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It was empty nest time. After scrimping and saving for years to pay our daughters’ college tuitions, John and I finally had some savings. We wanted to find a piece of land by a lake where we could pitch our tent. We lashed our 17-foot canoe onto the roof of our creaky old Valiant, and headed Up North to look.
Something had happened to the lakes! Wherever we paddled, we found nothing but lawns and docks. Where were beds of reeds to glide among? Where were overhanging trees and shady banks to cool off after a hot paddle? A few lakes retained sparse stands of willow and hazel, but the roar of motorboats and “personal watercraft” buzzing and whining like demented mosquitoes, silenced all birdsong.
Camping in the Huron National Forest, we found the quiet ponds near the Au Sable Dam more to our liking. One morning I returned from my bird walk to find John bursting out of our tent, waving Jerry Dennis’ Canoe Trails of Michigan.
“I’ve got it!” he proclaimed ecstatically, light bulbs and exclamation points flashing over his head, “What we want is a Natural Wild River!"
“What’s one of those?” I asked.
“No motor boats! The cottages have to be built well back from the river. President Johnson signed it in 1968,” he continued, in his political science professor mode, “there are four rivers designated in Michigan – the Au Sable, the Betsie, the Two-Hearted, and the Pere Marquette. You’d really like the Betsie! Let’s go see!”
The Betsie’s source is in Green Lake, where we often camped to attend concerts at Interlochen; it winds for 55 miles past Crystal Mountain, where we liked to ski; our beloved Gwen Frostic’s is located on one of its tributaries; and it flows into Lake Michigan at Frankfort, where we enjoyed the beaches.
We decided that the best way to find a suitable plot was to work our way down the river by canoe. It was a fine July morning, 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky, when we woke up in the Betsie River Campground in Thompsonville. We had borrowed a small folding bicycle to stash in our canoe, so that we could fetch our car from each take out.