around the lake.  One day, as I passed by the dam in that oxygen deprived state, the answer popped into my head.  DamCam.  People slow down to check out the dam.  A 24/7 view of it would show an ever-changing picture. It would hint at the lake level and show weather conditions.  And you could view it from wherever you were.  DamCam became a lead item in the proposal.  Directors were quick with their support.  Mike McKay bought the camera, and Peggy Collins, a director at the time, offered to host it at the Beach Bar.  As the developer worked on coding, I wrote a few articles in advance. The earliest was from July 7, 2013:  Clark Lakes Fun at New Heights – Clark Lake Spirit Foundation.

Was the DamCam enough?

Thru my media career, I learned that “content is king.”  The DamCam was a great lead, but it would take a lot more to ensure acceptance. But how much?  Over the decade, internal statistics reveal 2173 News and Events items, 145 Natural Encounters, 63 Historical Perspectives, 45 My Clark Lake Stories, 39 Tales, 17 Tributes, and thousands of photos.

Are there any stories that went over the top?

April 1, 2015 still holds the record for any single posting.  Over a 24 hour period, 70,000 viewers flooded the website, not only from here, but from all over the world. The hosting company thought some sort of abuse of service was happening and threatened to take the website down.  In reality, it was simply an April fools prank that took off and went viral.  The premise? The TV series Ancient Aliens had visited Clark Lake to investigate evidence that submerged UFOs were operating here, and traveling to Devils Lake via the aquifer.  Other fake stories, like “alligator spotted at the lake” and “big developments coming” got massive attention.  Top 10 over the decade include the main page, DamCam, Spirit Trial, My Clark Lake Story, Clark Lake’s underwater ghost village (a real thing), and the first known Covid-19 case at the lake.  The website’s popularity grew steadily since its inception.  2020 led to explosive growth and that level has been maintained ever since.

What other kinds of stories are viewed?

Clark Lake’s big events are covered every year like Raft-O-Rama, Run Clark Lake, Freedom Fireworks, Crab Races, Kids Triathlon, Polar Plunge, Halloween, Fall Regatta, Shop with a Cop.

Moments of just plain fun, sometimes unexpected – skydivers, jetski acrobatics

Changes like the transformation of the IOOF Hall on Vining Street into Annette Fink’s art studio.

Lake history

  • Eagle Point Hotel
  • Eagle Point House
  • Pleasant View


Sad news like house fires, accidents or passings.

What else?

The website is a helpful platform for transformational activities at the lake.  When stories told of the deterioration of the Community Center, they rallied support to save it.  A successful fundraising campaign ensured its restoration.  The Garden Angels’ Pretty Pergola Campaign is another recent example.  Donors came forward with the $16,000 needed to make it a reality.

When the integrity of the dam was threatened, the website detailed the dilemma, and videos illustrated what was at stake.  The Foundation’s DamStrong project made possible the repairs to both north and south shoulders.  The website featured stories and videos on the building of the Welcome to Clark Lake Sign.   Each year the website reports on the need to clean up the Spirit Trail, and reports on improvements such as new asphalt for the old railroad bed and through the County park.

The website has other news stories.  Where do they come from?

Most come through my covering monthly the Columbia Township board, and other meetings and events.  That’s how we learned that a concert venue was proposed for a quarter-mile from the lake.  Concerns were voiced.  When the Township board read the over 50 comments on the website opposing it, they voted the proposal down.  In 2014, an invasion of hybrid Eurasian water milfoil was taking over large portions of the lake.  A committee of volunteers formed to research what could be done.  The website reported the findings and how the committee worked to eradicate the problem.  Because of their actions, in collaboration with the Township, a grim forecast for the lake’s future was averted.  The website follows through on the Foundation’s mission to Stand Up for Clark Lake.

How do you decide what to publish?

Relevance is a key factor.  In the age of Google Analytics, it’s possible to track how many people view a story.  Numbers tell if people care about it.  Stories can also earn coverage because of their assumed pertinence – like permitting golf carts, currently being considered.

