The Leelanau Conservancy 

  
One of our goals in becoming fulltime RVers was to better live out our motto ‘Don’t just see it…BE it!”  We’ve always done our best to be a part of where we were visiting during our weekends and summer vacations, but we felt that goal could never fully be accomplished until we could actually spend some quality time in each place.  This summer, the time we have spent on the Leelanau peninsula has proven that to us.  We had been coming here for years,  visiting wineries and exploring the Sleeping Bear Dunes. We honestly were concerned that we had covered the place prior to this summer, and that we would grow tired of being here after six months. Those concerns were soon eased. Leelanau had not revealed all it’s secrets in our past visits…not by a long shot.

Enter the Leelanau Conservancy.

Back in the middle of the twentieth century, this peninsula was a sleepy agricultural domain, dotted with small villages.  Sleeping Bear Dunes had yet to be designated a national lakeshore.  Few people knew of the natural beauty that exists up here.  Even fewer people understood what would happen once the masses discovered Michigan’s little finger. Ed and Bobbie Collins are two of those people.  They purchased Leland’s historic Riverside Inn in 1980, restored it, and then operated it until 1988.  They became concerned with the subtle development pressures that were beginning to mount, following the establishment of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  They established the Leelanau Conservancy, a non-profit organization aimed at preserving the land and water resources on the peninsula.  Their goal was to not only protect undeveloped natural areas outside the national park, but to also preserve the area’s rich agricultural heritage.  To date, the conservancy has preserved over 19 square miles of Leelanau County’s 347 square miles of land.  16 square miles are secured with conservation easements, while the other 3 square miles are natural areas owned by the organization. Add to that the 90 square miles protected by the federal government at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and you end up with over a quarter of the county protected from development.  And when the land under the villages and roadways is deducted from that remaining square mileage, the unpreserved square mileage starts to shrink. As a result, we aren’t seeing housing developments being built on the tops of the hills, and there is still only one traffic light and one fast food franchise (a Subway in Suttons Bay) in the entire county.

  

All too often, prime farmland in this country is sold to developers for housing.  The high prices offered to the farmers are just too hard to resist.  This is where the conservation easements become such a key factor in the Leelanau Conservancy’s efforts.  The way they work is like this:  the difference in the value of the land between agricultural and subdividing it for homes is determined.  The landowner enters into an agreement with the conservancy and attaches a conservation easement to the deed that forever restricts the land from being used for anything other than agricultural purposes.  1/2 of that difference is acquired through federal grants secured by the conservancy and is paid to the landowner.  An additional 1/4 is paid to the landowner by the conservancy itself.  The final 1/4 is donated by the landowner themselves, even though no money effectively changes hands on that portion. They are then eligible for tax breaks on their property for doing so.  The land is still theirs to farm and to sell, but the value is permanently diminished, as the deed will always carry the development restriction.  The important thing here is that, while this land is pretty to look at, it is also a highly unique microclimate on the 45th parallel that is prime for growing cherries, apples, hops and grapes.  Over half of the nation’s tart cherries come from this region.  As older farmers decide to retire, the younger farmers are able to afford to purchase land that would otherwise be too expensive.

  

And you can only imagine what the cost of the land is after Good Morning America and USA Today recently showcased the area.

So the next question is: where does the conservancy get its money from?  Donors….lots and lots of donors. The last annual report online lists ten pages of donors.  People up here are serious about keeping development out and protecting this agricultural jewel.

  

An aerial view of the area shows how important the Leelanau Conservancy is to the county. That sleepy peninsula from the middle of the last century?  For the most part, it still exists.  In many places, farms still run to the water’s edge.  Existing structures are consistently renovated.  Agriculture is found in a place you would least expect to find it. Yes, there are a few pockets of unwise development, but they are more the exception than the rule.

Over the next few posts, we will showcase some of the natural areas that the conservancy have been able to protect.  The past few weeks, we’ve been able to hike the trails at three of these preserves.  What we’ve found has impressed us, as these areas are much more rugged and wild than the trails in the national lakeshore.  

Are there similar conservancies that you have discovered in your travels or in your area?  We would love to hear about them!

Hauling Our New Trikes

One thing is for certain: we love our new TerraTrikes!  We knew they would be a challenge to transport though.  This post will show you what we came up with to solve this issue.

