Lansing's Summer on the Water

Defined by the Great Lakes, Michigan is a water-lover's paradise.

As the payoff for long winters, we get 11,000 clear, blue inland lakes, miles of warm sandy beaches, and cold trout streams meandering through pine forests. Our sparkling natural waters are plied by nearly a million registered recreational boats in 2005—more than all but two other states, Florida and California.

And while the City of Lansing might be lodged in the land-locked center of this water wonderland, the wet stuff is still nearby. A mere 15-minute drive east of Downtown Lansing, the 450-acre Lake Lansing is waiting, with the classic Michigan medley of beaches, boats, bikinis and beverages.

Water World

“It’s a good lake for all kinds of users,” says Craig Gerard, 31, an estate attorney who lives near Lake Lansing with his wife, Brianna, 31, their son Carter and dog, Bogey.

“The guys who want to go bass fishing, they’re out there at five-thirty in the morning," he says, "They know they have to be done by ten, because the wave runners and the wake boarders are all going to start.”

According to a 2002 management study, Lake Lansing sees a lot of boating, mostly speed boats, jet skis,  sailboats, and a healthy dose of pontoon boats. Slightly less than half the summer's boat traffic is dropped in at the public launch; the rest belong to the residents and various clubs lining the shores of the lake.

Lake Lansing’s two sailing clubs, the MSU Sailing Center and the Lansing Sailing Club, keep the lake full of bright, billowing sails each evening and summer weekend. The MSU Sailing Center offers classes and memberships ranging from $100 for MSU students to $160 for the general public. Both memberships include use of the club’s sailboats.

The Lansing Sailing Club also offers classes and memberships, but is focused on sailboat racing and hosts several regional regattas each season. According to its Web site, the club has six club boats that associate members can use. Members race in regular Wednesday night races, in addition to hosting events, such as the annual Lightning "tune up" regatta in May and the upcoming Lake Lansing Sunfish Regatta.

Lakeside Recreation

In the 1920s, Lake Lansing was a trolley ride away from Downtown Lansing, and a social club once perched on stilts in the middle of the lake; by the 1940s, the lakeshore boasted an amusement park with a massive wooden roller coaster.

The area has trended heavily toward residential development since its recreational heyday, however; the trolley line is gone, the amusement park was torn down in the mid-1970s and the mid-lake bar is nowhere to be seen.

But, it’s been replaced by hundreds of acres of greenspace in county parks, and a dedicated group of land owners who have coughed up tax assessments that help keep it clean.

So, when the sun is high and the waves are calling, there’s still plenty for us non-boating, non-residents to do at Lake Lansing, if you know where to look.

Lake Lansing Park South, one of two big parks at the lake, offers a sandy public beach, snack bar, volleyball courts, paddle boat rentals, children’s playground equipment, a band shell and other amenities.

“On Friday nights, they have the bands at the band shell,” says Craig Gerard.referring to free performances each Friday at 7:00 p.m. during the summer.

“It’s cool, because you can pull right up to that general area in your boat and listen to the music,” says Brianna Gerard, who happily trades a 15 to 20 minute commute to her job in Downtown Lansing for the lake-side lifestyle.

Lake Lansing Park North offers 400 acres of wooded hiking trails, as well as volleyball courts, a softball diamond, picnic shelters and other facilities.

The Gerard's use the parks system every day, according to Brianna, for baby-walking, dog-walking and exercise.

“5:30 p.m. to sunset, it’s all about being outside,” says Craig.

Food and Libations

After a long day on the water, it’s important to find refreshment. The local watering holes adjacent to the lake offer cold drinks and a little of the local Haslett flavor.

The Blue Gill Grill, near Lake Lansing Park South, scored two slots on the recent City Pulse Readers Poll, including Best Place to Be Seen, and Best Cocktails. The parking lot offers a glimpse into the clientele you’ll likely find inside—rusty trucks with kayaks on the roofs parked beside European autos of the area’s doctors and lawyers.

Next door, the Mayfair Bar offers an Up North attitude, a live bait sign above the parking lot, and a faded mural honoring legends of MSU sports. Both bars are casual, sports-oriented, and ready to host a long evening with your sunburned crew.

Blondies Barn, at the corner of Haslett and Marsh Road, is popular for breakfasts and burgers, and Mark’s Watershed Tavern and Grill, across the street from the lake, offers a large menu and photos of the old Lake Lansing amusement park.

“We’ll go to the Blue Gill Grill, and to Mark’s Watershed,” says Molley Polverento, 33, who also lives nearby with her husband, Gerry, 38, an IT manager, and their son, Sam. “Especially when the students are in East Lansing, because it’s hard to get into the restaurants. [Students] don’t know these places exist, or they don’t pay any attention.”

None of the restaurants, however, offer any outdoor seating with views of the lake, a surprising fact not lost on the locals.

“None of those places utilize any of the natural environment,” laments Rory Neuner, 28, a Yale graduate who grew up at the lake, and recently moved back to the area after finishing her master’s degree in Chicago. “I’d like to sit outside for awhile and just have a drink.”

“There’s no use of the natural resources,” agrees Brianna Gerard. “Nobody has outdoor seating. They could put a really cool open space or a restaurant with a deck; there’s lots of things they could do.”

So, if you want to get outside for a snack, you’re more likely to find your way across the street to the Cone Zone, where the long line of ice cream addicts is hard to miss.

“I drive by the Cone Zone on a summer night, and there’s just millions of people outside,” says Polverento. “It’s cool to see people sitting outside enjoying the summer night.”

With 800,000 people living within a 50-mile radius, Lake Lansing is a small lake with a big job. But it’s delivering in fine style, and a visit will certainly help pass the long, hot summer afternoons.

Brad Garmon is Editor-in-Chief of Capital Gains. He encourages you to Wave at the Dog Walker on Haslett Road when you visit the lake, so you can join the 1000 other members of his Facebook group. 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Beach volleyball at Lake Lansing South

Left to Right: Bogey, Craig and Brianna Gerard, Rory Neuner, Molly Polverento and her son Sam, and Carter Gerard, enjoy a walk around the lake.

Kids playing on the beach at Lake Lansing Sorth

MSU Sailing Club

Blue Gill Grill

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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