What about controversies?

In writing stories where opinions differ, presenting both sides helps viewers decide for themselves.

Who writes the stories?

If you don’t see a byline, that means I have researched and written the story.  For others, their connection is noted by a byline or mentioned somewhere in the story.  Same for photos and videos.

Do people give you tips?

Yes, Ava.  And I always thank them.  When appropriate, I thank them within the story.

Do you publish everything told to you?

When I receive information, a process begins. Checking for accuracy and looking for context are part of it.

How much time do you spend on the website?

It’s almost a full time job.  Stories often require research, interviews by phone or in person, taking photos, creating videos and verification for accuracy.  If a story is urgent, that could mean a late night in-person visit to a fire or accident.

Before building this website, did you have experience that helped?

Yes.  I worked for radio-TV-newspaper companies my entire career.  My first job was in Jackson at WIBM, followed by WSGW/WIOG Saginaw-Bay City-Midland-Flint.   As my career progressed, I was responsible for programming radio stations in larger competitive markets like Toledo, Louisville, Milwaukee, and Portland, Oregon.  That included hiring and supervising news personnel, talk show hosts, DJs, and managing advertising and marketing.

Do you have any suggestions for using the website?

Yes.  Many people find out about a new story on the website through Facebook.  I post a photo, the topic, and a link to the story.  But Facebook is not always consistent.  Posts show up from days ago, and some posts can be missed.  An easy solution is to sign up for an email that you will receive for each new story.  Click on the button, and you’re there.  You sign up through a pop up box on the main page.  Sometimes I hear from people who say they signed up but aren’t receiving those emails anymore.  That’s usually because they have accidentally unsubscribed.  They can resubscribe through the popup box, and then by notifying me at

A massive amount of Clark Lake information awaits those who care to find it.  By using the dropdown menu in the upper right hand corner, you can zero in on your interests.  Also, the magnifying glass works well in tracking down a story.  Like a school teacher, it is finicky about spelling (and does not auto-correct).  Fewer words usually work better.

What’s ahead?

I’m very grateful that the website has been well received, and it’s because of the following fact: Clark Lakers are extraordinarily dedicated to the lake’s preservation and improvement.  It’s a joy to bring that to light on this website.

I am not compensated monetarily for this work, nor is anyone who provides content.  I also pay for the cameras and software that I use for website work.  Third parties do require payment for hosting the SpiritCam and DamCam, website hosting, developer costs, anti-spam filters, email system, and more. Those expenses are covered with financial support from these companies –  A Plus Electric, Beach Bar, Brokerage House, Brooklyn Plumbing and Heating, Doyle’s Market, Eagle Point Marina, Monroe Superstore, and M-R Builder.  If you have a need for what they offer, I hope you’ll remember them.  And a thank you, from time to time, helps.

DamCam photo at 11:21 am, August 16, 2023

Others deserve thanks.  As noted earlier, the names of those who contribute content are mentioned in bylines or within the story.  The two 24/7 cameras focused on the lake are popular destinations.  Thanks to David Elwell, former police chief, current Chief Jay Niles, and the Columbia Township board for their support of the SpiritCam.  The DamCam operates with the support of the Beach Bar, thanks to John Collins.

The Directors of the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation deserve thanks for all that they do for the lake (and for putting up with me).

  • Rick Belcher, President
  • Kevin Thomson, Vice President
  • Elaine Stewart, Treasurer
  • Josie Hones, Secretary
  • Tucker Boyers
  • Mike McKay
  • Melissa Owings
  • Joe Thorrez
  • Mick Thorrez

The website you see today is actually the second version.  It was rebuilt a few years ago, and that must happen again sometime soon.  The goal will be to maintain the content and provide a similar viewing experience.  Compare it to putting an expensive set of new tires on the car.  The costly project will revitalize the technical underpinning to meet current demands.

Below is a 2014 screenshot of the original version.