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The Road To White Birch...

Recently, we learned that a national survey revealed that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore here in Leelanau County was voted as the most beautiful place in America. (GMA - Most Beautiful Place in America).  What with its' stunning sunsets over the water, and the beauty of cathedral-like pine trees that share the shoreline with the crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan, one can see how that distinction was bestowed on this place of grace and tranquility.  Not unlike the character of Sleeping Bear Dunes, we think we just might have found another place of tranquility that might well rival The Dunes in a different sort of way.  Also 'Up North', Elk Rapids' own White Birch Lodge has all the character and charm of everything you could think of in a family-friendly retreat.  Our family was privileged to spend some time there just recently, memories of which will easily warm us through a long winter.

Ironically, it was back in the spring of 1990 that I moved into my first home situated among towering trees - on White Birch Dr. - a home I had newly built on what is known as the Island of Lake Wahbekaness (Duck Lake Peninsula) in Interlochen, MI.  Native Indians chose that name long ago to convey an image of what they termed, 'water that lingers'; literally, the name means 'still water'.  Little did I know then that the road I lived on as a single guy in Northern Michigan, White Birch Dr., would come to hold special meaning for me not many years later...something I now see as not only God's perfect sense of timing, but (reverently, of course), what may be His divine sense of humor.

In the summer of '92, a friend of mine and I met up with some fun gals in Elk Rapids at the Village's annual Harbor Days festival, held the first weekend of August.  Come to find out, they worked at a premiere American plan resort on the azure shores of Meguzee Point on Elk Lake called White Birch Lodge (well, imagine that!).  To make a long, romantic story short, I ended up marrying one of the gals I met that night.  While that in itself is a whole 'nother [fun] story, the common connection of the names of the places where we lived did not go unnoticed.  Incidentally, White Birch Lodge and I share something else in common: besides being 'home' to where my future wife lived and worked, it began operation the same year I began life; you might say the lodge and I were born a month apart.  The match was meant to be.  Over the many years that followed our first encounter on that warm August night in 1992, White Birch Lodge would come to hold special meaning in our hearts as a beloved retreat; the 'Road To White Birch' would become well-traveled.

There is an old saying that recognizes the fact that "many things in life will capture our eye, while few will capture our heart - spend time on what captures the heart."  Nothing could be more true of our White Birch Lodge experience - then, and now.  For us, the 'now' includes two little boys who fell in love with the place during a week-long visit we made there last year, where they both learned how to water ski for the first time. This year saw a return trip to this wonderful Up North destination, only to pick up with the many friends we have there right where we left off last year.

If friends have a way of doing that, children more so. While the world offers many things that capture our eye, the lodge has none of that: no need of telephones, TV's, or other glitzy distractions.  There are, however, no shortage of experiences that will captivate and capture one's heart.  The still waters of Elk Lake (which was really warm) reflected the most beautiful aquamarine color I've ever seen; closest thing I can even compare it to is perhaps the color of the ocean off the coast of Maui.  Life slows way down at the lodge.  Kids are actively engaged in friendly, organic play on the beach, while their parents lounge quietly on nearby chaise lounges reading books, or engaging in conversations with friends punctuated with lots of laughter, smiles, and friendly hugs given as token gifts among newly-made friends.  By day, it was not uncommon to spy guests, quietly lounging by the lakeshore, casting long looks out over the 'still waters' of Elk Lake sporting gentle smiles on their relaxed faces.  By night, the rhythmic cadence of crickets and tree frogs only added to the music of the evening that completely surrounded us as we sat by the nightly bon-fires at the water's edge with friends.  Occasionally, a meteor could be seen streaking overhead, its' bright tail reflecting off the waters of Elk Lake.  In all my travels around this country over the years, I have yet to find a place quite like White Birch Lodge.

A place where time just seems to stop, it never changes.  Neither does the warm hospitality of its' owners, the Conrad family, who welcome the arrival of new and returning guests every Saturday during the course of our Northern Michigan summer.  With a high ratio of staff-to-children, it's the only place we've ever been where we don't have to worry about where the kids are, or what they're doing -- we just know they're somewhere safe on the 20-acres of secluded shoreline that make up this extraordinary retreat.  Rather than try and articulate the detail of time we just spent at this wonderful Up North lodge, it might be more fitting to simply share this video with you about White Birch (since Shannon was on staff here for eight years, and also a stunt water-skier, she felt privileged to add a few thoughts toward the end): WBL - Summer Video

While Shannon and the boys were able to enjoy the entire week of activities at the lodge, I had responsibilities to tend to at work each day.  But even so, returning to the lodge of a late afternoon work day somehow felt like coming home.  When I turned off of US-31 to follow Rivershore Dr - the road to White Birch - the cares of the day just seemed to melt.  Even having to leave of a morning to head back to my office in Traverse City was a calming experience, often driving through a light fog with soft sunlight filtering through the trees washed with morning dew.  The nearby cherry orchards nestled among rolling hills looked as if they were all wrapped up in blankets of fog, while geese flew low overhead toward nearby Grand Traverse Bay.

Shannon must have see the same flock of geese!
It's not easy to put this kind of experience into words; I suppose pictures help, but to actually 'be there' is to come close to a feeling that is better felt than told - yet another reason we began this blog to help draw you in to a place we know and love.  Perhaps some day we may have the pleasure of meeting you - on the Road to White Birch.
Family photo courtesy of Sharon Moebus