A Busy Time in Fishtown
Gabrielle Grobbel – Fishtown Preservation
It is the height of the season in Fishtown, and Leland is at its busiest. In my experience this summer, I have found that each week is a new adventure. There are new opportunities, new people passing through, and few quiet moments. After such a busy holiday weekend, I wanted to reflect back on some of my favorite things that have happened recently, as well as look forward to what’s to come.
In honor of a much beloved friend to all of Fishtown, Fishtown Preservation Society (FPS) hosted a small ceremony last week celebrating the life of Biscuit Burnham, a golden lab who passed away in January. Biscuit was a regular Fishtown visitor, faithfully accompanying his owner Keith Burnham on his daily visits to Fishtown for more than ten years. Keith is behind the popular the Leland Report, which later led to the Biscuit Report that featured Biscuit and his new friends that he met.
The familiar sight of Biscuit was a comfort to those he greeted, and he would happily accept head pats, scratches, dog treats and smoked fish sausage. Biscuit became an integral part of the Fishtown experience for those who visit the Leland area each year and for the thousands who were featured on the Biscuit Report.
In his memory, and in the memory of all dogs who visit and love Fishtown, this summer Fishtown Preservation has dedicated a small space in the heart of Fishtown to Biscuit. Outside of the Art Shanty (lower level of the Ice House), stands a silhouette of Biscuit and a small sign indicating who he was and what he meant to Fishtown. Here we hope that all members of the dog-loving community can stop and snap a photo with one of their favorite Fishtown pups. We are grateful to everyone who has been inspired to donate to Fishtown in his honor.
Mornings in Fishtown are always quieter than the hustle and bustle of the afternoons, but the morning of the ceremony was especially peaceful. The sun was out without a cloud in the sky, and the small gathering in front of the Art Shanty was a heartwarming sight. Those who are friends of Keith and were fans of Biscuit were happy to show their support, some bringing dogs of their own. I have always been a dog lover, and I couldn’t help but think of my Goldendoodle Callie at home. Dogs truly are our best friends, and Biscuit was a friend to all of Fishtown.
Last week, Fishtown Preservation welcomed a new addition to the family of Fishtown shanty businesses. With shelves full of hand-crafted pottery, Leelanau Artisan Pottery opened its doors just in time for one of the busiest weekends of the summer.
When I visited the shop this weekend, I learned from Bob Babich, one of the store owners, that his wife Sarah Johnson is behind all the beautiful stoneware that decorates the shop. Sarah’s wheel-thrown pieces are crafted in her studio, where she also makes her own glazes. The earthy blues and greens of the glazes remind me of the captivating Leelanau lakeshore, as if each piece has a bit of local character to it. I was happy to wander around the little shop and admire the skill and care that went into each pot.
Leelanau Artisan Pottery has other handcrafted gifts from makers within the family as well, adding to the shop’s charm and emphasis on locally made goods. Bob told me that he is responsible for the air plant hangers that line the walls above the shelves. Made from metal and driftwood, Bob fashions lovely hanging planters for air plants that require no soil, only a weekly soak in water. The use of driftwood tied them perfectly to the ongoing narrative of capturing the beauty of the lake within their little store.
Having practiced pottery myself, I have difficulty staying away from the shop and refraining from buying something every time I visit. I love the connection between beauty and utility in ceramics, and I have started a collection of pieces from artists that I meet. There are so many amazing and talented artists in Fishtown, and being surrounded by them along with their art that captures the nature in this area has been a highlight of my summer.
If you have not had a chance to visit Leelanau Artisan Pottery yet, make sure you stop in soon!
5K RACE PACKETS
In the upcoming days, Fishtown Preservation is prepping for the 13th Annual Fishtown 5K. The virtual race will take place from July 17th to the 31st, so runners and walkers are welcome to complete their 5K any time during that time frame. It could be in your neighborhood, on a treadmill, or along a favorite nature trail! The official route in Leland will be marked for those who wish to use it, though participants can schedule their 5K wherever they want it to be.
This week we’ve been preparing race packets to mail to all those who have signed up for the event. The packets include a commemorative Fishtown 5K t-shirt, a race bib, and a Fishtown 5K magnet. All race proceeds go toward preserving Fishtown, and there is still time to sign up if you are interested, just visit the
Fishtown 5K page under the Events tab above. If you sign up now through July 31st, you will still be entered in the drawing for a chance to win a beautiful painting of the Janice Sue by Neil Walling!
It seemed like a daunting task when we started with a room full of t-shirts, bibs, and packing materials, but with the help of our wonderful volunteers, we were able to carefully pack each bag and add shipping labels much faster than we ever anticipated! With such repetitive tasks, I enjoyed getting to chat with the volunteers and learn more about them and why they care about Fishtown.