 
When we purchased Diana’s TerraTrike, it didn’t take us long to figure out how to haul it.  With the fifth wheel, we needed to get it out of the way of the hitch.  Mounted in the position above, it is safely in front of the trailer.  We’ve since purchased a TerraTrike rooftop kit from Suttons Bay Bikes, which consists of three foam blocks for the tires, and two straps.  I use the straps in place of the orange bungees.  We also remove the seat fabric, which easily snaps on and off.  Trike #1…issue solved!

When I decided to also purchase a trike (as Pam from Oh, the Places They Go kidded with me, “I had a feeling this was coming”), Diana and I had to come up with a solution…and fast.  Our time at Wild Cherry is winding down for this year, and we now owned two trikes, two bikes and a two bike receiver-mounted rack.  We quickly sold the bikes on Craigslist…as in hours after I posted the ad.  That was a relief.  🙂   The rack is a very sturdy Yakima, and it has served us well on the back of the fifth wheel.  I took a long look at it, hoping to come up with a way to modify it for my trike…without losing the ability to change it back to a two-bike rack, if we needed to sell it.  Here is what I came up with:

  
Here is the rack after I flipped the outer rail end to end.  It originally had one bike facing left and one bike facing right.  My goal here was to have both of the wheel supports on the right side in this photo to be aligned with each other.  The single rear wheel is going to ride in the left wheel support, furthest from the truck in this image. This rack also mounts to the back of the trailer, when the truck and RV are hooked up.

With the wheelbase of the two front wheels being 29-1/2″, the current 11″ spread between the wheel supports on the right wouldn’t work to support the front wheels. This is where the modification was needed.

  

I disassembled the supports from the rack and set them aside to use later.

  
This is the piece of 1-1/2″ square steel tube I picked up yesterday at a Traverse City steel supply company.

  
I cut and drilled four small pieces from some scrap steel that Jim (Wild Cherry’s owner) had on hand.  It helps that he is also a cherry farmer, as he has all sorts of equipment that he let me use.  🙂 Thanks Jim!

 
Here are the four pieces.  The steel was from an old garage door track, hence the extra hole in the one on the right.  That won’t affect anything.

  
I then dusted off my welding skills that I hadn’t used in 35 years and fired up the arc welder….yes, Jim has one of those also!  I welded two of the flanges I had made on one side of the bar, the same distance apart as the wheelbase of the trike.

  
I then marked the center of the bar on the opposite side of the flanges.  I lined that up with the outer arm of the rack, as that is where the center of the trike was going to be.  I then marked the bar where it was going to attach to the inner arm…the mark seen here on the right.

  
I then welded the two remaining flanges into position.  I cleaned up the assembly a little with a hand grinder…my welds were strong, but none too pretty.  :). Once I was done with that, I gave it a couple of coats of black satin Rustoleum.

  
I mounted the bar to the rack with stainless steel bolts and lock nuts. I used stainless steel washers as spacers to fill the void between the flange on the rack. 

  
I then remounted the wheel supports in their new position on the bar.  All that was left now was to head back up to our campsite and try it with a trike!

  
 
It worked!  Here is how the trike fits in the rack.

  
The wheels strap down, just as they did before.

  
Here is a photo from the back.  The one trike actually weighs less than the two bikes combined that used to ride there, so this setup should be very stable.

  
And when the trike is off, I am able to still fold the rack into its upright position.  If for any reason we ever want to sell the rack, all we have to do is bolt it back into its old position, discard the bar I manufactured, and it is good to go.

Trike #2…issue solved!

A Perfect Autumn Day at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Today was just about as perfect as a day could possibly get.  October in Michigan can be a mixed bag, weather wise, but today was begging us to come outside and play!  72 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and a strong, warm breeze coming out of the south. So…play, we did!

  
We loaded up our TerraTrikes and headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  The portion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail that we planned on triking was from the Dune Climb back east to D. H. Day Campground.  This is the portion of the trail that suffered the largest damage from the storm on August 2nd.  It’s also one of the flattest portions of the trail.  :). We pulled into the parking lot of the Dune Climb to see that we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beautiful weather!

  
Out on the trail, the fall colors were evident in a few places.  With Leelanau County being surrounded by the waters of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay, the weather is moderated by their warmer temperatures in the fall.  So while the rest of lower Michigan is at peak color, we still have a lot of green leaves here.  In fact, a lot of those green leaves are drying up and falling to the ground before changing color!

  
The trail heads east through low dunes towards historic Glen Haven.

  
There are several restored buildings in this former lumbering and fishing town.  The red cannery building in the photo now houses a maritime museum.  There also is a beach here.

