I used the Welcome Center as a place to meet-up with a reader from New Mexico who was visiting the region. I did not know him personally before that, but through a friend he had subscribed to my website blog and we have communicated over several years. (One of the joys of writing for a special-interest website is hearing from people all over the world and sharing insights).
A comment he made echoed in my thoughts and I want to share it here. He said that through various Denim Spirit columns, which also get published on my website, he had come to imagine Geneva as a lovely spot and his visit had confirmed it. We have our share of challenges — poverty, racism, vestiges of neglect, affordable housing, non-resident derelict homeowners, a limited tax base, and currently a non-functioning city council. Yet, at the same time, Geneva has done some important things well, and we have an amazing array of resources.
How many cities have three miles of completely open, public waterfront? The ones that do are big — Chicago, St. Petersburg, and Cleveland. Geneva’s waterfront, from “Jennings” beach to the state park flagpole by the canal, is three miles and all of it open to the public.
I moved here in January 2016 and walked my dog along the state park through that first winter. It surprised me how few people used it, though I understood, given the ferocious wind and bitter cold, it may seem like a bad idea. Then, in February just before the pandemic, I moved near the waterfront.
This is purely anecdotal, but I noted what I think are two changes that took place as the pandemic marched on: the use of the waterfront increased dramatically during the winter and non-tourist months, and the social and racial diversity of waterfront users increased significantly as well. Perhaps it was always this way, but in the five years I have lived in Geneva, it feels like use of the waterfront has grown and is now a place where the community truly meets.
Obviously the waterfront is well used in the summer. There are so many micro-environments welcoming unique special interests. Long Pier attracts fishing in the mornings and late afternoons; families and leisurely walkers during the day; and hand-holders of all ages and groups of youth in the evening. Of course, with Long Pier Ice Cream at the base, the pier is not the only attraction.
There are four or five different playgrounds along our three miles, and young families swarm to those. Each one is different, and each with an amazing array of contraptions not available when I was young. At the one closest to the lake tunnel, it is not unusual to find a bedraggled looking mom and dad with several small children at seven in the morning, refugees of a night with restless youngins in the Ramada. Add to them bicyclers, kayakers, wind surfers, picnickers, Frisbee golfers, birdwatchers, dog-walkers, yoga classes, and a farmer’s market.
Leafy Geneva with its wide-open lakefront hosts a small liberal arts college with a national reputation, lively and robust racial and ethnic diversity (not a given for a small rural town), restaurants that could compete in a large city, a vibrant tourist industry, and interesting historic sites and architecture. It is good, really good.