It was a satisfying relief once the packages were on their way to the post office, destined to all parts of the country. I enjoy knowing that once the 5K participants receive their packets they will be running and walking in celebration of Fishtown from afar. Working with the volunteers and on the race has highlighted for me how much people love Fishtown and dive into whatever it takes for its preservation. I hope that people can come together in person for the Fishtown 5K next year—but that there’s also a virtual component again so I can be a part of it no matter where I am.
SHANTIES AND BASS
Looking to the weeks ahead, we will be receiving the highly anticipated and long-delayed delivery of new foundation pilings for one of our shanties very soon! Located on the south side of the river, The Otherside Shanty is currently off its usual site, having been lifted off its failed foundation after recent flooding in 2020. Once the piles are in place, the shanty can be lifted back to its home on the river and interior repairs can begin.
The huge 40 ft. piles will be driven into the riverbed in order to ensure that the foundation will last for years to come, no matter the water level. Fishtown Preservation has been working tirelessly to raise money for extensive renovations and repairs all over Fishtown, and is excited to resume its work to protect the historical Otherside Shanty.
We are also making sure that we take into account the effects that will occur from driving the piles into the river. In one of my previous blog posts (see Blog Entry 3), I talked about my experience exploring the fish populations along the Leland River in Fishtown. Amidst all the craziness of the busy season, it is nice to find some time to immerse myself in the wildlife of Fishtown, and answer some of the questions that interest me as a marine science major. One of my favorite things about Fishtown is its connection to science, art, and history. They have become perfectly intertwined here, and I think it is one of the reasons why I am so drawn to Fishtown.
To explore more of the science side of Fishtown, Matt Heiman (a biologist and Leland River enthusiast) and I have been monitoring the smallmouth bass activity for a few weeks now. We discovered that back in early to mid-June the smallmouth bass were nesting along the riverbed. Often they picked quiet shallow spots right next to some of the shanties. The vacated Otherside Shanty area became a perfect semi-protected spot for a few nests.
An integral part of caring for smallmouth bass eggs is keeping the nest clear of silt. If the sediment on the river floor gets kicked up, it will slowly settle on the eggs and the rocks that they lay upon. This cuts off the supply of oxygen to the eggs, and may become detrimental to their development. The smallmouth parents brush away as much silt as they can with their tail fins, but a large upset of sediment may prove to be too much.
With this in mind, we knew that driving piles into the river would be disruptive while the nests were still there. Each week we have been checking on their progress while Fishtown Preservation waits for the pile delivery. I have enjoyed watching the gradual changes in the river throughout the summer, and getting to follow the life history of the bass population.
Two weeks ago while Matt and I were out searching for clues about smallmouth whereabouts, we noticed that all the nesting spots we had observed previously have been abandoned. We found a few larval fish, about the size of a Q-tip head, and caught one to take a closer look. In the larval stage after hatching, the fish are unable to feed themselves and have underdeveloped fins for maneuvering. They hatch with a yolk sack on their bellies to sustain themselves while they continue to grow their fins. With a little research, we determined that the individual we caught was a smallmouth bass! We were excited that the population in the river was moving along very well.
Yesterday, we went out again to see if we could find any other smallmouths. After a bit of searching, we found a larger smallmouth in the fry stage. This means that their fins are more developed and have lost their yolk sack and can find small food on their own.
The delay in receiving the piles allowed some time for the smallmouth population to clear out of the area, as well as their young to develop enough to fend for themselves during the construction for the Otherside Shanty foundation. I’ve become so concerned and attached with the young bass and their protective parents that I was secretly relieved by the delay in construction. (Shhhhh, don’t tell FPS). Conserving both the place and the many creatures that live in Fishtown is an important part of the mission at Fishtown Preservation, and I am very happy to be a part of it.
Something new is always happening at Fishtown Preservation. Some weeks we prepare for exciting events such as the Fishtown 5K while on others we lift shanties into the sky on our journey to preserve and protect them. I am still meeting new faces as I become more a part of the Fishtown community, and I learn something new about this place after each conversation I have. As the summer passes, I continually look forward to supporting Fishtown Preservation and contributing to the effort that keeps Fishtown around for the people who make it the wonderful place that it is.
Gabrielle Grobbel is the Fishtown Preservation Society Intern for the summer of 2021. She is a marine science student at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina and is happy to be returning to her home state of Michigan and for the opportunity to learn more about the historical and beloved site of Fishtown and the life of the Great Lakes.