Every summer for as long as I can remember, my family has vacationed at a resort in Northern
Iowa Michigan called Watervale.
Watervale is a third-generation family owned resort that began as a logging town in the 1800s. The Kraft family purchased the abandoned town in 1917. My family ties don't go back quite that long, although they probably go back close to 75 years when my great uncle worked with the second owner at US Gypsum. My dad worked there in college, I worked there in college, and my brother worked there in college. In fact, Dave loved it so much that he now lives about 15 minutes from Watervale.
I consider Watervale my other home. When I'm freaking out with anxiety or stress or just having a bad day, I close my eyes and I'm walking down the dirt road or sitting on the Big Beach. I can hear the waves lapping, feel the warm sand between my toes, hear the seagulls and laughing children, smell the lingering scent of the previous night's beach fire, and taste the daily homemade bread.
What makes Watervale so special? I don't even know where to begin.
It's the friends I've known since I was a kid. We may only see each other once or twice a year, and now, thanks to social media, keep in regular touch on Facebook, but every summer we pick up where we left off the previous August. It's also the friends I've made through Facebook who are also Watervalians (my word), although we've met through non-Watervalians. Watervalians just get it.
It's the fact that Watervale hasn't changed much in almost 100 years. There's one landline phone and no televisions. All of the food is homemade, including the bread that's baked fresh daily. It's only been the last five years that I could reliably get cell phone service while at Watervale, and even now, it's kinda spotty. Until last summer, there was no internet connection for the guests and now it only exists in one building. The only air conditioning is what's provided by nature. There are waitresses, coffee girls, busboys, dish boys. There's a weekly bar-b-que on Wednesday followed by bingo on Thursday in the Casino.
The same families come back for the same weeks year after year and stay in the same cottages, so it's like one big (good) family reunion. Newbies are folks who've only been coming to Watervale for 20 years. Some families are so big that they all but take over the resort and they have specific weeks named after them. There's Benson Week and Pritchard Week and they each have traditions that go along with them, like the Baldython.
Did I mention all the nature? Oh. My. God. The nature. Watervale sits on two lakes - Lower Herring Lake and Lake Michigan. Jet skis are prohibited on Lower Herring, which means it's quiet and safe for everyone. We kayak, swim, hike, windsurf, paddle board, run, water ski, and plays tennis and shuffleboard. Baldy is just a short hike a way and Sleeping Bear Dunes are just a short drive away. After dinner, we always race down to the Big Beach on Lake Michigan to watch the most gorgeous sunsets in the world. I promise you that they are more beautiful than the ones I've seen in Hawaii. There are no street lights, so once the sun goes down, you can practically reach out and pull the stars out of the sky.
Without televisions or fancy amusement parks you probably wonder what everyone does when they get a little tired of nature. The Cherry Bowl Drive-In or the newly restored Garden Movie Theater are fantastic options. There is also incredible antiquing all around, along with world-class golf courses. Cards, board games, and reading are other popular activities. I've been known to read seven novels in a week. I also enjoy a daily nap.
There are no locks on any of the doors. Seriously. I stay in the Inn, where there are probably 30 other rooms filled with people I've known for years, but am not related to. The Inn is also where breakfast and dinner are served daily for the entire resort, so guests are in and out all the time. None of the cottages have locks or keys either. It just never occurs to me that I should be worried about my stuff. I remember being in the Inn about 30 years ago when a new family checked-in. Once they were checked-in, they asked for their room keys. Kelly, the woman who ran the front desk back then, looked at them like they had three heads, tried to hold in her laughter, and said that Watervale has no keys. It was true.
Not only have the guests been coming for generations, but the staff has been too. Today, you'll find Pat behind the front desk, where she's been for most of the past 25 years after Kelly retired. Richard has been the head chef for close to 25 years as well. Holly comes in to make the breakfast breads nightly. John is there bright and early each morning to make his world famous honey oatmeal bread. And the waitstaff and dish boys are all the college-aged kids of long-time guests.
Here's a taste of Watervale from when it was featured on the Today Show in 2010.
Want to read more about Watervale? Check out my archive of Watervale blog posts.
The first time you arrive at Watervale, you'll be tempted to ask if you're in Heaven. No, baby, it's Watervale.
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