Day 33- Harbor Beach to Port Austin

Photo by Steve Penn at Port Austin Kayak
Photo by Steve Penn at Port Austin Kayak

Today my family and logistics manager, Jessica Besock find ourselves holed up for the day in Caseville, MI, due to winds which whip the trees into dramatic frenzy on land and make for high swells and intense chop on Ocean Huron. Yes, it really is an ocean out there! A freshwater, inland one. Chop and swell are great fun but not when you have any distance to travel and the two collide in your face. Makes for miserable, injury inducing paddling, never mind the obvious safety aspect.

Yesterday I had a great “downwinder” to Port Austin. Harbor Beach is trying to hop on the “create more access to and highlight the waterways and natural resources” bandwagon. It has potential, I really do believe. What has clearly impacted the town more negatively than I’m sure the local pols could have guessed, tho, is the industry they invited in  (Dow Chemical- they make pesticides there). I’m sure the logic was the same as we always hear from our elected officials, to “provide jobs and boost the economy.” I’m not sure if the company has truly delivered the economic vibrancy it promised. At least not from our vantage point as visitors passing through.

What will save Harbor Beach, and I really do think it will turn that corner, and I’d LOVE to come back and visit in five years, is the easy access to, and engaging the community in, its amazing water as has vibrant Port Austin. The town has got the right idea with improvements to its beaches, its public boat launch and marina, the absolutely adorable little cabins within walking distance of a restaurant and ice cream and right there by the marina. A marina with clean public showers ALWAYS rates high on my list, and Harbor Beach has it. It is only a matter of time before Harbor Beach translates itself into a destination for water sports enthusiasts and fisherfolk as Port Austin has. And the paddling is off the charts gorgeous. The water is so clear that I’d suggest paddlers bring snorkeling goggles in addition to paddles. You are seriously gonna want to hop off your kayak or out of your canoes and see the sites below the surface as well!

Fishermen without boats will LOVE how they can easily walk onto the long breakwater and fish right off the rocks at Harbor Beach.

Anyway, when you compare Harbor Beach to the other towns that have focused extensively on creating a community around their natural resources (hiking/ biking and their WATERFRONTS), with a priority on engaging the community and providing free access to EVERYONE, well, hell, these towns are thriving. Harbor Beach will totally get there. It has taken the biggest step of all, which is to turn the cogs of political whim and past thought and get back to focusing on natural assets/ resources and community. While this is purely anecdotal evidence on my part, it seems to be a common theme from Newark/NYC to this point here in MI. I’ve observed this on past paddles, as well.

In this day and age, we tend to drown ourselves in technology and consequently end up isolating ourselves. Focusing on available natural resources and encouraging communities to actively use them seems to translate into a wider diversity of businesses, healthier, active communities, healthier, more resilient local economies, and a sense of vibrancy that is absent from those towns that allow their resources to turn into wastelands or simply ignore them.

In light of the Green Acres planned give back in Cumberland County, in my home state, NJ,  I feel that this observation needs to be noted. Encouraging polluting industries that devastate and destroy the local resources is precisely what Cumberland county does NOT need. Too often NJ politicians (and other states, let’s be fair!) ignore the scorched earth nature of inviting “industry for economic growth” into an area which devastates all potential for other interests which depend on healthy resources to survive. NJ politicians would do well to look at what other areas are doing to encourage growth that allow for economically healthy diversity and protection of natural resources. We all need clean water to drink and play in, after all. It IS a pretty basic requirement for life. After all, who wants to live in an area with dirty water?

And one might ask, what makes me so sure that NJ state and local politicians will invite in polluting industry into this hotbed of natural resources that Cumberland County is? One only has to look at past practice. Sad to say, history speaks for itself in my little hometown state. Especially when it’s on the Bayshore areas-whether in the north or southern aspect of the state. Time to turn the page!

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