Sheboygan County: Pro golf to Parnell Tower

My assumption is that almost everybody – from Fairbanks to Miami, at least – will know what a brat fry is by this time next week.

Spectators at the PGA Championship, and the event’s worldwide commentators, will devour Sheboygan County from Aug. 9-15. My question is whether they’ll stumble across anything beyond the obvious.

This is where I was born and raised, an area that I couldn’t wait to leave but now return to quite often and willingly. Indeed, we love our brats and hardrolls – preferably slathered with butter. But we also contain huge contrasts.

We have world-class golf courses and humble farmland, tilled by good people who will never walk on Whistling Straits. We have a five-diamond resort, The American Club, and local residents who have only been there for a wedding reception or Ducks Unlimited banquet.

We have an impressive indoor waterpark, part of the new Blue Harbor Resort, an awesome manmade creation. It is dwarfed by the thousands of majestic acres that belong to the public: Kohler-Andrae State Park, the Sheboygan County Marsh, the Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Old Wade House historical site grounds.

This is a month where, to outsiders, the obvious attractions are the ones with the fanciest websites and national rankings. Here are lesser-known charms, cheap thrills that the natives enjoy.

* Climb Parnell Tower, off County A and near Dundee, above the treetops and in the gut of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. On a clear day, you’ll see a couple of dozen miles.

This northern half of the Kettles has a low profile but wealth of hiking trails. A hub is the Ice Age Visitor Center, west of Dundee on Highway 67. See or call (920) 533-8322.

* Drive to the middle of nowhere for a good meal and other great views. Two choices are both off of Highway 67, between Greenbush and Plymouth.

Shady Lane Restaurant is in a barn, where the crafts of 140 artisans are sold. It is open seasonally, for lunch and afternoon desserts. See or call (920) 893-8095.

Silver Springs Restaurant has a gourmet flair, and a nice selection of vegetarian entrees – which is not yet commonplace in Sheboygan County. It is a newer restaurant that has won local event cook-offs. The setting is rural, butting up to hiking trails and trout-stocked streams. Bring your horse; there’s also a hitching post. See or call (920) 893-0969.

* Laze in the sun at Fireman’s Park, Elkhart Lake, or let the sand ooze between your toes while wading far out into the clear water. Admission to this public beach is cheap. Sundays are especially peaceful; no motorboats are allowed.

Afterward, head to one of the village’s three resorts, where dining choices are plentiful in summer. Or order an old-fashioned phosphate at Gessert’s on Lake Street, a soda fountain that’s been around since the 1920s, but hours of operation are minimal.

* Visit Henschel’s Indian Museum, a few miles outside of Elkhart Lake. An extensive number of artifacts from several tribes are a part of this obscure attraction, which is owned by a farmer and the site of archeological digs. Call (920) 876-3193.

* Buy a square of cheddar or bag of curds at Gibbsville Cheese, one of the state’s smallest but most endearing cheese factories. Southwest of Sheboygan Falls on County OO, it has been run by the same family for more than 70 years. See or call (920) 564-3242. Closed on Sundays.

* Drive on County S, all 2.4 miles of it. It’s a good name for this Wisconsin Rustic Road, some of which has a gravel surface. Known for its curves and steep hills, the surrounding terrain is the work of glacial movement. The road is off of Highway 23, east of Greenbush.

* Eat supper before or during the Greenbush New Hope Church Hymn Sing, on Tuesdays in August. Don’t worry; nobody actually makes you sing. The music filters out of the church as diners sit outside to get their fill, beginning at 4:30 p.m. The church ladies produce grilled hamburgers/brats/chicken, German potato salad, baked beans. They also make mean pies, sold by the slice.

* Order a Guinness or Harp at the pub of 52 Stafford in downtown Plymouth, where traditional Irish music goes from 7:30-10:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. See or call (800) 421-4667.

* Bring a lawn chair to Plymouth City Park for the free band concerts – with polkas to pops – at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. One of the local civic or church groups operates a concession stand. Once again, brats for all!

Last, salute Antoinette on your way out of town. The bigger-than-life cow, near the corner of Mill and Milwaukee streets, had her teats welded on a few years ago because people kept stealing them. Long story.

I’ve never understood why people who work so hard to get away will seek chain restaurants during vacations. Why bother leaving home?

While chatting about that recently with Jerry Bach, the mayor of Wisconsin Rapids, he nodded understandingly and pointed me toward the Little Pink Restaurant.

It’s in a quiet residential neighborhood, close to where railroad tracks converge, but not much else. Never would I have found it on my own.

Once you know where to go—910 Dura Beauty Lane – it’s not hard to find. The neatly kept place is a light peppermint pink that matches the house next to it. Typically open for only breakfast and lunch, it was closed by the time I arrived, which was a great disappointment.

So I’ll rely on the mayor’s word that the food is good and hearty. The show goes on because of a woman who is in her 80s; she reportedly starts cooking and baking way before sunrise.

Discoveries like this are a part of what make traveling special. I’d love to hear about the hidden gems that you’ve found when away from home. Or tell me about a place that is close to your home and heart, a one-of-a-kind stop that outsiders might not notice when passing through town.

It doesn’t have to be a restaurant, or in a city, or be in a building. A scenic drive on a country road qualifies. So does a peaceful place that’s in the middle of nowhere.