By Marie Havenga – email@example.com
From visitors strolling the pier and soaking up a Lake Michigan sunset to boaters motoring through miles of navigable waterways, this area is laden with liquid assets.
From gasoline, slip fees, shopping excursions and dinners out, boaters leave a wealth of economic impact in their wake.
The local chamber of commerce estimates that by virtue of being a waterfront community, tourists plunk down $49 million a year here.
You can see the flow of money every summer weekend as tourists and locals flock to Grand Haven to dine, shop at galleries and upscale clothing stores, and stroll the boardwalk with an ice cream treat in hand.
Chuck and Ellen Vonesh understand the attraction. In the mid-1980s, they lived in Chicago, but slipped their boat at North Shore Marina. By the early 1990s, they had moved here.
“It’s a cute town,” said Ellen, who runs Desserts by Design. “It called our name. We made a lot of great friends through boating and it just seemed like a nice place to land and retire.”
Ask any boater, whether local or visiting: there’s something magical about mooring here, even for locals who motor to Grand Haven for what feels like a mini-vacation in a tourist town.
“I love to stay in Grand Haven,” Ellen said. “It’s just getting away somewhere, even in your own town. There’s nothing better than sitting on your boat when the rain is falling, reading a book or taking a nap.”
Perhaps Grand Haven’s biggest boating attraction is its cruising choices.
“If the waves were bad we would go way up river,” Ellen said. “You could hit Spring Lake… it’s nice to have a place to go with guests when you can’t get on the Big Lake.”
Boating Grand Haven? Here are some waterways to wander, from scenic and natural to wild and loud:
*Lake Michigan is the main attraction, with clear, blue-green water and access to virtually anywhere in the world. It’s the perfect place to soak up a sunset.
*One of the most popular boating options doesn’t require fuel. Vessels line up three-deep along “the wall,” the boardwalk that runs from downtown Grand Haven out to the pier. You can moor for free for up to 24 hours and head into town for dinner, sight-seeing and shopping. Mariner’s notice to captains: it’s important to share intentions with fellow boaters before rafting alongside another boat. If you plan to spend several hours downtown dining and dancing and the vessel you’ve rafted upon needs to depart in 30 minutes, it could become an ordeal.
*Cruise inland to Spring Lake Village for more dining and shopping options. This quaint pedestrian-friendly village of 2,500 is on a peninsula between the Grand River and Spring Lake. Free moorage is available at the end of N. Jackson Street. From the water, turn starboard after crossing under the M-104 bridge and cruise about a mile until you see the blue railings at the Jackson Street dock. Downtown is a two-block walk to the south. Moorage is also available at Jack’s Restaurant and Old Boys’ Brewhouse.
*If the Big Lake is cranking up uncomfortable waves, head upstream on the Grand River for a 20-mile journey featuring scenic unspoiled land, wildlife and beautiful riverfront homes with manicured lawns. You’re likely to witness mute swans, blue herons and perhaps a deer or bald eagle on your cruise. Although the Grand River gateway looks a bit commercial from the onset, forge ahead. Pilot under the U.S. 31 drawbridge, maintain heading and follow the channel markers just south of the Holiday Inn on your port side. Point of caution – be careful of “no wake zones,” not always clearly marked.
*If “wild life” is more your style than viewing wildlife, check out Hanky Pank Bayou, a popular party destination for boaters. On any summer weekend, hundreds of boats congregate with brews and bands. To reach Hanky Pank, head upstream from Grand Haven, after crossing under the U.S. 31 drawbridge, turn port into Spring Lake. Navigate easterly until the main body of Spring Lake breaks off to the north. Turn port and continue until you see (or hear) the partying on your port side.
*Looking for more wild times? Navigate here during Coast Guard Festival week. You can catch shows at Waterfront Stadium and watch and wow from your boat during the flame-throwing fireworks finale.
*If you’re up for quieter options, with no amenities other than a brilliant sunrise, consider anchoring in Petty’s Bayou for an overnight stay. Consider yourself “unplugged,” and turn off your cell phone. But don’t forget to leave your anchor lights on. Petty’s Bayou is at the easternmost portion of Spring Lake, under the Fruitport Road (Bowens) Bridge.