In July 1960 the Snell family, staying with the Schulte family at their cottage at Houghton Lake, started a search mission lasting for a week. Paul and John visited lakes marked on five county maps until 40 had been visited, and meticulous notes were taken on each covering clarity, bottom, depth, beach, weeds, distance from Lansing and quality of development. The quest was to end in the purchase of one lot by the Snell family on which we would build a summer cottage. When we first saw Blue Lake there was only a Boy Scout trail leading into the area where now stands Lots 87 and 88. There was only a faint trail around the lake. As the trees were cut for the road, sometimes we wondered if it would really turn out well. We wanted to open it up for enjoyment by more people. We immediately fell in love with the lake after lowering a flashlight on a rope 70 feet long to the bottom and still seeing its light, we wanted it all the more; however, we heard from the local people that it was definitely not for sale and that others had tried to buy it and failed. At the week's end we settled on a second choice, a lot on Big Bear Lake in Kalkaska County; but the developer wanted $500 more than we were willing to pay. At this point we decided to find out more about purchasing Blue Lake. I visited the owners, George Stumpmeyer (a chemist) who had just retired and lived in Monroe, Michigan with his wife Leona. After telling him what I wanted to do and my experience in developing lakes, he decided to sell his 320 acres which he had owned and used personally for hunting since 1924. The following summer we camped on lot #88 and 90 (Herchock's) and can still find some of the trees where we hung our toothbrushes. Within six months we had added 80 acres, now ranches 13 through 18, formerly belonging to Mrs. Usternal, making the total 400 acres.
Blue Lake was obviously a prehistoric gem, dug out some 10,000 years ago by the glaciers; and, when we bought it, it had filled itself in more than half as marl or calcium carbonate, which is a microscopic deposit created when groundwater enters the lake through springs, giving up its carbon dioxide and becoming calcium carbonate and falling to the bottom. The lake was only 15 acres large, surrounded by marl marsh (1 to 2 feet about water level) with precipitous sides, unsafe for swimming and especially unsafe for children. By 1960, our firm, Snell Engineers, had become experts in lake development. Blue Lake became a challenge to John personally. (Over the years we have developed over 40 lakes for others). During the winter of 1960-1961 we had aerial surveys made by StereoPhoto of Lansing. Using this serial map Blue Lake Estates No. 1 & 2 were designed by John and laid out in the filed by a young MSU engineer. Benchley and Yaegar of Beaverton were the low bidders on the construction of the road, the outlet, the fish ladder, etc. Old Blue Lake outletted between Lots 27 & 69. The contract called for removing 50,000 cubic yards of sand contained in the hill over Lots 70-71. Thirty feet of this hill was removed. This was spread around the periphery of the lake in large pans of scrapers and then pushed out over the marl marsh area with a wide-track bulldozer so that it was 12 to 10 inches thick; hence, by the time the swimmer reached the original drop-off he would be in water a foot or two over his head. The lake outlet was switched to the south beach area. The outlet originated in an 18 inch diameter steel culvert 8 feet below the surface and terminated in the bottom of the vertical concrete chamber just before the fish ladder. By opening another 18 inch sluice gate from this chamber, water in the lake can be lowered approximately 8 feet and takes about two weeks. On closing the valve, the water would rise back to its present height in about 30 days. The objective of this under spill and ability to lower the lake was two-fold: first, by having and under spill only the colder water would leave the lake and the water warmed by the sun during the swimming season would remain on the top, thus extending the swimming season at both ends of the season. The objective of being able to lower the lake again was first to do either unusual or routine preventive maintenance every few years: that is scrape the leaves, etc. from around the periphery of the lake, fix the beaches, etc. The other objective was to use this water lowering as a means of weed control. Certain weeds die when exposed to the atmosphere; others die when exposed to the atmosphere and frozen. The weeds which remain resistant to both of these are known as Cara but many of the troublesome weeds in the lake would be killed in this manner without the use of chemicals. Cara can be treated from time to time with certain other chemicals which are much less disturbing to the ecology of the lake than those presently being used. We also found that for many, many years the only weed control used in the lake was to spray the emergent weeds with Esteron 99. This chemical penetrates the emergent part of the weed and kills them; however, it would have to remain 24 hours before raining. Between September and November 1976 Blue Lake was let down, and a wide-track bulldozer was used to scrape the edge organics out from the lake onto the bank in many places. I believe this is the last time the lake was let down. During the summer of 1977 a Mr. David Troop of Flint, Michigan was employed to build two trout ponds. The following year he was brought back to redo the job because he did not construct these ponds deep enough. The material removed from the ponds was used to build a recreational area just south of the fish ladder. The purpose of the ponds was mainly to reduce the cost of stocking Blue Lake by stocking the ponds with fingerlings of any variety which could be bought for much less instead of buying the full-size, expensive fish. After feeding them for a summer they could be transferred to the lake and allowed to grow still larger.
In the early days of Blue Lake, although Lot sales were good, construction of houses was slow. The Snells, after taking a vote of the whole family, selected Lot 22 and built the first house themselves in the summer of 1961. Because the Stumpmeyer family had enjoyed owning Blue Lake for 35 years, the parents were anxious for their two daughters to have their pick of the Lots before land was offered for sale; so they chose Lot 19 which later they sold to the Klumps; and the Robinsons choose Lot 51(near the entrance to Blue Lake) which we are glad they still own. Soon thereafter Blue Lake Estates, Inc. built a spec house on Lot 16; later it was sold to the Smiths and then to the Chamberlains. At the same time a second spec house was built by Warren Bredahl, then part owner of the Blue Lake Estates, Inc. on Lot 15. This was sold to other owners named Simpson (Doug and Shirley) and is now owned by the Walkers.
