Green Lake, Wisconsin, a leisurely three-and-a-half-hour drive northwest of Chicago, is probably best described as a resort community--a vacation spot--but it will likely seem a little quiet to anyone expecting the usual resort-community diversions. Whether this is because of its location--in the dead center of Wisconsin, surrounded by farmland--or because of the abiding influence of the nearby American Baptist Assembly, one cannot say for certain; probably both reasons are viable. In any case, the lake is the area's greatest resource, and most diversions concern some kind of boating. Green Lake is 237 feet deep at bottom, on the south end, and attempts to sustain a lake-trout population there have been successful. Deepwater motor trolling is done on Green Lake as it is on Lake Michigan. The marinas, boat rentals, and guides are really too numerous to mention, but as with many things in the area it's hard to go wrong with the name "Norton," which seems to be to Green Lake what the name "Bailey" was to Bedford Falls. There are two separate Norton guide services (John, 294-3286; Mike, 295-3617--all area codes 414). The lake covers over 11 square miles, so there is ample room for sailing and waterskiing
The two most frequently recommended lodgings in the area are both on the eastern side of Green Lake, but otherwise are quite divergent, the one that sounds like more of a bed-and-breakfast place is actually more of an inn, and vice versa. There is an actual Heidel House, but the Heidel House Resort and Conference Center (Illinois Avenue, 294-3344) is actually more of a compound comprising several different buildings. We stayed in one that was as close to a Holiday Inn as one could hope for. We are told that if one is naturally charmed by a place with a name such as "Heidel House," one should ask for a room in their Pump House--and ask early. The Oakwood Lodge (365 Lake Street, 294-6580) is a homey little place just down the street. It has ten rooms--some with their own baths, some that share--with nice, unpretentious chenille bedspreads. The ground-floor room off the porch has a bathtub with an old-fashioned shower head that will leave marks on the skin--perfect after a day on the lake or golf course. Oakwood is not a bed and breakfast, in that the bed and the breakfast are charged separately, but both are very reasonably priced. Optional jump-start service for weary anglers who leave the lights on in the car is provided with a knowing smile and free of charge.
The American Baptist Assembly is now called the Green Lake Conference Center (294-3323) and is said to be liberalizing its acceptance policy for non-Baptist guests; it includes everything from a hotel to campgrounds, with a number of very fine furnished houses also available for rent in between. Be advised, however, that the place is dry and intends to stay that way, even if these are American and not Southern Baptists.
For dinner, back at the Heidel House, the dining room softly lit and well furnished. The wine list is large, the menu varied and reasonable. Our travel companion found their spinach salad the best he had ever had anywhere. The specials of the day were both up to snuff--the barbecued ribs were meaty and tender, and if the sauce was not quite up to Chicago standards on taste (i.e., not spicy enough) its texture was perfect (gooey). The Norwegian salmon was served with a sauce that was not dilly enough, but otherwise quite nice. Norton's Marine Dining Room (South Lawson Drive, 294-6577) is Green Lake. Tables look out on the water, and a pier allows people to walk off their boats and into the restaurant. The food is perhaps a bit overpriced for the quality, but all meals are served with a fine relish tray, including a salmon-mousse-type dip, and the ambience--including aquariums--is fitting. We are told that Carver's on the Lake (inlet Road, 294-6931) is the area's other fine dining establishment.
The bars are all attached to restaurants in Green Lake, but the one where the two are most separate--and, we're told, where the college kids hang out, in season--is the Goose Blind, Etc. (512 Gold Street, 294-6363). This's all there is to Green Lake's Rush Street and will seem fairly familiar to any denizen of public houses. A pool table and digital darts are available. (As yet, thankfully, digital billiards has not been developed.) An otherwise better-than-adequate jukebox (including the Coasters' "Charlie Brown" and the McCoys' "Hang on Sloopy") is marred by such unfortunate inclusions as Grand Funk's "Loco-motion" and R.E.O. Speedwagon's "Riding the Storm Out."
None of these places carries Point beer, in order to enjoy the wine of the region one must go either to a package store or to one of the numerous bars in nearby Ripon. If one begins the trip early enough in the day, one can also take in the tour at the Ripon-Good Cookie Company (420 E. Oshkosh St., 748-3151), where the proper pronunciation of the word "Ripon" is to be discovered. Nearby Berlin is one of the many cities to claim the title "Fur Capital of the World."
Green Lake's calendar of special events is hardly filled, but it does exist. The Art Fair takes place in August and the Green Lake-Princeton Winterfest in February. (Like many resort communities, Green Lake has recently tried to attract winter sportspersons, and cross-country skiing and ice sailing are to be found here during the snowy months.) The annual Riponfest follows Independence Day in July. The Legion trout boil and the Rotary chili cook-off jockey for position in September's busy schedule. The above dates should be checked with 1989's calendar at the Green Lake Chamber of Commerce, 294-3231.
The Lawsonia Links (294-3320) at the Green Lake Conference Center is the finest golf course to be found in central Wisconsin--which is damning the Baptist layout with faint praise. A toll-free number is available for out-of-state golfers (800-558-8898, ext. 380), Dagwood-type golfers who easily forget phone numbers should stay at the Heidel House, where the Lawsonia number can be speed-dialed from each room.
Radtke's Landing (Route 3, Markesan, 398-2620) is the spot for muskie fishing on Little Green Lake. Gale Radtke, a graying, friendly man with a pencil-thin mustache, will offer sage advice and a lure of his own design, the Pike Minnow.
Do what he says.