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When in doubt, ask: A wonderful wedding may await in Hammond Bay

It was a long shot, but one day after docking my boat at the Hammond Bay State Harbor, I walked into the harbormaster's office and asked him if, by any chance, it might be possible for an average citizen to use the harbor's sprawling, well-kept lawn for a wedding reception.

"As far as I know, it's never been done before," Fred replied. Then, after a considerable pause, he added, "But it never hurts to ask."

If necessity is the mother of invention, the father is desperation. My wife and I had agreed to host our younger son's early-September wedding at our cottage, on the shore of northern Lake Huron, three miles north of the harbor. The plan was to do it all right on our beach, in a tent big enough to hold 175 guests, a buffet table, a bar, a DJ and a dance floor. The invitations already had been mailed out from Los Angeles, home of the betrothed, when the tent company guy took one look at the situation and said, "No fricking way."

The bluff leading down to the beach was too steep for his truck and trailer … the sand was too soft to hold the tent stakes … a robust wind off the lake on the day of the wedding would spell disaster… the logistics of getting food, drinks, electricity, etc. to the tent would be a nightmare…

"OK," I said to harbormaster Fred, "who do I ask?"

He directed me to the DNR field office in Cheboygan. I pitched my idea to the man in charge, Dave. His exact reply: "You want to do what, now?"

I repeated my proposal. Dave then asked the question that I feared would doom the plan: "Would you be serving alcohol?"

"Well," I said, "it is a wedding reception ..."

I braced myself for the bureaucratic default position - the big rubber stamp that says: "REJECTED."

But Dave, God bless him, seemed intrigued by the idea. He promised to run it past his bosses in Lansing, and get back to me later that day, which he did. It could be done, Dave said, providing I was willing to jump through a reasonable gauntlet of hoops. I would have to:

  • buy a one-day liability policy from my insurance company;
  • fill out an application, which would include a "safety plan" (fire extinguisher and life ring on hand, professional bartenders, etc.);
  • pay a permit fee, based on an assessment of the reception's impact on the harbor grounds;
  • leave a few parking spots open for people who might want to use the harbor for its intended purposes.

It all added up to a piece of cake, compared to the prospect of telling the bride and groom, who had their hearts set on a lakeside wedding, that they had a month or so to find and book the last available VFW hall in northeast Michigan.

So, we gladly did all that was required, and, in the process, learned that it was not merely a desire to rescue us that inspired Dave's amenability. He was also thinking outside the box.

Hammond Bay Harbor is notoriously underutilized. It occurred to Dave that making the harbor grounds available for private functions would be one way to increase its use. Plus, the permit fees (we paid $425) could be a new revenue stream for the state. And if it could work at Hammond Bay, it could word for other underused state facilities.

As planned, the ceremony took place on the Lake Huron shore; the reception, at the harbor. Many of the guests were from southern California, and some came from as far away as France, England and Japan. Most had never been to northern Michigan, They were genuinely impressed with the natural beauty of the region and, specifically, Hammond Bay harbor.

Fred, the harbormaster who started the ball rolling with his wise words, "It never hurts to ask," was on duty the night of the reception. We made sure he got fed. Among his assignments was to write a report to the DNR, in which he would assess the experiment – Hammond Bay Harbor's first ever wedding reception.

He told me he needed only two words: "Outstanding success."

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