  
Farther to the east of Glen Haven is D. H. Day Campground.  This is one of the old log buildings back from when this was a Michigan state park.  This campground was closed for weeks following the August 2 storm, as there were hundreds of trees down.  How no one was hurt, let alone killed, is beyond belief.  The National Park Service did an amazing job of cleaning up the campground, as there isn’t much storm evidence left here.

  
That’s not the case on other portions of the trail.  Many of these fallen trees will be here for years to come.

The portion of the trail we rode wasn’t too long, so we decided to go for a hike!  Last week, Howard and Linda from RV-Dreams hiked the Empire Bluffs Trail and wrote a blog post about it.  The trail is about 45 minutes from Wild Cherry Resort, and tucked away on the south end of the village of Empire.  We’ve been coming to this area for years and never knew it existed.  Proof that you learn something new every day!

  
At 1.5 miles round trip, this was slightly longer than the Pyramid Point trail we have been doing.  

  
The sunlight was streaming through the trees, creating a surreal scene.

  
There were deep ravines and towering hills, typical of the back dunes that dot the shore of Lake Michigan in the state.

A clearing appeared to our right, and we were greeted with this view.

  
Here is Sleeping Bear Dunes in all its splendor.  Lake Michigan to the left, North Bar Lake to the right.

  
The trail continues on towards Lake Michigan, and becomes a boardwalk as it crosses onto the fragile dune above the shoreline.

  
Once out on the dune, we were treated to this spectacular vista.  The large waves that are breaking on the shore looked tiny from up here.  To the left, out over the lake, South Manitou Island can be seen in the distance.

  
There was a steady stream of people coming out to enjoy the view.

  
To the south, across the shimmering water, is Point Betsie.

  
After soaking in the view for awhile, we headed back down the trail.

  
Near the parking lot, I took a photo of these trees.  We aren’t quite sure if they are going to end up being colorful this next week, but we are hoping they are.  A lot of the maples closer to our campground are turning quickly, and they are beautiful…so here’s hoping for some pretty colors!

On the way back home, we stopped at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor and got Diana a piece of cherry pie.  I opted for a cherry ginger ale.  Yum on both counts!

So today was about as good as we could ever hope a day could be.  We are certainly glad we made the decision to come back north for October!

Return to Leelanau

   
On October 1, we decided to head back to Leelanau County and Wild Cherry Resort.  Diana’s mom has stabilized from her recent pneumonia, so we felt safe in finishing out the season.  Wild Cherry closes October 31.

    
On Friday, we met Diana’s cousin Reed and his wife Emily in Traverse City for lunch at Northern Natural Cider House.  The two of them had come up from Kentucky to close up the family homestead in Luzerne, MI.  When they arrived early Thursday, they received a huge shock, as Ma Deeter’s had just burned to the ground.

  
A classic example of an ‘up north’ bar, Deeter’s was known far and wide…probably more so than the town it resided in.  It was thought to have been the largest log structure east of the Mississippi. The building had been there since 1940, and the building before it (also destroyed by fire) had been there since 1920.

   
Emily posted this photo on Facebook that morning of their iconic sign and the smoldering ruins.  So sad.

On Saturday, we worked at Wild Cherry.  I grabbed the chainsaw and decided to take down a few dead ash trees, as they were near the roadway.  I was concerned that they could fall on someone.  As I went back to the barn, I came upon this:

 
This was a very much alive top half of an Aspen tree that snapped off in the wind.  Granted, it was very windy on Saturday, but I have to believe that this tree was weakend in the August 2nd storm.

  
It had snapped off a good 40 feet up the trunk.  The pieces in the roadway were fairly thick, so I’m glad no one was under it when it fell!

On Saturday night, we went out to eat with Howard and Linda from RV-Dreams.  

  
They are in town conducting their fall educational rally at Lake Leelanau RV Park.  While we always knew we were most likely going to fulltime RV when we retired, these two were the ones that provided the ‘nudge’ when we attended a couple of their seminars at an RV show in Grand Rapids in January, 2014.  We attended their rally last fall in Goshen, Indiana, and we were very excited to get the chance to see them again.  They have a six week trip to Costa Rica planned (without their rig), so it was fun to hear about the preparations they were making for that adventure.  They have been fulltime RVing since 2005, and they are extremely knowledgable about what it takes to live the lifestyle.  We highly recommend attending one of their rallies, even if you are just an RV owner and aren’t going to full time in it.  They provide a plethora of information on anything conceivable to do with an RV and the lifestyle.

