Grand Haven is a growing community with the vast Lake Michigan as a backdrop. The local beaches are growing in popularity to tourist from all over with their golden sands, huge dunes with tufts of sea-grass, lighthouses and of course the Grand Haven pier. The waterfront is host to the Musical Fountain. “Good Evening- I am the Grand Haven Musical Fountain.” A deep voice begins the magical show of lights in the moving water displays choreographed to music enhance the dark evening skies every summer night for a half hour or so.
No evening is the same so quite a few local families go every evening, including myself. People with beach chairs, blankets and picnic baskets are sprawled across the well-kept grounds of the waterfront property while some just stroll along the boardwalk hand-in-hand while watching the display or a few decide to roller-blade along and enjoy the warm cool breeze blowing across the jetty. Some spectators walk along just to view all the boats and yachts moored along the boardwalk. The fountain program is a nightly event from Memorial Day to Labor Day and has become a principal attraction of the city. The first performance was on October-1962.
The history of the fountain: The fountain was a cornerstone project in the early 1960’s for waterfront redevelopment. The port of Grand Haven on Lake Michigan was changing from a highly commercialized hub with logging, fishing, rail ferry and passenger liner port-of-call, to a more casual site with auto tourist stops, cruising pleasure yachts, and traffic on the rise. The ship docks, coal yards, and timber piers gave way to yacht basins, green space, and steel break walls. Today the fountain sits midst the boardwalk, yacht harbor, and land preserve.
Just as the surroundings have changed, so has the fountain. Nearly as large as a football field, the original mechanisms and controls have been modernized. Record players and punch tape have been replaced by digital sound and computers. Speakers now fill three buildings. Where the original fountain could change once every quarter second, today more things can change than the eye can follow.
The dune known as Dewey Hill has been the backdrop and physical location of the Grand Haven Musical Fountain for over forty years. In 2003, an inspired group of volunteers determined that unabated sand erosion at the top of the hill would eventually threaten the flagpole, lighting system and the cross/anchor/star mechanism as well as diminish the dune’s natural beauty without immediate action. On July 28, 2003, quick action allowed the air-lifting of an earth moving machine to the top of Dewey Hill and within a few hours, sand was shifted and settled to repair the “blowout” at the crest of the hill. On September 21, 2003, a group of volunteers planted over 4,000 dune grass plants in the area. The dune grass is expected to grow and fill in over a number of years. All areas covered with dune grass will be regularly monitored to enhance grass growth and dune stability. The Public is respectfully requested to heed small “no trespassing signs” placed in the area to assist with this important reclamation effort. Unfortunately in 2005 a spark during the Fourth of July the fireworks display had caught three areas of grass on fire; luckily not too much damage was done.
Another popular attraction is the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival. This is Grand Haven’s 82nd year honoring the men and women of the United States Coast Guard for their hard work and devotion protecting our country.
The focal point each year for the Coast Guard Festival is the National Memorial Service held at Escanaba Park. On Friday August 4th those Coast Guard service members who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during the past year are remembered along with the crew members lost on the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba during World War II.
On the second day of the festival there are family-focused activities such as the Coast Guard Ship Tours, a Children’s Parade, our Downtown Carnival, Nightly Entertainment, the Grand Parade, and many other events. And one of the nation’s best “Grand Finale Fireworks”. The fireworks are well worth the visit, but be sure and get there early because parking is sparse unless you don’t mind walking a few country blocks. Home depot is generous enough to allow free parking along with Wal-Greens and many mom-and-pop businesses
Throughout festival week a series of special events are held to show appreciation to those who have served or are presently serving in the United States Coast Guard. A special reunion cruise which serves to bring back many fond memories to the “Coasties.” An annual dinner is also held honoring active duty personnel as a way to show appreciation and hosted by the American Legion Post 28, all enjoy a sumptuous meal while swapping tales and renewing old friendships. A Retirees’ Dinner is hosted by the Festival at the Festival Headquarters.
Along the waterfront you can enjoy small clothing, souvenir and speciality shops with outdoor restaurants. One stand had me fooled. The name is Nautical Ropes so I thought, “Cool! Seaside souvenirs.” Nope! It is actually a small restaurant specializing in pretzels. They are delicious; I like to dip mine in nacho cheese. There’s the Bil-Mar On The Beach Restaurant. You have the choice of dining inside, but most enjoy the cool breeze coming off Lake Michigan while dining out on the huge deck. I don’t care if you ate an eight-course meal; your stomach will rumble once your nostrils are tantalized by the aromas. Speaking of aromas, the coffee café lull me in every time. I can’t resist a good espresso. Then of course you have the candy shop; another one I can’t avoid and it always seems to be when I’m starving so I buy chocolates like I need a hole in the head. Mackinaw Fudge is the best that I’ve snarfed down and I’ve tried quite a bit of fudge from across the country. Even some locals have challenged me with their fudge and they fail miserably.
Boating is a given for this area and I love to walk along the boardwalk with my three animated grandsons calling out to me, “Grandma, grandma! Look at that one.” The boardwalk is 2 ½ miles from Chinook Pier to Lake Michigan. An interesting fact: The Great Loop is a route boat enthusiasts can take through Lake Michigan onto the Illinois River, down to Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico around Florida, up the Intercoastal Waterway, through the Chesapeake Bay and the Erie Canal and reenter the Great Lakes travel through Lake Huron and arrive back in Lake Michigan.
In Grand Haven alone there are 30-plus charter boats servicing the area, specializing in salmon and trout fishing out of Lake Michigan. Salmon fishing is very popular up and down Lake Michigan shoreline. In 2003, Michigan charter boat captains reported catching 56,000 salmon.
You can’t pass up the chance to ride on the Harbor Steamer at Chinook Pier which offers river cruises on the Grand River.
Also the Harbor Trolley, visitors can ride all over town from downtown to the beach. You can either flag them down or wait at the numerous pick-up areas throughout.
If you plan your visit from June thru October you can enjoy the vast array of fresh fruit and vegetables at the Farmer’s Market next to Chinook Pier.
At night I must admit I get pure enjoyment just sitting beside the lighthouse during the fog and listen to the horn as it blows warnings out to the vast lake and during the day I enjoy playing and walking along the shoreline while watching the kite boarders. During the peak of the summer season (as long as there is wind) Lake Michigan is littered with brightly colored enormous kites as they fly across the water’s surface.