“Up North” at Nelson Lake


Nelson Lake has a large island in the middle. The dam is on the left side of the picture near where the highway jogs.

We went exploring today. It’s becoming necessary to spend as much time as possible away from the house due to what seems to be an electrical sensitivity that Dennis has developed. He wanted to go north. We went to Nelson Lake.

Nelson Lake was formed when the Totogatic River was dammed, way back when my father was a child. He told stories of how he and his dad cut trees and hauled them out of the river valley before it was flooded. When I look at the land around Nelson Lake I realize what the water covered up as it rose – forest, rock, probably a few farmsteads. The hilly terrain formed a lot of inlets and coves, a very irregular coastline, and a lot of places for fish to hide and breed. It is well known for good fishing.

We drove up S.H. 27 to Dam Road (I love that road sign) and turned in to a rather busy boat landing. Trucks and trailers were pulling boats in and out of the water – pontoon boats, jet skis and fishing boats. We spent some time on the dock talking with people then headed back to our truck where Dennis took a nap. Windows were open, soft breeze, and the real surprise, no mosquitoes.

Right in front of the parking area was the dam. A couple families with kids and fishing poles came and went, along with their strings of panfish. The dam itself is old enough to have been at risk a couple of years ago when the lake was extra high and flooding. It was reinforced and held. A lot of people were worried about it then.

Leaving the boat landing we tried to drive around the lake on the north side. Because of the crazy shoreline, there really isn’t a road that follows along the lake. There are quite a few small lodges, resorts and camping places tucked in here and there but every road we tried turned out to be a dead end eventually.

We traced our route back to the other side of the dam where we took County T along the south side of Nelson Lake and the north side of nearby Smith Lake. We stopped at Etcheyson Park, another small picnic area and boat ramp on Smith Lake. A couple teens were actually floating around in the water on tubes. It’s the middle of June here but that doesn’t mean the water is warm in any of these lakes. Last week we had a morning of 36 degrees, and a couple weeks ago there was snow falling. A cold summer so far, but very refreshing, if you’re used to June in Florida, like we are.

I’m impulsive and suddenly pizza sounded like a good supper choice. I thought of it mostly because of the many times I had passed the Outback Bar and Pizza sign on S.H. 77, only a few miles away. I had read in the local newspaper about the new owners keeping a super good and sort of secret recipe for pizza sauce. It was good! The place is small but the bar was lined with four or five couples who were really into some sports event on the tv’s. We opted for a table outside in the quiet where we could watch the trees and birds. The owner and her dog waited on our table. The dog didn’t actually do anything but she was well behaved.

The day had turned cool and cloudy and I thought to myself that it was a typical day “up north” in many ways. It’s hard to say exactly what is different up here, but I think it has to do with the preponderance of cold weather days. It creates a different landscape, with forests of a certain kind, marshes, wild looking rivers, many lakes, and much more untouched nature than in other parts of our country.

Although it seemed to me like I could have been 4 or 5 o’clock, it was actually 7 p.m. when we left. It is now almost 9 and the sun is still not down, another feature of “up north” life. And the sun will be up again tomorrow around 5 a.m. so I’m going to quit now and get some sleep.

Lake a Day Challenge: Nelson Lake and Totogatic River

Another creative place name as we approach Nelson Lake Dam

There is a large lake a few miles north of Hayward and grandfather’s farm that has a story connected with it. I loved hearing my dad tell me about the days when there was a valley there instead of a lake. He was very young when conservationist Frank Nelson proposed a dam to be built on the Totogatic River to create “a lake or backwater, suitable for fish and which would furnish a refuge and breeding ground for all kinds of wildlife.” Dad had memories of accompanying his father who was helping to remove as much timber from the land to be flooded as possible.  The dam was completed in 1936 and Nelson Lake was created. It’s hard to imagine the valley that lies beneath its waters now.  Much of the shoreline is wild and undeveloped and the lake is known for excellent fishing.

This wild jumble of blooms completely obscured the stair down to the restrooms.

The park at the dam has been a favorite picnic spot for my parent’s generation, for my generation and hopefully for the next generation. I have done my part by taking my niece and nephew there to explore. It was a “must visit” spot for my lake of the day challenge.

Not real sure about the green water…

Mom and I drove out and found the park a little overgrown but much the same as we had known it. Wild sumac and flowers covered the bank by the dam and the boat landing was busy with fishermen coming in from a day on the lake. There was a lot of algae bloom in the water which made it a little uninviting as far as swimming was concerned. I stayed with the one foot dip. But the views were fantastic and after reading some of the history of the lake here , I was more appreciative of the part the lake and its accompanying flowage played in local commerce.  There is a large island in the middle of the lake accessible only by boat and I think exploring it is going on the list for my next visit.

Nelson Lake behind the dam, island in view.
Water is high now and there is good flow going over the dam.
The Totogatic River downstream from the dam and highway bridge.