A stranger in your home town
I left Sheboygan when I was 18 when I became a freshman at UW Stevens Point. I'd return the following summer, but that would be the extent of my extended She-Vegas experience.
Strange what's happened there over the past 36 years.
I got to see my hometown through new eyes this past weekend, spending time with my sister and her husband. Sheboygan is a lot less prominent in the headlines of late, what with the mayoral recall over and the city's rate of strange-but-true stories a little less frequent.
A lot of what I remember is still there: the Quarry is once again the place to go for a swim this summer, having just re-opened (although it's now 'at your own risk'). My old Dairy Queen along Calumet Drive (it's now year-round, as opposed to when I was growing up--it closed every fall and reopened in the spring) is still there. End Park looks like it did when it was the home of after-school pick-up football and baseball. The harbor is redone, its docks filled with boats from up and down the shoreline. A vigorous dredging project is underway along the Sheboygan River, clearing out decades of environmental abuses from its bottom while cutting a deeper, clearer channel through the city.
Then comes the addition by subtraction: gone is the C-Reiss coal pile at the mouth of the Sheboygan River.
In its place is Blue River, a resort that developers hoped would become a statewide destination. Flanking it are the shops and restaurants of the pier district. Sitting there Friday night with a cold beer watching the charter boats come in, I didn't feel like I was in Sheboygan. It was more like Door County, or perhaps something you'd see in New England.
Charter life is good--one operator runs six boats, and one of them brought in 19 salmon by my count that night--but things have changed beneath the Lake Michigan water. Chubb and whitefish are pretty much gone, the boats that used to head out daily to catch them are now parked, and the city's last commercial fishing operation boarded up. Invasive species changed things, altering life beneath the surface and along a city's shores.
More change may come, as talk continues about a casino along Sheboygan's waterfront. Battle lines are already drawn and suspicions run high with some claiming the city isn't being transparent enough in its dealings, afraid a deal will be cut with an out-of-town tribe before the home folks have their say. Supporters like what a casino would bring: more people, more tourist dollars, more business to the re-done waterfront when the charters can't run and when it's too cold to walk the pier to see each day's catch. There was an advisory referendum years ago on the subject, and voters came down against gambling. Don't know if that sentiment holds today. Advocates say gaming is already here and that Sheboygan should do its best to keep locals from heading to either Green Bay or Milwaukee. Detractors say the gambling pie keeps getting smaller, that there's only so much money to go around especially in these tough economic times.
Change. It's something we used to grouse about in Sheboygan when I was a teenager, the thought being that our hometown was comfortable being what it always HAD been, with no desire to mix things up. We had Brat Days and Road America, Terry Andre and Kohler Company. Sheboygan was chairs, cheese, children and churches.
Now, it's Blue Harbor, The American Club, Blackwolf and Whistling Straits. Sheboygan is a destination, thanks to pro golf and the quality courses that surround the city. It's not a punch line, at least not of late. It's a place that changed a whole bunch over the past 36 years when I last had a Pabst at Weiss's and hit Schultz's for a steak sandwich on a semmel roll.
Back when I wasn't a stranger in my hometown.