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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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Take a few precautions on a beach outing: Slap on plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun's harsh rays.© C. Mattisun
Take a few precautions on a beach outing: Slap on plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat for protection from the sun's harsh rays. © C. Mattisun

June 2004

A playground for all ages

Rediscovering fun in the sun

Natasha Kassulke

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.

Sandcastles and sunset strolls

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.

Safety in the sun and water
Sunshine feels good, but also soaks skin in ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

The U.S. Lifesaving Association reports another danger on the beach – drowning.

Always obey signs that warn of unsafe water conditions and here are additional tips for keeping safe in the sun and surf.


Limit the amount of direct sunlight you receive between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) containing a high rating ૻ 15 SPF or above.

The American Cancer Society suggests "Slip! Slop! Slap!" Slip on a shirt. Slop on sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outside. Slap on a hat to shade the sensitive skin on your face, ears and neck. Reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating or toweling.


Drink plenty of water and drink it regularly even if you do not feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the victim's temperature control system, which produces sweat to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result. Signs include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid and weak pulse; rapid and shallow breathing. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 and move the person to a cooler place. Cool them by wrapping the person in wet towels and fanning them. If you have ice packs or cold packs, place them on the victim's wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Make sure their airway is clear.

Eye protection

Excessive exposure to UV radiation can cause a painful corneal burn. Chronic eye exposure to UV may increase incidence of cataract (clouding of the eye lens); pterygium (a fleshy membrane covers the eye); and possibly macular degeneration (spots that could result in blindness).

Wear sunglasses with labels that indicate that they absorb at least 90 percent of UV sunlight. Ultraviolet rays reflect off water and sand and reach below water's surface.

Find a safe area

When possible, select a supervised area with trained lifeguard who can help in an emergency. Never swim alone.

Strong currents and big waves can turn an event that started as fun into a tragedy.

Make sure the water is deep enough before entering headfirst. A feet first entry is safer than diving in headfirst.

Don't rely on flotation devices as a substitute for supervision. Such devices can suddenly shift position, lose air or slip from underneath a child.


Wear foot protection and beware of broken glass, sharp rocks and litter. A solid pair of shoes or sandals is good. Wearing shoes on the beach also protects against scalding your feet on hot sand and they cover the top of your feet from burning sunlight.

– Information compiled from The American Red Cross, National Safety Council, American Cancer Society, American Academy of Ophthalmology and U.S. Lifesaving Association.

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.

Surf's up in Sheboygan

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.

On-shore sporting

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.

Architects on the beach: Sandcastle building tips
While it is tempting to dive in hands first, if you want to be successful making a sandcastle gather the following materials:

  • Sand
  • Water
  • Pail
  • Shovel or spade
  • Plastic knife and spoon (optional)
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Soft-bristle brush (optional)
  • Plastic tubing (optional)
Prepare the location

Water is essential for every good sandcastle because it binds the sand grains. Find a level area to work, sandy and not too far from the water, but not so close that incoming waves will wipe away your work before it's finished.

Prepare the location by dumping buckets of water over it. On that wet spot, create a sand pile a few feet high and soak it with several buckets of water. Pack firmly. Nearby, dig a hole and fill with to act as your reservoir for sand as you build. Like a front-end loader, you can scoop out large handfuls of this super wet sand and start building.

Most people construct a central tower. For a high tower to be strong enough to support its weight, the sand needs to be very wet and compacted. Instead of using buckets of sand, you can use your hands to pack very wet sand until you've reached the desired height. The tower should have a wide base and narrow top.

Castle construction experts on a Lake Michigan beach. © DNR Photo.
Castle construction experts on a Lake Michigan beach.

© DNR Photo
Basic shapes

Most sandcastles have two basic shapes: towers and walls.

Towers may be built around the central tower and become anchor points for your walls. Walls connect towers giving the castle a classic appearance.

The tower is nothing more than sand patties piled on top of each other. Use smaller handfuls as you reach the top so that the tower doesn't become top-heavy and collapse. The bigger your initial base, the taller you are likely to be able to build.

Using both hands, scoop up as much wet sand as you can hold, gently press your hands together to squeeze out excess water and place the resulting sand clump where it's needed.

To create your walls, use a similar patty process. Walls grow higher as you stack one sand clump atop another and lay these patties as bricks end to end for the desired wall length. High walls need to be thick at the base and should narrow as they rise together. Arches are walls with openings tunneled through them. After building a wall, gently tunnel your way through at the base. Then enlarge and shape the opening into the form of an arch by shaving off thin layers of excess sand.

Ramps can be shaped from walls and may be designed as staircases. Steps may be carved into a ramp's surface by using a straight edge tool to remove excess sand.

Use a plastic knife and spoon to give texture and detail to your castle, and a spray bottle to mist the castle walls and fine details. A few timely squirts can keep your work from crumbling.

A soft-bristled brush will erase the knife marks and brush away loose sand. Plastic tubing can be used to gently blow away loose sand. Trowels and other tools may be used to scoop out doors and windows and provide details such as bricks.

Rocks, shells and more may be collected at the beach and used to decorate your castle.

Step back. Enjoy your creation. And take a picture before the wind and waves carry it away.

Footprints in the sand

Family Fun magazine offers some online advice for another creative sand activity – plaster casting footprints.

You will need the following materials:

  • Plaster of Paris
  • Small bucket
  • Water
Expect this project to take an hour and wear sunscreen. Begin by finding an area on the beach that is moist, yet hard packed such as near the water. Press your feet firmly into the sand creating prints that are -inch to two-inches deep. You may use your finger to dig into the print and make it deeper.

Mix the plaster as directed on the package and pour it into the footprint.

After 25 minutes you should be able to gently dig the footprints out of the molds and brush away the excess sand. Let the print dry in the sun for about an hour to harden. Decorate footprints by adding seashells and rocks.

– Tips compiled from Family Fun magazine, Sand Castle Central, Sons of the Beach Sand Castle Wizards and the Family Education Network.