On Sunday, we went to Suttons Bay Bikes and rented a TerraTrike for Diana to try out. We were dressed for a chilly ride, as the temperatures were in the low 50’s. We were just fine with a few layers.

  
We rode 7 miles on the 17 mile long Leelanau Trail.  She liked it so much, she went back to the bike shop and bought it!

  
We then rode the trail 9 more miles.  :). She is a very happy camper (biker)!

On our first ride, we saw this picnic table.

  
We stopped and had lunch there.  They had water, a trash can, a log book, and a pot of flowers…which was a nice touch.  I believe it was maintained by the people who lived adjacent to it.  The Leelanau Trail is a rail trail between Suttons Bay and Traverse City, and is part of the TART trail system that covers the Traverse Bay Area.

When we got to Revold Road, we were just west of Black Star Farms and we saw this sign.

  
You know you are in Leelanau County when the rest stops are wineries instead of ice cream shops.  🙂

Diana had been thinking (dreaming, actually) about getting a TerraTrike for quite awhile.  One thing I was concerned about was how we would haul it.  Fellow full timers, Bill and Jodee from On The Road Abode have two TerraTrikes, and Jodee was kind enough to send me photos of their setup.

   
If we get a second trike, this would work well for us.  Great rack from Hitch Rider.  Thanks, Jodee!

When we brought Diana’s trike home, I came up with this:

  
The disc brakes lock, so there isn’t any movement.  It won’t interfere with the trailer in this position. I’m going to get nylon straps to secure it, instead of the bungees. The seat fabric easily detaches for longer trips.  My bike will continue to ride on our Yakima receiver mounted rack, which can be mounted on the trailer when we are moving, or on the truck when we are stationary at a campground.

So as you can see, we are excited to be able to spend October on the Leelanau Peninsula.  Amazingly, the leaves have yet to change color, so we are hoping for some beautiful vistas fairly soon!  Stay tuned!

ExploRVistas – Our First Year

Well, we have our first year in the books…and what an exciting year it has been!  On September 26th, we had just gotten back from the RV-Dreams Fall Rally in Goshen, Indiana and we headed out the door of our house for the last time.

  
We knew that this was what we wanted to do, but we were unsure how the immediate future was going to play out, as we were (and still are) responsible for Diana’s mom’s care.  We moved the fifth wheel a few miles down the road to Woodchip Campground, as Diana was having to visit her mom often.

  
In early October, we decided to make a quick run to Florida, so we could deliver Diana’s dad’s tools to her brother.  We left our golden retriever Jenny with my sister. While we were gone, Jenny stopped eating.  She had been losing weight for some time, and a visit to our vet upon our return revealed that she had cancer of the blood vessels, of all things.

  
With great sadness, we had her put down on November 12.  To say we miss her is an understatement. With that said, we made the choice to be ‘dogless’ for awhile, as we have had dogs every year since 1991.

The day after Jenny left us, the snow arrived in Grand Rapids.

  
We were well prepared for the cold.  We skirted the entire underside of the trailer with 3/4″ foam board, and we placed an electric heater underneath.  Our biggest challenge was keeping the moisture at bay inside the RV.  We ended up purchasing a couple of small dehumidifiers to help with that issue. Heating costs were high for an RV, but not much different than we were paying to heat our house. In February, when the outside temperature dipped to 25 degrees below zero, I was making daily trips to the propane refilling station.  We kept a good attitude and actually did quite well.  🙂

We kept ourselves entertained throughout the winter.  We went in with the attitude ‘if we have to live here during the cold months, then we may as well embrace it’.  As many of our long time readers know, we did a good job of it.  A few of you even mentioned that our posts were making you cold!  🙂

  
We made several trips to Lake Michigan, which at times resembled the Arctic Ocean.  Only thing missing were the polar bears!

  
We also visited the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex.  No, we didn’t try the luge.  

In March, we volunteered for Gilda’s Laughfest.

  
We worked a couple of shows as ushers, which ended up being a lot of fun.

In early April, a bad case of ‘hitch itch’ overcame me, so we tore off the skirting, hooked up the RV and headed to Florida!

   
We spent some time with Diana’s brother and our niece and her family near Leesburg, and then we spent the rest of our time in Naples.  It was good to get away after a long winter.  :). We got back to Grand Rapids in mid April.

On April 30, we headed north to begin our work camping job in Lake Leelanau at Wild Cherry Resort.

