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Bathing Suit Days -- Campfire Nights...Just Another Week At White Birch Lodge

During the course of our lives, we often come across people, places, or events whose 'dazzle' captures our eyes.  Then, there are those moments -- usually much fewer in number -- that not only capture our hearts, but which make positive indelible impressions on them that can last a lifetime.  With the latter experience, such is the case that will always be found at one of the most unique family vacation spots in the country: White Birch Lodge, situated on the shores of Meguzee Point on Elk Lake near the iconic and utterly friendly village of Elk Rapids, MI.  Meguzee Point is an ancient land mass with a lot of rich history, jutting gently out into Elk Lake from the north.  Home to an American Indian tribe back in the late 1700's-to-early-1800's, history reveals they revered Meguzee Point as something close to sacred, it was that beautiful.  Not much has changed of that sentiment since.

Ethan and Hunter with Mike Conrad.

Our family had the privilege of spending a traditional summer vacation here this past week with owners, Rick and Karen Conrad.  Together with their son, Mike, and a host of hand-picked, college-aged staff (who are just as warm and winsome as the Conrad family), they truly 'made our week'.  No doubt, other guests of 'The Lodge' had a similar experience.  We met several generations of them, some of whom have even been returning to White Birch Lodge for over 40-years; some whose children used to be staff members now returning with their own young children!  Even though we were many people from many different places, we were all made to feel like family. 

Cliff and Ruby Conrad, Sr.
Original owners, the late Cliff and Ruby Conrad of Maumee, Ohio started White Birch Lodge back in 1958 as a place where they and their many teacher friends from Ohio could retreat to after a busy school year.  They would later retire here fulltime. From its humble beginnings, White Birch Lodge now attracts guests from all over the country, and even the world.  Indeed, the week we were there saw guests who hailed from as far west as Oregon and California, all the way east to New York; from our good neighbors in Canada, down to Florida and Louisiana, and states in between.  All came for the same reason: to rest, relax, and rejuvenate with family and friends.

There is, I think, somewhere down inside the soul of every one of us, a longing to escape the distractions and busy-ness of life.  To come apart from and leave the cares of a disordered world behind in order to regain our perspective, and reconnect with what is truly meaningful in life.  To remember what it means that makes life worth living.  We found all that at White Birch Lodge. 

From the moment we left the pavement of the main road to make our way down the long, tree-canopied gravel driveway leading to the lake and the main lodge, we could just feel the cares of the world leave us, only to be replaced by a profound sense of peace.  Even our boys could feel it.  There is just something extraordinarily special about White Birch Lodge that is difficult to describe.  Some guests tried by using adjectives like 'blessed', 'magical', 'surreal', and 'serendipitous' to try and describe the feelings and emotions they experienced at this wonderful place nestled on the shores of Elk Lake.  White Birch Lodge is all that, and more!

Now, don't look for TV's in the guest rooms.  No phones in the rooms, either.  Sure, you can easily find a wireless connection for your PED if you need one, but the goal here is to get away from all that and not be found - or bothered - on your vacation.  And the owners and stellar staff go out of their way to ensure you have everything you need to relax and enjoy your visit (remember The Three R's: rest - relax - rejuvenate).

One thing parents absolutely love about White Birch Lodge is the water; crystal clear, azure-colored, and almost mineral-like (akin to what one might find in the Caribbean, or off the coast of a tropical island), that they and their kids can safely play in to their heart's content.  One guest from New Orleans marveled at clarity of the warm water; even at 15-20 feet deep.  Certainly no aligators or snakes here; all they could see when they looked over the edge of a sail boat was the clean sandy lake bottom. 

12x12 Word Art Print Available in the Lodge office or Contact us.

With no end of closely supervised activities for the kids, parents can truly enjoy themselves while resting in the knowledge that their children are being entertained and hovered over by a compassionate and caring staff of professionals.  Our boys loved the adventure of water skiing (something they first learned how to do at 'The Lodge' four years ago), tubing in sometimes testy waters behind any one of their three classy Master Craft ski boats, or riding with newly made friends on the giant 6-person 'banana'. 

Hang on boys!  Ethan and Hunter on a tube ride
with one of their favorite staffers!

There were even canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats, for those who wanted something a little quieter.  Or, just pick a quiet dock to visit of an early morning...any one of three.  You might even discover a family of loons, just as Shannon did one morning; they came to within only a few feet of where she sat on the dock with her camera.  The plaintiff calls from this graceful pair, juxtaposed against the backdrop of a calm, quiet morning was breathtakingly beautiful.  A singular-but-typical White Birch Lodge experience.

Of course, there were lots of fun activities for the grown-ups, whether it was 'square dance night', or 'game night', or an 'evening of elegance' (code for a 'quiet-dress-up-dinner-for-just-grown-ups' event, whilst the kiddos were being entertained to their own cool dinner with the cool staff over at the cool rec-hall nearby).  Speaking of 'dinner', that reminds me: as much as I love to cook up fun food, The Lodge handles all that for you three times a day like clockwork so you don't have to.  The most wonderful sound in all of White Birch Lodge's property was the peel of the big ol' cast iron dinner bell perched over the kitchen that rang out at 9am, 1pm, and 6pm, announcing: 'breakfast is served', 'lunch is served', and 'dinner is served' (paraphrasing something 'Uncle Billy' said in the movie, It's A Wonderful Life).

Nights at White Birch Lodge will always find a blazing bonfire at sundown, no matter how hot it may have been during the day.  The last night we were there, a large family of barred owls seemed to follow us around the lodge grounds, making their curiously characteristic 'wheezing' sound as they conversed with each other, only to surround us in the trees that were near us around the fire (we felt that perhaps they were enamored with the soft flicker of the fire light...or was it the big, gooey marshmallows and S'mores in the hands of all those children that caught their big eyes?!)  Overhead, the stars and planets looked huge against the darkness of the night sky over Elk Lake.  The waxing gibbous moon reflected its own light off the lake whose waves made the light seem to shimmer.  (Ah, that feeling again...'blessed', 'magical', 'surreal'...).

Once again, it was so difficult to leave this incredibly enchanted place at the end of the week.  Our boys made so many new friends, as did we.  But it's the echo of the loons and the owls, the chorus of crickets in an otherwise hushed Up North nighttime, and the laughter of the many happy children spending quality time with their families that we will remember in the coming days of our Northern Michigan winter.  No doubt, the many memories made of all those sun-drenched bathing suit days, and warm campfire nights spent under the stars at White Birch Lodge will continue to warm our hearts, no matter how cold the coming winter.  It just makes us want to 'be there' to experience the magic all over again.
11x14 Print Available for purchase at WBL or contact us.

P.S. This is the third blog Phil has written about White Birch Lodge. For more fun reading check out these past links:  August 2011 - "The Road to White Birch..."  and August 2012: - "The Sounds of Summer"

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