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View from the Dune Top: P. J. Hoffmaster Park Aug 7 09

I don’t know why the DNR hasn’t constructed an escalator to the dune overlook at P. J. Hoffmaster Park. No doubt it was just an oversight on the part of the planners, but it’s one I wish they’d correct, because trudging the stairway all the way to the top of that ridiculously tall sand mountain is a killer project. To make matters worse, the number of steps—somewhere around a million, is my guess—continues to mysteriously increase the older I get. There was a time when I think there were just a couple hundred, so I feel that the escalator is long overdue. Budgets being what they are in this state, though, I doubt I’ll see it anytime in my lifetime.

Ah, well. It’s probably just as well. Hoffmaster is a park made for hikers, for people who appreciate the natural landscape and are willing to work a little to enjoy it. The view from the dune top is grand, and well worth the effort it takes to make the redoubtable climb. There’s also plenty to see along the way. Beginning at the parking lot next to the park’s interpretive center, a well-maintained trail winds through a beech/hemlock/maple forest. In that hushed, emerald cathedral, you’ll find plenty of things to capture your interest if you fine-tune your senses to “subtle.” Listen for the call of a pileated woodpecker. Or keep your eyes peeled for the Frog Orchid, which abounds in this location.

But the crown jewel of this particular trail is unquestionably the sweeping panorama which unfolds at the top of the dune stairs. Passing through an archway of white pine branches, you make your way up the final steps and emerge onto a small viewing platform. From that vantage point, the vast, shining waters of Lake Michigan spread out to your west under the blue canopy of summer sky, a cool lake breeze ascends the dune face and whisks the sweat from your forehead, and to the north the treetops part to reveal the sandy top of Mount Baldy a third of a mile away.

It’s a sublime view, and as changeable as a kaleidoscope. Visit at sunset when the sky is a drama of multi-tiered clouds, and watch as the golds and reds and purples light the vapors and fade into a smolder on the shimmering waters. Come at fall, when painted trees stretch to the horizon. And listen at all times for the eternal whisper of the waves that roll, tirelessly and unendingly, onto the distant beach.

The beach. That’s another aspect of P. J. Hoffmaster Park that merits the hike, and there’s another leg of the trail that will take you there. I’ll say little about the mythical woods through which that trail passes like a brief excursion through Never Never Land. You can experience it for yourself, and you’ll be glad you did. Just make sure you make the hike down to water’s edge. No trip to the park would be complete without cooling your bare feet in the waters of the big lake, or strolling down the sandy strand amid the dune grass, or enjoying the view of the shoreline stretching off into the distance with the dunes on one side, Lake Michigan on the other, and the broad summer sky spreading overhead.

Stay awhile. What’s the hurry? Watch the sun set. The walk back to the parking lot isn’t far, and your car will still be there. So lay back in the warm sands and enjoy your time here. For most of us, such moments are far too few, and it’s good and wise to savor them when we can.






Written by Dave.