Before we could obtain electricity from the Consumers Power it was necessary to first have six houses built there and also pay a substantial down payment for the cost of the line coming over from Island Lake. It is believed that three others built prior to the electricity coming in including the Booms A-frame on Lot 6, now owned by Jim and Kathy Lane; the Bateses on Lot 7, now owned by Demarrs; and Dr. Shields on Lot 24, now owned by Laverne and Mary Wieferich.
Other early houses built shortly thereafter were built by Jim Niemath and his sister Sally Kovach on Lots 86, 87 and the Wayne Clarks on Lot 56; and the McBrides on Lot 90. Once electricity was in, people were much more interested in building.
Most builders of houses found that their wells were free-flowing artesian wells; for example, our well on Lot 22 was only 60 feet from the lake and yet the water rose in the well pipe 25 feet about the lake; thus, for the first two years we were able to have flowing water throughout the cottage at low pressure without the use of a pump and without electricity.
Phase II of the development of Blue Lake was the 24 ranches which took place during the period of 1967 to 1968. It was initially thought that Streaked Lake would also be developed in a manner similar to Blue Lake, only it would be considerably larger. To do this would have entailed a dam north of and parallel to Meredith Grade Road. Streaked Lake would have had an under spill also and would have been thereby raised approximately 10 feet. Since the north tip of the Streaked Lake is on DNR property it was necessary to get their complete approval and to make a land exchange. Four times the DNR approved plans submitted to them and four times a local DNR official turned down the plan approved in Lansing. A detail of the controversy and the motivation behind it were complex and has best be left laid to rest. After some period of time and consideration Snell decided to use an alternate plan for development of the 250 acres of land (remaining outside of the Blue Lake Subdivision) and also best use of the frontage on the streams and Streaked Lake itself. After considerable study the plan evolved for the division of this land into 24 Emerald Valley ranches. A second cottage or guest cottage could be built, but if resold the guest cottage would have to be sold with the property. This second alternative plan was much more ecologically sound and beneficial to all the people in the area, except perhaps the Township and the County which otherwise would have gained more in taxes from the land. On or about the summer of 1968 Snell purchased a Caterpillar D-6 bulldozer and employed Donald Rutter to build the ranch roads, driveways, and make other improvements. Several areas were required from which to take earth to build roads across the marsh or low areas. Each ranch was to have access to the beaches at Blue Lake and the two beaches constructed on Streaked Lake, one at the northeast and one at the southwest end. During the course of this construction it was necessary to bring in outside contractors (one) to build the Dam above Blue Lake between ranches 4 and 5, and to add road gravel to key roads leading to the beaches on Streaked Lake and to certain access roads to the Ranches. The purpose of the pond about Blue Lake was to permit the association to plant fingerlings there, feed them during the summer and then lower them into Blue Lake when they were larger. This was done two summers in a row, first 2500 and then 3000 trout fingerlings were planted. Pike took their toll of both sets of fingerlings! Also, during the end of the growing period, poachers were noted on several occasions; hence, no further use has been made of this pond to grow fingerlings into stockable size. The association deeded the right to use this pond to Ranches 4 and 5, and with that the responsibility of maintenance and operation of the pond. There remains within the pond a 12 inch sluice gate which may be opened or closed at any time. A bar screen in front of it and also a bar cage over the outlet which is a 24 inch vertical pipe. This pond needs routine maintenance to keep down the weeds, rake out the leaves and remove the debris from time to time. Since the owners of Ranch 4 and 5 come only very occasionally, it would be desirable if some responsible person within the association (working with consent of Ranch 4 and 5 owners) should be appointed to have the responsibility of this maintenance and control of the water coming and out of the pond. This maintenance is required to insure safe use of this pond.
Attached to this history are several maps, document of possible interest to the association. Included in this material is an article dated February 1966 which reports in a scientific manner the water quality of Blue Lake at various depths at various times of the year.
In final deeding of some of the ranches about 1982, it became evident in trying to obtain title insurance for those desiring it that the rules and regulations regarding surveys had changed markedly since the time when the ranches were first constructed and surveyed. After considerable study and discussion with various attorneys and ranch owners involved, it was decided to have the whole area resurveyed by a Mr. David Clifford. The cost to this was distributed to all the ranch owners; to have had the Registered Land Survey surveying done individually would have cost two to three times as much. The Gladwin Abstract Company does not write Title Insurance on these ranches so after considerable research, the Superior Title Insurance Company in Midland agreed to do this.
In closing, special appreciation should be expressed to the Wayne Clarks, the Walter Prices, and the Niemath-Kovach family for their help in building a sound association and the Blue Lake family spirit.
The Next Development
The Snells present venture for the last several years in the multi-purpose development of 8500 acres of tropical land on Mile 42 of the Southern Highway of Belize, Central America. It is a friendly, peaceful, English-speaking vest-pocket democracy of exceptional beauty, only two hours by air south of Miami, Houston, or New Orleans. The land contains many miles of frontage on the Caribbean and three beautiful rivers, already starting with 135 foot waterfront lots averaging only $5,000.
The multi-purpose program is well along and combines shrimp farming to finance the central program of helping hundreds and ultimately thousands of would be Belizian farmers to start and do well on 20 to 40 acre farms. We also wish to encourage the growth of an American colony which, while enjoying the low cost of living on a water front lot with boating, fishing and year round swimming in this little country two-thirds the size of lower Michigan, yet containing only 140,000 people, to be active in helping the natives in many ways to improve the economy and make the area continue to be safe for democracy. All Blue Lakers and their friends are invited to come and be a part of this, our most worthwhile and important venture!