“Sometimes, weâ€™re just too close to appreciate.â€
Thatâ€™s Tara Novakâ€™s conclusion after spending her summer in Fishtown. Thanks to funding from the Michigan Humanities Council, Fishtown Preservation was able this year to hire our first intern. We found the perfect match in Tara.
Tara first came to Fishtown almost twenty years agoâ€”which is saying something, since sheâ€™s just 22 now. Like many of those who first came to the mouth of this river, she came for the fish. â€œMy dad loved to take me places all the time with him,â€ she says, â€œso Iâ€™m sure I was very, very young. My dad has taught me everything about hunting and fishing and the outdoors. Thatâ€™s why my dad and I have such a special connection.â€
Tara grew up in the village of Cedar in Leelanau County, where her family has lived for generations. Her father shared with her his love of the outdoors. It also didnâ€™t hurt that she had so many cousins around. â€œMy dad is one of six,â€ she says, â€œand each of his brothers and sisters has one if not two boys. So Iâ€™ve grown up as pretty much a little tomboy, out with all my cousins in the fishing pond across from my grandpaâ€™s house, and pretty much being outside all the time.â€
Her father brought her to Fishtown, she explains, because, even though some fishermen can get a little protective of their fishing spots, â€œhe knew this was a safe place to take me. Itâ€™s a great environment to have somebody learn in.â€
Taraâ€™s enthusiasm for the outdoorsâ€”and for her native countyâ€”didnâ€™t dim with time. â€œIâ€™ve known pretty much since middle school,â€ she says, â€œthat I wanted a degree that kept me in the outdoors. I just love hunting and fishing, and I want to preserve that, especially for this county.â€
After two years at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Tara transferred to Lake Superior State University in Sault St. Marie, in the Upper Peninsula, where she finished her degree in fisheries management. Her love of the outdoors, her attachment to our county, and her personal and professional experience on both Lakes Michigan and Superior all led to Fishtown.
Despite her experience, Tara found a great deal that she hadnâ€™t known about this place. â€œMy first week even, working down here,â€ she says, â€œI realized how all the different tenants knew each other and were friends. I was always raised, your friends are your family in many ways, and some of your friends can mean the most to you.â€
She also realized how little most people knew about what keeps Fishtown goingâ€”even her own family. â€œThey knew of the shops, definitely,â€ she says, â€œbut they didnâ€™t know about the Fishtown Preservation Society. They didnâ€™t know that this place needs help, it needs donations to keep going.â€
Taraâ€™s mission this summer was to convey to as many visitors as possible the full pictureâ€”the long history and the current situation, too. â€œItâ€™s the history here, the fishing here,â€ she says. â€œI just think Fishtown is a great place. I think the shopping is important, it brings a lot of people in, but the history of Fishtown and getting the donations to keep this place going and aliveâ€”thatâ€™s going to be really important.â€
Tara is young, but her thinking is long-term because, she explains, â€œI want to live here. I want to be able, like my dad did, to bring my children here and show them how to fish. Not just show them how to fish, but tell them the stories and teach them that side of it, too. Hopefully, with future generationsâ€”my kids and friends and familyâ€”I can do that with everybody.â€
Tara is happy that she still sees lots of fathers and sons and daughters fishing on the docks. After all, Fishtown is still the good environment that drew her father here with his young daughters. â€œNot many tourists know,â€ she says, â€œthat they can fish off the docks.â€