  

 
No leaves on the trees yet, but what a view!  It would only get better as the summer wore on.  🙂

In early June, we hiked a newly opened portion of the North Country Trail near Fife Lake.

  
It was part of a celebration that designated the village as a ‘trail town’.  Part of the trail we walked on was a section that we used to snowmobile and cross-country ski on.  It was great to see it now under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  🙂 

Also in June, we drove our Escape down to Alton, Illinois to get together with some of our friends from college.

 

Never a dull moment with this bunch!  We had a fabulous time. 🙂
It was about then that the festivals began around Traverse City.

  

The first one was the Traverse City Wine and Art Festival.  Lots of food, music, art and wine! 

The crew at Wild Cherry also completed their first ‘paver’ site.

 
We had a deadline of July 2 (as it was rented), and we made it with a day to spare.

Our next adventure was Paddle for Pints, a pub crawl in Traverse City, involving kayaks.

  
Diana’s cousins organized our contingent, and we had a marvelous time!

Throughout the summer, the wineries would host music events on their patios.

  
Here we are with Camilla at Aurora Cellars listening to Drew Hale.

  
And here we are with Patti & Lane, Grace & George, and Mary & Rod at Shady Lane Cellars.

In August, we hooked up the rig and took a week’s vacation to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our destination was the Porcupine Mountains.

  
We did several hikes and toured a lot of areas we hadn’t seen in quite awhile.  A few, like Summit Peak, were new to us.  🙂

Labor Day weekend came and we were visited by our friends Mike and Cindy.

  
They are also friends we met in college.  They weren’t able to meet up with the rest of us in Alton, so it was really good to see them!  Here we are at Pyramid Point, over 400 feet above Lake Michigan.

In mid-September, we received word that Diana’s mom was taken to the hospital with pneumonia.  We made a quick trip to Grand Rapids and determined that we were going to need to relocate back to be by her for a bit.  There is a good possibility that we will still be able to get back to Wild Cherry for October, as Mom is doing quite well…but we will see what the next week brings.

 So, one year later, we are one site over from where we spent the winter.
  

Alaine is crusing by with the kiddie train and everybody is having fun.  🙂

All in all, it has been a great year!  Thanks for riding along with us!

Our Favorite Places on the Leelanau Peninsula

  

  
With the RV-Dreams Fall Rally happening just down the road from us in October, we thought we would publish a list of some of our favorite places on the Leelanau Peninsula.  Note that these are our favorites, and if a place isn’t listed, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth visiting. We have yet to find any place we would recommend avoiding.  Anyone else traveling up this way in the future may want to bookmark this list also.  Enjoy!

Wineries

We have two favorites in this category:  Black Star Farms and Shady Lane Cellars.  Both are outstanding.  Black Star also boasts a beautiful inn.  If you can get in and can afford it, it’s pretty darn nice.  We’ve stayed there several times.  Shady Lane has a beautiful setting and an awesome patio.  As far as the wineries on the peninsula, they are all good.  If you possibly can, try to to get to these two.  A complete list of the area wineries can be found at the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail website.

Attractions

The best attraction, by far, is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Within the park boundaries, don’t miss the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  When on the drive, make sure to stop at the Lake Michigan Overlook.  Special note this year:  the drive will be closed for repaving from September 29 through October 5, and the weather could push that back.  Go to http://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit for updates.

To the north of the scenic drive, if you are up to it, climb the Dune Climb.  Just make sure you bring plenty of water, if you decide to go all the way to Lake Michigan…a two to four hour trip!

Another attraction is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, on the northern tip of the peninsula.  It is within the boundaries of a Michigan State Park, so there is a daily entrance fee for visitors, on top of the lighthouse admission.  If you like lighthouses, this one is very nice.

Kilcherman Orchards is a special treat, if they happen to be open.  It is located just off of County Road 640 on Kilcherman Road.  They have multiple varieties of antique apples….the kind your grandma used to have. And the grower also has an amazing  pop bottle collection.  We are talking thousands of bottles, all in alphabetical order.  He will ask you your name and, in most cases, will show you a bottle with it on it.  🙂

Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor sort of falls into the shopping/ winery/restaurant categories, but it is an attraction in itself.  It is hard to describe and delightfully good.  

Shopping

There are four towns we would recommend for shopping:  Suttons Bay, Leland, Northport and Glen Arbor.  All have unique shops.  For groceries, we like Hansen Foods in Suttons Bay the best.  There is also NJ’s Grocery in Lake Leelanau, and the Leland Mercantile in Leland.  The IGA in Glen Arbor is a ways away from where we are at, so we’ve never been in it.  

