Larry Craig stands on the shore of Marl Lake, reminiscing about a pier where he has taken his children and then grandchildren to swim for three decades.
The pier at Whispering Pines is gone and Craig wonders why.
“My family would drop our canoes into Marl Lake off the public landing and paddle across the lake to the pier,” Craig recalls. “The kids would swim off the pier. This lake is the cleanest lake in the Chain and it’s great for snorkeling.”
Whispering Pines is a remote part of Hartman Creek State Park. During most weekdays, the park is quiet. On hot, summer weekends it attracts large and sometimes loud parties.
Sue Eiler is the board president of the Friends of Hartman Creek State Park. From where she lives on nearby Manomin Lake, Eiler can see Whispering Pines’ woods on the point that separates Marl from Pope and Manomin lakes. Sometimes, she can also hear the visitors.
“This whole area is called Echo Dell,” Eiler said, noting how the name appears on old plat books and accurately describes how sound carries throughout the area.
While most visitors make no more noise than would be expected at a public park, others seem less respectful.
“There’s a certain element who use the park as a party destination, who go in after hours without paying, bring boomboxes. Some of the homeowners are not happy with the noise,” Eiler said. “It’s a beautiful, pristine area. It just gets to be a party zone.”
Illegal parking on Whispering Pines Road is another issue for the park’s neighbors. Some visitors, to avoid paying the state park fee, park along the narrow road.
Mike Bergum, who manages Hartman Creek State Park, said Whispering Pines can be one of the most quiet places to go on the Chain O’ Lakes.
“But when it’s hot and humid, the park can become saturated with people,” Bergum said. “I’ve counted as many as 50 people on the pier at one time.”
Bergum said he has also received some complaints about noise and underage drinking at Whispering Pines. He estimated receiving about half a dozen complaints about loud talking and swearing from the park’s neighbors each summer. He said rangers issue about four to five citations for underage drinking during the summer at Whispering Pines.
Unlike the rest of the state park, which is open to the public from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Whispering Pines is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“We’ve had some law enforcement problems at the park, but that’s not the primary problem with the pier,” Bergum said. “The primary problems are the number of people using the pier at one time and that the pier needs maintenance and repair.”
Bergum said some of the pier’s boards and floats, as well as hardware, need to be replaced. He said the pier was not designed for the 40 to 50 people who may be on it at one time.
Bergum noted that the pier was originally installed to be used for fishing.
“When people want to go swimming, we recommend the beach near the east end of Hartman Lake,” Bergum said.
“We don’t want to take away people’s fun. I’m in the business of recreation and I want to provide opportunities for recreation, not take them away,” Bergum said. “But, I’m also responsible for the safety of the people who come to the park.”
He also stressed that the Department of Natural Resources has not made a firm decision yet regarding the pier.
“We’re looking at several options right now. We could replace it with a fishing pier or with a narrower pier,” Bergum said, adding that the structural integrity of the old pier, legal and budget issues must be considered before a decision is made.