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sandy beach at a lake with people sitting and bathing

Photo essay: Ottawa Lake Recreation Area

August 20, 2019  |  Topics: Places

Story and photos by Eddee Daniel

The campground was lovely and the beach was fun, but it was really the wildlife that made our visit to Ottawa Lake Recreation Area memorable. Specifically, it was the eccentric sandhill cranes. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

a patch of yellow wildflowers in a field

It was the second in what my wife and I hope will be an annual camping trip with our granddaughter. An opportunity to bond and to share our love of the outdoors with the next generation. The previous year we’d gone to Mauthe Lake in the northern Kettle Moraine. This time we chose the southern Kettle Moraine.

boaters and swimmers on a lake with a forested shore

Ottawa Lake is a well-developed recreation area. The eponymous lake is the primary attraction. In addition to the beautiful beach, there is a popular boat launch and fishing pier. The campground, which is open year-round, is another major attraction. Although we are tent campers, we were grateful for the clean restrooms and convenient water spigot.

a blue tent on a dirt campsite in the shade of the surrounding woods

We had booked our campsite online, sight-unseen, which always makes me a little nervous. But when we arrived we were delighted to find a nicely secluded and shady place to set up our tent. The ranger station had firewood and ice for sale, too. We were all set!

a girl swinging on a playground structure

We had to make a little detour on the way to the beach so that our six-year-old granddaughter could check out the playground. She rarely passes up a playground!

a sandhill crane standing in grass with people on a beach in the background

We hadn’t been at the beach very long before the first sandhill crane showed up at the edge of the sand. It seemed to be studying the human activity, of which there was plenty, warily. I was thrilled and, grabbing my camera, worked my way cautiously around to a good vantage point for a photo of it.

two sandhill cranes standing in the water at the edge of a lake with people swimming in the background.

Then I spotted the second crane. And a third. They slowly worked their way between the people, not getting too close, but also not overly concerned about children who dashed in and around the trio occasionally. When they reached the water’s edge they waded right in and began to dip their long necks down for drinks, on the house.

sandhill crane standing in the water at the edge of a lake with children playing with inflatables in the background

After a while all three of them wandered around—wariness replaced by gluttony—looking for handouts from the people lounging and picnicking on and near the beach. I guess even wild cranes can become adapted to life among humans.

three sandhill cranes standing among people sitting at picnic tables


Asters in bloom
sunset over the lake
Sunset over the lake
Field of white wildflowers
Field of white wildflowers
Wetland pond in a woodland
Wetland pond
A field of black-eyed Susans
A field of black-eyed Susans
Ottawa Lake beach with bathers and a dramatic sky
Ottawa Lake beach
Wild tiger lilies in bloom
Wild tiger lilies

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and project director for A Wealth of Nature.