Laundry

This one is a clear cut winner:  Suttons Bay Laundromat.  Clean as a whistle, and reasonably priced.  I challenge you to find a cleaner restroom in a laundromat.  🙂  Located in the same plaza as Hansen Foods, on the south end of Suttons Bay.

Driving Range

Well, I have to throw this one in here:  Wild Cherry RV Resort.  I know the rally is being held at Lake Leelanau RV Park, but we have a driving range at our place that is perched way up on a hill.  The view is fantastic.  Stop by anytime.  A bucket of balls is $5.  And check out our RV park for future reference.  It is very nice!

Restaurants

For a burger, we recommend either Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, or Dick’s Pour House in Lake Leelanau.  Both have good menus, with Art’s being a little more extensive. For something a step up from that, we recommend Hearth and Vine at Black Star Farms. It is Mario Batali’s favorite restaurant when he summers on the peninsula. It is outstanding. Even a little more upscale, Martha’s Leelanau Table in Suttons Bay is very nice.  In the town of Omena, Knot Just a Bar has delicious lake perch and an outstanding view of Grand Traverse Bay. With that being said, the other restaurants in the area are all very good.  People up here take their food seriously.

Bicycling

There are two bike trails on the peninsula.  The Leelanau Trail runs south out of Suttons Bay and connects up to the TART trail, once it gets to Traverse City.  The other trail on the peninsula is the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.  Parts of this trail are still under construction, but the section between the Dune Climb and Glen Arbor is of special interest this year.  The area suffered tremendous straight line winds on August 2, and we understand that section of the trail really shows off just how much timber came down.  We have yet to ride it, but we are told that it is amazing.

Hiking

The best bang for your buck is the Pyramid Point trail.  The hike to the overlook and back is 1.2 miles of moderate hiking on a gravel trail.  There is a tremendous view of the Manitou Passage from the overlook.

Beach

The beach on the north end of Bohemian Road is really nice.  There is a dog friendly beach at the north end of Good Harbor Road also.  Both of these beaches are within the National Park boundaries.  The waters of northern Lake Michigan are crystal clear, and some of the beaches are perfect for rock hunting.  A good listing of all the area beaches can be found here.

Kayaking

If you like river paddling, we recommend the Lower Platte River.  Riverside Canoe Trips will set you up, if you don’t have your own equipment.  They rent kayaks, canoes, tubes, rafts and stand-up paddle boards. For a nice secluded lake paddle, we recommend School Lake. It is within the National Park boundaries, so you will need a park pass.  You also will have the western shore of Lake Leelanau (the calm side) right at Lake Leelanau RV Park.

Hospital

Munson Medical Center in Traverse City is a nationally ranked facility.  They will take excellent care of you in an emergency.  There is also Leelanau Urgent Care in Suttons Bay.

Major Services

Most national chains are located in Traverse City.  With that being said, the town is extremely busy.  We try to avoid going there unless we absolutely have to, as it is not what we consider ‘relaxing’.  But there are times that we need to venture into town, and they always seem to have everything we need. Traverse City also has unique shops downtown, along with several craft breweries.

A note about the weather

Early October weather on the Leelanau Peninsula is quite often different than what is found inland.  This is due to the moderating effects of Lake Michigan.  Frosts and freezes tend to come later here. As a result, the trees change color a little later than they do inland.  That being said, come prepared for crisp, cool nights.  Layering is recommended, as is rain gear….not so much for the rain, but for the wind.  More often than not, there is a fresh breeze blowing up here.

  

 

We hope this list is helpful to those of you coming to this area for your first visit. Once you are north of Traverse City, slow your pace down and take it all in. Above all, have a wonderful time. The fall colors should be tremendous! In our opinion, Leelanau is a pretty great place to be.  🙂

Old Mackinac Point Light Station

  
On the northernmost tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is a place that is near and dear to our family…Old Mackinac Point.  On this ground in 1892, my maternal great-grandfather led his crew in building Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the barn that stands behind it.  The light station had been established three years before, and the first fog signal building became operational in 1890.  A request for bids for the lighthouse and barn went unanswered, and the second request in March of 1892 solicited three bids, with my great-grandfather’s being the lowest at $13,722.00.  He gathered his work party and boarded the lighthouse tender Amaranth at the Detroit Lighthouse Depot for the journey to Mackinaw City.

