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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

He’s Getting His Feet Wet

What a dream: lazy days dangling toes in Lake Coeur d’Alene, chomping Steamboat Cafe burgers and fries, tying flies to tempt any fish.

Joe Clark’s dream included some obligatory work, but no broken toilets, sunken boats, runaway docks or fryers on the fritz. Unfortunately, those problems outnumber the perks for marina operators, Joe is learning.

“Dream job? I guess,” he says, with a doubtful look at a rundown section of dock.

Joe, who’s 33, and two silent partners bought Conkling Park Marina at the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene three months ago. Joe found the sleepy, century-old operation while hunting for a sailboat slip last fall.

He was charmed by the 1940s lunch counter in the Steamboat Cafe, the calm waters of the typically wavy lake, the undeveloped hills wearing pine as thick as an old prospector’s beard.

On the practical side, the marina had a convenience store, service shop, gas station and a cabin with three apartments.

On a whim, Joe decided to buy. The marina operator told him it wasn’t for sale. But Joe tracked down the owner, who was ready to sell.

In high school, Joe had cooked for Coeur d’Alene’s old North Shore hotel. After high school, he sold computers. He decided those jobs plus his love of water and boats gave him enough experience to run the 250-slip marina near the mouth of the St. Joe River.

“I underestimated what it would take,” he says, chuckling.

But Joe has no regrets. He wears baggy jeans and moccasins to work and lets his surfer-blond hair curl over his shirt collar. Boaters smile at his hearty hellos. His daughter swims away her summer days.

Joe wants to expand. He has 30 slips still available for $200 each and sees room for more - if he has money and energy left after all the repairs.

“It’s more pressure than I expected,” he says. “But at the end of the day, I can go dangle my feet off the end of the dock and the pressure evaporates. Beat that.”

Toe-lickin’ good

Dalton Gardens’ Barbara Hendrickson has tried Rocky Mountain oysters and says, “Never again.” They weren’t as crispy as the chicken feet Barbara fries up as a family snack.

“Since I was a little kid, I’ve had chicken feet,” she says. Her parents butchered chickens in the fall and saved the feet. They’d boil the feet for a few seconds, then peel off the scaly skin and toenails. Then they’d douse the feet in flour and deep fry them.

“Delicious,” says Barbara, who puts feet in her children’s mouths regularly.

Any other exotic dishes in North Idaho we should know about?

How does your garden grow?

You might be able to get a closer look at some of the gardens you’ve admired from afar.

The Coeur d’Alene Cultural Center knows how to pick ‘em for its annual garden tour.

This year’s tour offers trees and trails, ponds, vines, arches, fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs and fountains.

For $7, you can buy a map and drive yourself to the nine sites. Or for $12, you can cruise to the gardens on a double-decker bus.

Call 667-0624 for details.

Me Tarzan, you Jane

When I was a kid, I spent my days in the huge maple tree in my back yard. Only a treehouse would have made it better.

I’ve seen some fancy shacks in a few trees around the Panhandle and I’m aching to climb into them. Intrigue me with details of your leafy hideaways and tell me why they’re so great.

Send pictures too, if you have them, to Cynthia Taggart, “Close to Home,” 608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho 83814; fax (but not photos) to 765-7149; or call 765-7128 and inspire me to come out and climb your tree.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo