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Fireworks burst in the sky over Round Lake lighting up the skyline of Charlevoix. The city encircles the lake holding it like a treasure, the best natural harbor on Lake Michigan. Over the years its value, originally mostly economic, has expanded to include recreation. Every year thousands of visitors flock to the waters of the northwest Michigan lake to boat, fish, and explore. During one special summer week, Round Lake blooms with the colors of boat parades on the water and fireworks in the air. The Venetian Festival started in 1931 as a candlelit boat parade. Today it has grown into a larger than life week-long celebration including concerts, fireworks, and boats.
It wasn't the festival, however, that first drew people to Round Lake. The lake sits between Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Charlevoix to the east, connected by the channel of the Pine River. Its value as a natural harbor was discovered early, and by 1873 attempts were being made to enhance the route's navigability. Lake Charlevoix's 17,262 acres of water outflow into Round Lake which in turn flows into the Pine River and on into Lake Michigan. In order to move timber and other freight from one lake to the other, the series of pools and rapids that made up the Pine River were dredged and widened until they created a 35 foot wide, 12 foot deep channel between Round Lake and Lake Michigan. Almost immediately, however, builders realized the waves coming off Lake Michigan would silt up the opening of the channel. Piers were constructed to break up the waves, and in 1884 a lighthouse was built on the end of the pier. The two-way current, flowing in from Lake Michigan and out from Round Lake, is one of the things that makes the Pine River Channel, also known as the Island Lake Outlet, special. It is also the site of one of the few draw bridges operated by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Named for French explorer, Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, the village of Charlevoix was established in 1871. It grew to completely surround Round Lake, and in 1905 it officially became a city. By that time, Round Lake was already known as a resort community with clubs and summer homes sprouting along the sandy shores of the lake. Vacation rentals still line the shore, and there is real estate available for sale. Charlevoix offers any amenity a visitor might want. The nationally recognized East Park sits on the shore of the lake and hosts families on weekends and bands during festivals. The park also has municipal docks, and there is a paved walkway that runs around part of Round Lake to the Charlevoix Lighthouse.
Both commercial and recreational boat traffic is still significant from Lake Michigan through the Pine Channel; with Round Lake and Lake Charlevoix spread before boaters, there are thousands of acres of water to explore. Anglers will find plenty of steelhead and brown trout in the channel, and abundant populations of smallmouth bass and walleye can be found in the lake.
Round Lake's position as a natural harbor on Lake Michigan ensures its future as a recreation destination. Surrounded by the City of Charlevoix, it is uniquely situated in an urban center, but with access to thousand of acres of the beautiful waters of northwest Michigan. People have been coming to enjoy the lake's water for well over a hundred years and are sure to continue to play on Round Lake far into the future.
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