  
John Peter Schmitt was born in Germany in 1844.  He and his brother came to the United States in the 1870’s and took up the construction trade in Detroit.  The bell tower on St Joseph Catholic Church in Detroit is his work, as is St Anthony’s Catholic Church, just up Gratiot Avenue.  Both are still in use today. He and my great-grandmother had four girls who all died within a month of each other in a diphtheria epidemic that swept through Detroit in the late 1800’s.  They had and lost a fifth child following that.  They then had three more children, with my grandmother being the middle child.  My great-grandfather was 40 years old when she was born.  He lived until 1904, when his spirited horse took a corner in Detroit too fast and tipped his wagon over.  He cut his hand in the dirt street and developed tetanus, from which he died eight days later.  Another nine years past before my grandmother married. She gave birth to my mother at 38 years old and my mom had me when she was 36.  So while my great-grandfather and I are genetically close, there are 114 years separating our births!

When the crew arrived in Mackinaw City in May of 1892, work began in earnest. By October 25th, the first lighting of the lamp took place in the tower.  Considering the building is a two-story all-brick duplex, complete with basement, that was quite a feat!

  
Here is the crew out in front of the partially completed lighthouse.  John Schmitt is directly below the double set of windows in the castle tower section of the building.  The next person to the right in the white shirt is his brother Tony.  The lens has yet to be installed in the tower in this photo.  If you look to the far left of the image, there is a horse poking its head in.

The lighthouse continued to guide ships through the Straits of Mackinac until 1957, when the Mackinac Bridge was completed.  The bridge’s lights were more than sufficient to provide safe passage after that.  For a short time after, the State of Michigan operated a maritime museum from the building, but no access to the tower was permitted.  Eventually, the museum closed.

In the 1990’s, my Aunt Marge visited the grounds and then wrote to the Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP) to inquire on the building’s status.  Diana and I visited not long after that, and we were concerned that this beauty was being left to decay. MSHP’s focus at that time was aimed towards the forts it maintains in both Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island. Interest in lighthouses was really beginning to take off, and this was one of the most easily accessed lighthouses in Michigan.  It deserved to be opened, and in 1996, I began pressuring MSHP to do something.  It wasn’t long before they suggested I join a fund raising committee to raise the funds to restore the lighthouse. I took them up on that suggestion, and made several trips from Grand Rapids to Mackinaw City over the next few years to work with them.

  
Here is a February photo of mine from one of my trips up there.  Note the red and white lantern room, which was not historically correct.  The radio tower was also not part of the original station, and was moved off the property in later years.

One of the questions I had was the whereabouts of the Fresnel lens.  I was told that it was destroyed when they tossed it off the tower after the lighthouse closed.  Turns out, it had actually been residing in the U.S. Coast Guard Ninth District Admiral’s office in the Federal Building in Cleveland, Ohio.  I contacted that office about being able to see the lens.  With permission granted, Diana and I made the trip to Cleveland.

  
This is my photo from that day. A young Coast Guard officer gave us a special tour of the office.  There were several artifacts, but none as beautiful as our lens.  There was a small ceremonial cannon on the floor next to the lens, and the officer explained to us that the gun was there to signify that it was guarding something of great importance.  It sure was important to us!  To think that my great-grandfather was there to see it lit for the first time was overwhelming, to say the least.  It was obvious that the admiral treasured the lens, but Coast Guard rules stated that he had to return it to its original home, once the lighthouse had a proper place to display it on the first floor in a museum setting.  Senator Carl Levin’s office helped in making sure that happened.

In 2004, after a successful fundraising campaign, the lighthouse reopened.  Diana and I decided to host a family reunion of every descendant we could find of John Peter Schmitt to coincide with the grand opening.  Of the 300 people attending the celebration, 100 were our family.  Some of them travelled up from Marathon, Florida and Missouri to be part of the event. The reason I pushed MSHP so hard was for the family…especially John Peter Schmitt’s grandchildren.  As I write this today, almost all of his grandchildren have passed.  The two of us were thankful that we were able to make it all happen while they were still alive. 

A little magic happened that day.  Not only were the descendants of the builder there, but also of the lighthouse keepers.  One of the keeper’s relatives recognized one of my cousins, as their children attended the same high school north of Detroit.  Both were unaware of each other’s ties to the lighthouse.  That was a special moment.  🙂

At the time of the grand opening, the only structures remaining at the light station were the lighthouse and the 1907 fog signal building. In the ensuing years, MSHP replicated the picket fence and the original fog signal building.  They also returned the barn to the site, which had been moved to the west side of Mackinaw City a number of years before.  Below are photos from our latest visit to the light station, which we toured on our way home from the U.P.

