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Sandcastles and sunset strolls
Surf's up in Sheboygan | On-shore sporting
Architects on the beach
Safety in the sun and water
The battle that is waged here is not between armor-plated armies, but castle creators and the wind and waves that sweep in to storm the castle. Inevitably, nature will rule and memories of the sandcastle will only live on in photos.
While some only need a bucket, plastic shovel and beach to create rudimentary castles, others take a more serious architectural approach.
Whether your passion is sandcastle creation or freshwater surfing, Wisconsin beaches are all-ages playgrounds. Beach recreation in Wisconsin runs the gamut from beachcombing to kite flying, sunbathing, swimming, Frisbee tosses, picnics, volleyball, boating, kayaking, surfing and more.
Carolyn Rock, a natural resource educator at Whitefish Dunes State Park in Sturgeon Bay, invites visitors to explore the park beach by day and night.
On the last Saturday in July, Whitefish Dunes State Park hosts a Sand Sculpture Contest from 1 to 3 p.m. Last year, 42 groups entered – maximum five people per group.
"We had everything from a sand Lambeau Field to a cherry pie, hammerhead shark and even a nude artistically displayed on the beach," Rock recalls.
On the third Saturday in August, Whitefish Dunes features its annual Candlelight Beach Walk from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. As the sun sets over the dunes, candles are lit on the sandy beach. Part of the trail is handicap accessible. Stroll with family, friends or your sweetheart on a quiet one-mile walk. Enjoy the sounds as the dunes and beach awaken for the night. The park will be open past its usual time of 8 p.m. as the naturalist leads short hikes.
Last year, the night hike attracted 350 people.
"One year we saw lightning over the lake, and another year saw an almost full moon," Rock recalls. "We've had marriage proposals made and anniversaries celebrated during the hike."
Many visitors plan vacations around these events at Whitefish Dunes. The park Friends group provides refreshments. For more information call (920) 823-2400.
During afternoons in July, Whitefish Dunes also houses the Big Red Tent on the beach – an educational program on invasive species such as zebra mussels, as well as an area to check out sand tools, Frisbees, balls and other beach toys.
On the last Sunday of August, Harrington Beach State Park located on the shoreline of Lake Michigan in northeastern Ozaukee County also hosts a sand sculpting competition. Designs have included a giant squid attacking an ill-fated ship.
As any dedicated beachcomber can tell you, the best treasures are discovered ashore after a big storm.
In Wisconsin, beachcombers will find driftwood, shells, unusual rocks, fossils, remnants of boats, and if you're lucky, a message in a bottle.
Much of the fun of beachcombing is finding a mysterious piece of something manmade or natural. Or you may spy animals on or near the shoreline. Evening is an ideal time to spy on critters. Animal tracks captured in the sand tell a lot about shoreland inhabitants.
While studying tracks and treasures, look closely at a handful of sand. The colorful specks are minerals and mineral combinations. You may find traces of copper, silver, and gold, especially in Lake Superior beach sand. On stony beaches, flattened, rounded rocks are formed by tumbling waves.
Some might even find a more unusual treasure. In 1990, a storm knocked containers off the deck of a ship traveling from South Korea to Washington State and 80,000 athletic shoes were lost at sea. That winter, hundreds of the shoes landed on the shores of Washington and Vancouver Island. Beachcombers found the flotsam sneakers and attempted to pair unmatched shoes.
Curt Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer in Seattle, was one of those interested in the "sole" survivors. While he normally studies ocean currents with drift bottles. Ebbesmeyer says the shoe study provided information about currents in the Pacific Ocean.
Ebbesmeyer has founded the nonprofit Beachcombers' and Oceanographers' International Association. To document spills of everything from onions to hockey gloves.
He says the best story of following currents by tracking a lost or discarded item is the wonderful children's book "Paddle-To-The-Sea" by Holling Clancy Holling (1941). The book tells the story of an Indian boy landlocked in central Canada. The boy carves a small Indian man in a canoe, and places him on a snowy hillside with a message on the canoe identifying him as "Paddle-To-The-Sea" and pleading with anyone who finds him to put him back in the water so that he can complete the journey that the boy cannot make himself.
In spring, the tiny canoe slides down the mountain and into streams and eventually the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Paddle encounters many threats and adventures. People discover and help him along his mighty journey.
Ebbesmeyer recalls a chap who released a bottle in Lake Cayuga that made its way down the St. Lawrence, across the Atlantic, over the top of Siberia and across the Pacific to San Diego, California.
"One of the most incredible bottle drifts on record," Ebbesmeyer recalls.
While combing the beach for natural treasures, look for Petoskey stones, a favorite among Great Lakes rock collectors. The stones are fossilized coral that resemble gray honeycombs. The Petoskey is most commonly found on Northern beaches of Lake Michigan in the Western Lower Peninsula.
In Wisconsin, most people surf on the Internet, rather than "hanging-ten" on killer ocean waves.
The exception, however, are the Surf Riders in Sheboygan who consider their home one of the best surf spots in the Great Lakes with waves that can reach 24 feet.
For much of the year, these Great Lakes surfers wear wet suits to stave off hypothermia. Their prime surfing season starts in the fall, as the weather turns cold and waves build. Two challenges to surfing the Great Lakes is that the water is less buoyant than saltwater and the waves usually break more frequently than in the ocean.
The Sheboygan surf scene was captured on film in the 2003 surfboarding documentary, "Step Into Liquid." Among the surfers featured were twins Lee and Larry Williams.
Larry Williams founded the Dairyland Surf Classic, held annually on Sheboygan's lakefront. The DSC features surfing and paddling competitions, a surfboard show and surf party. The tournament attracts about 100 surfers Labor Day weekend. Call (920) 457-1209.
For information, visit The Great Lakes Surfing Association.
Kitesurfing is similar to wakeboarding or surfing. The surfer uses a kiteboard and kite to ride over the land or water and out of the waves. Accessories include a wet suit, booties, lifejacket and helmet. Kite flying skills are an important aspect of the sport and lessons are recommended.
Some popular Wisconsin kite surfing beaches include Bradford Beach in Milwaukee, Lake Koshkonong outside Madison, North Point Beach in Racine, and Alford Park in Kenosha. To learn more, visit Chicago Kitesurfing.
For those more attracted to sand than surf, the beach offers plenty of heart pounding, down and dirty recreational options.
Volleyball spikers find several sand beach volleyball courts along Wisconsin coasts. Beach volleyball is similar to playground basketball. The good players show up at certain spots at specific times for pick-up games.
If you are lucky, as the sand turns griddle hot, you'll hear the midday relief of an ice cream truck's canned calliope. And as the sun sets, eventually everyone hears the same sounds as waves mix with the clapping of sand from shoes signaling that it is time to go home.
Natasha Kassulke is the associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.