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One of Southeast Michigan's long-term favorite places to be in summer is Clark Lake. This natural lake, enhanced in size by a small dam, has been a popular destination for thousands of visitors and summer residents throughout the 20th century. For many years the beaches at Clark Lake were the playground of the 'well-to-do' and the 'up-and-coming'. Nestled in the famed Irish Hills, Clark Lake is graced by the former summer homes of Hollywood supporting actresses and play-oriented executives and their young families. Only 75 miles from booming Detroit and 200 miles from Chicago, Clark Lake was the perfect getaway for a newly mobile nation. Clark Lake is far more egalitarian these days, but executives still seek homes here and groups of young adults still pool their resources to rent a cottage for a week or two in summer.
Officially a 580-acre lake, the actual size is likely a few acres off one way or another. That doesn't much matter to the many boaters who spend their summers on the water. The local yacht club holds recreational regattas here regularly and teaches sailing to the youngsters. Water skiing, tubing and personal watercraft are favorites. A marina rents berths to those who bring their boats for the summer, and pontoons still cruise the perimeter of the lake. The Raft-O-Rama continues as a 50+ year summer tradition with humorously-decorated pontoons vying for prizes for originality. Residents and visitors alike enjoy swimming and beach-based volleyball at the small county park, the township park, and their own small swim areas adjacent to their private docks. A beach and boat club is open to membership and offers playground space, snack bar and swim areas. Teens still sunbathe on the grassy margins near the lake, and their young male counterparts still perform water-based antics guaranteed to attract their attention. Children can still get an ice cream cone in the tiny business district across the street from the lakefront or ride their bikes on the quiet streets among the cottages.
Clark Lake is also known for excellent fishing. Two public boat ramps, one at each end of the lake, provide water access for visiting anglers. Although not particularly deep, the lake offers up walleye, good-sized perch, bluegill and crappie. Because the lake is often busy with boaters in summer, fishermen usually plan to visit during the early mornings or off-season. Ice fishing is a major draw, with fishing derbies held regularly. The annual Midwest Open Ice Fishing Tournament is so popular that participant tickets are often sold out by the previous August: winning two-person teams can collect upwards of $12,000 for the winning catch in bluegill and crappie. Sunny weekends in February often see nearly as many people on the ice as will be seen on the water on a hot July day. Bait shops locally sell needed supplies while a major sporting goods store in the Town of Brooklyn is only four miles away.
A new lakeside restaurant is replacing the old landmark Eagles Nest that held court for well over 50 years and is improving their docking facilities to handle more arrivals by water. Many smaller cottages have been replaced with upscale year-round homes. New condos are now renting near the marina and offer the best in amenities for those not wishing to be burdened with home maintenance chores. A popular bar at the east end of the lake offers live entertainment and is the chosen gathering spot of the younger crowd. Older adults and families also find activities to their liking at the popular bar, especially the annual 'crab races' with hermit crabs - a hilarious activity in which participants 'rent' a crab for the race and a chance to win great prizes, with proceeds going to local charities. Off-water activities include the five-mile Clark Lake Spirit Trail which circles the lake and an annual Run Clark Lake event that features both 5k and 12k events for all ages.
Clark Lake's location in the Irish Hills gives access to a full schedule of activities in the surrounding area. The Michigan International Speedway is located less than ten miles away and offers two NASCAR race weekends each season. Other activities at the track such as car shows, specialty driving schools, the Great Lakes Wine Fest, Formula SAE Design competition and sporting events make the track the focus of a full summer of active fun. Racing fans love the opportunity to take a couple of laps around the two-mile oval with a professional race driver. The scenic stretch of US 12 through Irish Hills is a favorite of motorcycle touring clubs and antique auto fans; cruising events are held throughout the summer. Walker Tavern Historic Complex along the old stagecoach road between Detroit and Chicago holds regular summer events including Civil War re-enactments, vintage baseball exhibitions, and old-time craft demonstrations. And just down the road, Hidden Lake Gardens features many acres of native and specialty plantings, greenhouses and arboretum under the care of Michigan State University. Nearby the Dahlem Conservancy provides over five miles of hiking trails, exhibits and educational programs on their 300 acres of woods, marshes, meadows and ponds. The area abounds with antique shops and small-town ambiance along US 12.
Many opportunities for lodgings exist at Clark Lake. Several private owners regularly rent cottages and cabins at the lake, many with a boat or pontoon included. Condos are available for short-term rentals, and local bed-and-breakfasts can be found nearby. Although there are no campgrounds directly on Clark Lake, there are several in the area, with a huge complex of camping facilities near Michigan International Speedway. Some are open for the entire season, but reservations are strongly recommended well in advance of Race Weekend. The Town of Brooklyn offers a chain hotel and maintains lists of available rentals at the many lakes in the Irish Hills. Brooklyn also provides all necessary services including wellness clinics, restaurants, shopping and a full range of festivals and fun events encompassing the entire summer season. Real estate is available both at Clark Lake and the many other small lakes in the area. A more pleasant summer vacation spot would be hard to find: Clark Lake has just about anything. When can we expect you?
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