Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: The Old Swimmin’ Hole

Summer has settled right in and no one can dispute that it is just plain hot. The temperature has topped 90 for three days now and leaves hang in want of water. It is oddly quiet and there is next to no breeze today. Even the birds know that there’s nothing to sing about. Summer has hit the doldrums and that’s just what we claim to have been awaiting.
This is garden growing weather, welcomed particularly by vegetable gardeners and their flower-growing compatriots everywhere and always. The Gardener’s garden is growing by leaps and bounds.
When we were kids on Blevins Street, days like this found us playing in someone’s backyard kiddie pool or hose. Many days found us headed for Marion’s swimming hole, just below the dam. It was the Marion Riviera to us and a hot summer spot to generations of the grade school set.
As for the surrounding countryside, each neighborhood had a favored swimming hole. South of Marion in Middle Branch Twp, at the crossing of now Seventeen Mile and Twentieth Ave, the twin bridges spanning the Middle Branch River have long been favored swimming holes.
West and north of Marion lies the once famous, now barely marked, state access site, just off 50th Ave, long known as Sible’s Hole. This was a swimming hole and a fishing spot all wrapped into one, the wide shaded bend in the river, a perfect place for the neighborhood to gather. Park Lake neighborhood kids had a number of river spots from which to choose. Stone’s Dam has long been a choice fishing spot. And of course, Park Lake itself had the lake.
To the east, Winterfield was sprinkled with places to swim; you just had to know where and with whom. Up on Kirby Road where the west branch of the Clam (this branch was once known as the Gishwash) cuts the road, I sometimes swam at the small iron bridge there with my friend Shirley Sherman and the Millers. This was a handy spot just a short walk from her house. It was used with great regularity by the Miller kids and the banks were grassy and well trod, a seasonally shifting sand bar served as a pebbly beach.
Shirley and I both swam with our friend Peg Blackledge and her brother and sisters, at a point a few miles downstream from Kirby Road. This swimming hole was a sandy and shallow spot on the same branch of the Clam along the river flats behind Blackledge’s Partridge Road home. It was well worth the hike across the pasture. The river, at this bend was wide and shallow. The Clam can be rather low and slow in the heat of July and August. This was another great place to pass a summer day with friends. Curious cattle sometimes paid a call too.
Just above the Blackledge swimming hole, lays the intersection of Haskell Lake and Partridge Roads. The bridges there giveWinterfield its own twin bridge site. Swimming below the westerly bridge has been a long standing sport. The Dunn boys trekked the half mile with no difficulty. These days, cattle use this spot more than people.
The last road crossing spot on this branch of the Clam is on Cook Road. The river passes through culverts beneath Cook, rather than under a bridge. Bicycles along the road are a sure sign that kids are passing a summer’s day cooling off at this sandy bottomed spot.
There’s more fishing than swimming at the Clam River Bridge on Haskell Lake, but it does enjoy the favor of the neighborhood from time to time. Access is not the best.
As a family, we tended to favor a couple of spots along the Muskegon. More years ago than I want to name, Winterfield’s High Banks was an almost forgotten spot along the river on the Jack pine plains. It was a pristine site. Accessed by a close and seldom used two-track, this was a great place to spend a day. There were no campfire remains or fallen trees sliding down the high, sandy bank. The Muskegon makes a wide horseshoe sweep, eating away at the high plains, as it has since the last ice age. Almost without fail, breezes sweep down-river and up the bank. When Shirley Sherman visited at our house, we swam here.
This spot has long since been discovered and suffers as tourist spots do. Once a wooded campground, it now lies at the edge of the Kirkland’s warbler habitat, the sandy bank is littered with broken glass, cans, campfire remains and the ruts from hundreds of disrespectful 4-wheelers. It is a shadow of its former self, but still remains a popular place to get in the water.
Perhaps the best known and most used river spot in Winterfield is at Pine Road’s Church Bridge. At this popular canoe launching and cool off spot, the broad river makes a long, sometimes swift, sweep past an old Consumers site. This spot sees almost daily use during the summer and has been popular for well more than 100 years.
These days, we live in the neighborhood of Winterfield’s infamous and not too large, gravel pits. I have to admit that it’s a fine spot to cool off on a hot day like today. I’ll bet it’s hopping in this heat.
The dog days of summer have us all thinking of ways to cool off. Ask your kids. They know where to go.

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