Bob Kingon vividly recalls the excitement of traveling north to his family’s cottage as a child. His pulse would quicken upon reaching that bend or rise in the road every southern Michigan resident recognizes — the one where row crops suddenly turn to hardwoods — because he knew they were getting close.
His four-hour journey up U.S. 27 to Elk Lake near Traverse City seemed twice that long until, finally, the bright blue waters of Elk Lake came into focus from between the pines.
Over time, the family cottage was passed down to Kingon from his parents. In 2008, he razed the old cottage and built a new year-round home. As the decades passed, Kingon’s appreciation for the natural beauty that endeared the property to him as a child morphed into a passion for helping others preserve and protect Elk Lake’s quality and natural shoreline, which is about 1.5 miles wide and nine miles long. At a maximum depth of 192 feet, it’s the second-deepest inland lake in Michigan, right behind Torch Lake. That means there’s a lot to safeguard.
Kingon works tirelessly to help his Elk Lake neighbors implement their own shoreline protection projects.
As a past president and a current board member of the Elk–Skegemog Lake Association, he has recruited a community leaders, local government officials, and conservation groups to promote the preservation of natural shorelines and the implementation of shoreline improvement projects.
Kingon practices what he preaches, especially when it comes to protecting the lake against the negative consequences of runoff. While the natural power of erosion can be spectacular and beautiful, man-made changes to the landscape can be destructive, resulting in runoff from heavy rains that floods the lake with nutrients, pollutants, and sediment.
Kingon addressed this concern by observing the natural flow of rainwater on his property and installing stormwater retention areas to capture and hold rainwater.
For additional protection, Kingon promotes the use of natural filters, such as plants with leaves that reach skyward for enhancing wildlife habitat and roots that burrow deep beneath the soil to intercept and extract phosphorous and other nutrients before they can reach the lake.
Like Kingon, Jim Lill’s memories of Elk Lake span decades. An owner of a Chicago-based business, he commutes between his Elk Lake home and the Chicago area aboard his King-Air C90. The aerial view provides a unique perspective of the area’s natural beauty.
Shortly after marrying his wife, Mary, Lill transformed their home into a seasonal residence that serves as a testament to the compatibility between old growth forests, native plants, and stunning lakefront views.
Careful placement of a patio that considers sight lines through the hardwoods, a walkway to the boat dock that minimizes the impact on native plants, and the addition of rocks to prevent shoreline erosion were all part of the Lill residence’s transformation into a conservation-minded homestead.
Karin Wolfe is a fellow Elk Lake lakefront resident who advocates for healthy, natural solutions that beautify her property. Wolfe spent her childhood in southeast Michigan and much of her adult life in the Florida Keys. It was there that she became active in local garden clubs and conservation groups supporting the protection of the Everglades.
Upon returning to Michigan with her husband, Ted, in 2016, she brought her passion for nature to her Elk Lake property, planting native grasses and flowers to attract pollinators and birds.
For Kingon, Lill, and Wolfe, the shoreline is a thread to cherished memories — an interface between the family homestead and the pristine waters of Elk Lake. And just like connections between people, all three agree that shorelines require nurturing and protection to stay vibrant for generations to come.