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One of Michigan's newest state parks graces the north shore of Duck Lake in Muskegon County. Lying just a few hundred feet inland from Lake Michigan in the West Central portion of the state, little Duck Lake holds its own among much bigger and far more famous inland lakes. Formed near the mouth of Duck Creek, Duck Lake nestles east of the shoreline dunes through which small Duck Creek makes its way to Lake Michigan. Originally the home of several tribes of Native Americans, Duck Lake saw its first development in the early 1800s when a sawmill was built at the outlet by an early European settler. When the logging industry quickly depleted the stands of virgin pine, settlers soon discovered that the loamy clay soils behind the dunes were excellent for raising fruit trees and grape vines. Fruitland Township still holds a number of orchards and vineyards. For many years Duck Lake was famous for Camp Shawondossee, the Boy Scout Camp where a young Gerald Ford served as counselor. The former boy scout camp forms part of the Duck Lake State Park, providing about a mile of frontage along the shoreline.
The south shore of Duck Lake is dotted with private homes. Most homes have private docks and often a small swimming area. Residents can also swim at Marcus Park near the outlet or a small park owned by Fruitland Township near the inlet of Duck Creek. The State Park also offers a swimming area, so there is plenty of sandy beach from which to swim and enjoy water sports. Part of 313-acre Duck Lake is open to power-boating, so water skiing and personal watercraft are popular. Other portions are restricted to slow-no wake speeds, making the lake ideal for those enjoying paddle sports, sailing and pontooning. Over the dunes to the west, beautiful Duck Creek Beach offers Lake Michigan swimming, sun bathing and big-lake enjoyment. A small dam of uncertain ownership controls water levels and prevents boats from sailing between Duck Lake and Lake Michigan. Duck Lake has become a popular residential lake where year-round residents can have the best of both lakefront living and nearby city amenities. The town of Whitehall and White Lake are about six miles from the lake, and downtown Muskegon is less than 20 miles.
Fishing is always a popular sport at Duck Lake: bass, crappie and panfish are plentiful, and fly-fishing for bluegills is an especially rewarding activity in early summer. The fishing doesn't stop when the lake freezes over in winter, however. Most clear days in winter will see a number of anglers trying their luck through the ice. Boats can be launched at the State Park launch site. Day-use-only Duck Lake State Park offers 728 acres of wooded trails for hiking, nature observation and cross-country skiing in winter. The swimming beach, picnic area with shelters and designated area for metal detecting add to the recreational opportunities for day visitors. The State Park extends over the huge dune area where a boardwalk leads to the beach on Lake Michigan. The park is officially closed to vehicle traffic in winter, but the trails can be accessed via skis and snowmobile. Certain parts of the State Park are open to fall hunting in season with proper permits. Hunters come here to find deer, rabbit, woodcock, pheasant, duck, goose and squirrel. A permanent marker denotes the spot where the old Camp Shawondossee of President Ford fame stood for so many years. Although not nearly as well known as Muskegon State Park a few short miles down the Lake Michigan shoreline, Duck Lake State Park offers a unique opportunity to enjoy nature in a quiet and uncrowded venue.
The Duck Lake area is ideal for an active family. Besides fun on the lake itself, other recreational venues are a scant few miles away. Blue Lakes Fine Arts Camp offers performances by young talent-in-training and visiting artists on a regular schedule. Two separate water parks can be accessed within 15 miles, as can several golf courses. One of the water park locations also holds rodeo performances during the summer, dogsled rides in winter and horseback riding year round. The other offers a full amusement park. The White River Light Station Museum, built in 1875, is open for tours and a history lesson at the mouth to the White River channel on White Lake.
In Muskegon, the Lakeshore Museum Center features unique dioramas of life in the area built by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression. Other exhibits provide a glimpse into the flora and fauna in a pre-historic Michigan, children's exhibits on nutrition and the human body, and a variety of historical artifacts. The Museum Center also offers tours of several restored historic buildings from Muskegon's past. Muskegon holds a world-renowned Winter Sports Complex and is home to several charter fishing captains who can provide big-lake fishing excursions on short notice. The Lakeshore Express Ferry service offers both local cruises and cross-lake ferry service to Milwaukee daily during the warmer months. The ferry can carry both passengers and automobiles and is often used as a faster route to Wisconsin than car travel all the way around the lake. Then, there are farm markets, wineries and antique shops to suit every desire, with plenty of quaint eateries, bed-and-breakfasts and local studios and galleries in the area.
Resident or visitor, no one runs out of things to do in the Duck Lake area. It is occasionally possible to find a private rental on Duck Lake but if not, there are other lakes in the area along with plenty of campgrounds, resorts and conventional lodgings in the cities. Small motels can often be found along nearby US 31. Real estate can be found locally both on the lakeshore itself and nearby with lake access. Careful shopping can sometimes find the perfect home for a very reasonable price compared to better-known resort areas. Duck Lake offers the best of all worlds. Come and visit once - you'll want to stay forever!
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