The Geneva Lake Shore Path, luckily, is right around the corner from our home.
I have the year-round delight to walk the Geneva Lake Shore Path, a jewel of a resource in Southern Wisconsin. The natural beauty, the quiet, the diversity of surroundings all contribute to my enjoyment.
27 miles of path ring the seven-mile long sparkling blue lake. I start at a point along the shore where there is public access and either double-back or make a loop incorporating lake neighborhoods.
On weekends, I run into tourists or locals out with their dogs or running. People are friendly and polite. Some appear joyous to have access to such a unique walk. On weekdays, especially during the winter before the first of the snowfalls, I don’t see anyone.
The owners of the lakefront property are required to keep the path open to the public and in good repair. Each interprets that directive differently. Some have paved and landscaped the pathway, making walking easy two abreast; others have ignored it, forcing a single file. In those cases, I pick my way around mud puddles and carefully negotiate steep hillsides and poor footing.
The landscape has history. The Geneva Lake Shore Path is hundreds of years old — worn into the soil by the Potawatomi tribe, walking from their village near Fontana to their favorite hunting and fishing locales (now the villages of Williams Bay and Lake Geneva). Workers who built the first houses on the lake used it before the existence of roads and boat service.
In the late 1800s, a rail line was established from the northwestern suburb of Elgin, Illinois, to help Chicago families get away from the summer heat. They toured on large paddle-wheel boats (carrying up to 1000 passengers), camped at one of four large parks, and danced at numerous lakeside venues.
Wealthy Chicago families established second homes and most of the public parklands were re-formed into private holdings. Personal estates, private beach associations, or camps still own the largest pieces of waterfront. Some have not fully developed them. They remain wooded and I hear birds calling, see turtles sunning themselves, and occasionally spot a mink swimming.
Once the end of the lake was damned back in 1836, locals argued about the lake’s level to ensure the grain mills and electrical powerhouses had enough water to run constantly. Now, the arguments are about drainage:
- Did you pave over too much of their property land and threaten the natural runoff? And,
- Who dares drain lawn treatments into the lake that threaten the health of the lake>
I have history here too. I moved to the area in 2001 and walked the path with a neighbor and our two dogs, which stayed close but we unleashed in the winter months. One cold day, the dogs disappeared from our sides. We heard them barking in the distance where they’d found a lone workman who had fallen from his ladder and broken his leg.
My partner and I sailed the lake for a few years. The stories of our arguments, moments of “oh no!,” and those sails that could only be called “amazing” fill our memories.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of walking with my 25-year old son along the Geneva Lake Shore Path. Together we’ve explored all portions of its 27 miles but have yet to traverse the full length all in one go. This fall, he will leave for new employment and in his absence, I promise to make the attempt.
Your thoughts and opinion are always welcome by scrolling down or emailing JudyO@JOHaselhoef.com.
Judy O Haselhoef, a social artist, story-teller, and author of “GIVE & TAKE: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti,” blogs regularly at her website, www.JOHaselhoef.com
Copyright @2017: If you’d like to use any part of it (up to 200 words), please give full attribution and this website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.