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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: September 2, 2020

Kleinke Park

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

We are experienced a highly unusual summer due to the risk of Covid 19, but in one way I have been very fortunate. We have a small travel trailer, which has enabled us to do some traveling without really leaving "home." The trailer has a tiny bathroom, minimalist kitchen and a comfy bed, so we are freed from visiting public bathrooms, eating at restaurants, or depending on other hospitality services except gas stations. That's good news for us as we try to stay healthy, but it is certainly hard on businesses. During our travels this summer, we've passed by, with great regrets, many interesting museums, tourist attractions and lots of intriguing little restaurants that'd we would be happy to enjoy in normal times. "Next trip!" is something we've said dozens of times.

All the same, we've been able to enjoy some of the lovely countryside, and even marked one item off my "bucket list."

When I was growing up, we'd load up the family Volkswagen with three or sometimes four kids, and maybe even a dog, and head to Kleinke Park in Menominee County a couple of times every summer. This lovely spot, about 13 miles north of Menominee off M-35, had an almost Floridian white sand beach, wide and clean. The water was ideal for kids " (although always chilly!) because it was shallow for a long way from the shore. As you waded out, it occasionally got a bit deeper but then you'd encounter a barely submerged sandbar, lifting you back up out of the water. The bottom was hard sand ripples formed by the waves and completely clear of icky weeds and nastiness. No lifeguards, no buoyed, designated swim area, and no rules " so bring on the romping dogs, the inner tubes and the beach balls.

A year-round creek empties into the bay at the park, and it was always much warmer than the bay water, so we'd sit in the creek water when we needed to warm up. It was full of pollywogs, minnows and turtles to play with, and we'd mud dam up the creek outlet and watch while the creek current quickly reasserted itself. This interface between the bay and creek moved and changed every day, always creating new interest for exploration. Sometimes we'd find a big chunk of driftwood along the shore and we'd use it as a "boat." My Mom has a treasured picture of my Chicago cousins sitting on such a chunk of driftwood " a lovely memory. The beach area was so big it was never crowded. At mealtime, a little wood fire would be kindled in one of the permanent grills, black with a disgusting amount of caked on grease, and we'd have hot dogs, along with some ketchup and a generous helping of sand.

While we were away for 18 years in Oklahoma, a campground was added adjacent to the original park. I have always wanted to stay there, but there was never time. So my wish was finally fulfilled in early August.

We got a camping site (mid-week) right on the water " and I do mean "right on." Green Bay is so high that the waves were lapping less than 20 feet from the rear of our trailer. The bank is being eroded, and along the area that was beach, big pine trees have toppled into the water. There is still a little beach, but nothing like it was when I was a child. The change is startling " less serious than what hundreds of homeowners are facing along the bay, but still a sad sight for me.

The old-fashioned swing set that used to be quite a walk from the water is now so close to it I could toss a stone into the water from a swing. Because we encountered the not abnormal sweatshirt summer weather, we didn't go into the water, but good kid swimming is still available. The interface of the creek and the bay changed drastically from day to day during our two night stay, just like I remembered " probably partially due to the strong onshore waves the second night. The sound of that water, so ocean-like, made sleeping easy.

It was fun to sit outside the trailer with a fire (which took a bit of the chill off) and watch the endless procession of waves coming ashore. What I did miss seeing was the fishing tugs that worked the bay in my childhood. We saw not a one, just a few sport fishing boats. I missed watching the tugs make their slow way across the horizon escorted by a cloud of seagulls.

An inordinate amount of the lovely beach sand made its way into our truck and camper, both from us and our two big dogs, who found the place enchanting. As I cleaned it up after we returned home, it made me smile, remembering the same persistent presence of sand in our Volkswagen for most of the summer " a reminder of sweet times with my family.

I have crossed this item off my "bucket list" now, but we will be back. Despite the change the high water has caused, this place is still special to me. I don't know who had the foresight to save this land from development, as most of the rest of the local Green Bay shore is covered with private homes and cottages, but I am grateful to them. Public access to special places is precious.

Note: Kleinke Park is open for day visitors with a modest user fee for Wisconsonites. Dogs must be leashed. If you have never been there, it makes for a nice ride, with no crowds to contend with. Bring the kids and a sand bucket before the fall chill arrives.

I wish you a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend. I am grateful to all who labor, whatever their work. And I also pray for those who are unemployed, and those people with disabilities who wish they were able to work.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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