 
Looking north along the west side of the lighthouse, the proximity to the Mackinac Bridge can be seen.  Note the brown grass from the current drought conditions in the area.  The tire tracks in the yard are from the recent construction of the replicated 1890 fog signal building. The lantern room is back to its original black, and the picket fence has been replicated.

  

Standing watch for 123 years, the tower shows the effects of the harsh weather conditions at the Straits of Mackinac.  The bricks that the U.S. Lighthouse Service provided for construction were not the proper quality for the application, and the freeze/thaw cycles in the area began to cause them to deteriorate prematurely.  This has been an ongoing problem and there is no clear solution…short of re-bricking the entire structure.  In the previous photo, note the chimneys.  The original flared chimneys were replaced with straight rectangles at some point during the lighthouses working years, and MSHP has recently replicated one of them to its 1892 form.

  
The 1907 fog signal building, built three years after my great-grandfather passed.  This building now serves as a gift shop and as the entrance to the station grounds. The original 1890 fog signal building was constructed too close to where the lighthouse was intended to sit, and was deemed a fire hazard.  It was moved to the southeast corner of the station as a storage barn, and was eventually torn down.

  
This is the barn John Peter Schmitt’s crew built.  It is in need of a paint job, which appears to be in process.  The building was moved to the west side of Mackinaw City, prior to the construction of I-75 and the Mackinac Bridge.  It was being used as a storage garage by MSHP In that location.  To bring it back, the trailer tires had to be deflated a little to fit the barn (minus the cupola) under the Mackinac Bridge approach.  Even then, there was green bridge paint that ended up on the peak of the barn’s roof.  🙂  Once it was returned to the station grounds, the structure was restored to its original appearance.  It now houses a theater that shows a video about the shipwrecks in the straits.

  
Here is the newly replicated 1890 fog signal building, situated in the location the original structure occupied during its service as a light station warehouse.  The corrugated cladding gives the exterior of the building an authentic feel.

  
The interior of the building houses a beautiful shipwreck museum.  There are several displays with models of the original ships as they appeared on the surface, and the corresponding model of how each shipwreck currently sits at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.  This is the display of the 604 foot limestone carrier Cedarville, which was lost in heavy fog off Old Mackinac Point in 1965.  It collided with a Norwegian freighter, killing ten crewmembers.  It lies in two pieces in 110 feet of water.  Kudos to MSHP on this addition to the light station, as it is very well done.

Inside the lighthouse itself, some of the rooms are restored to their 1910 appearance.  Other rooms have interactive displays.  The lens is also displayed behind a glass partition.

  
Tower tours are conducted every 15 minutes.  When I began working with MSHP to reopen the building, the director informed me that the tower would not be opened to the public, for safety reasons.  I knew that the museum’s success was dependent on public access to the tower, and we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the subject. Who wants to visit a lighthouse and not be able to climb the tower?  When that director took a job in Pennsylvania and Phil Porter took over his position, everything changed.  Tower tours became the featured attraction at the lighthouse, and the attendance numbers reflected that.

  
The unique ascending tower windows, as seen from the inside.

  The view from the lantern room looking down at the roof of the lighthouse, and the other structures on the station property.  The only buildings that are missing from the grounds are the cast iron oil house and the privy.  I’m not sure if there are plans for replicas of those in the future, or not.
  
Looking north, the Mackinac Bridge stretches out for 5 miles to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

  
This graceful structure is what rendered the light station obsolete.  When it is lit up at night, it is pretty obvious to passing ships.

  
Needless to say, our family is pretty darn proud to have this lighthouse still standing, and to be open for future generations to discover.  If you find yourselves in Mackinaw City, take an hour and tour this special place.  We think you will enjoy it.   🙂

Kitch-iti-kipi “The Big Spring”

Just west of Indian Lake, near the town of Manistique, Michigan, lies a natural freshwater spring named Kitch-iti-kipi.  The Native American name roughly translates to mean ‘big cold water’.  From it’s porous limestone and sand base, approximately 10,000 gallons of water a minute bubble into the emerald body of water.  From there, the water flows into Indian Lake, which empties through the Indian and Manistique Rivers into Lake Michigan.

It was the early 1920’s when a Manistique dime store owner named John I. Bellaire saw Kitch-iti-kipi for the first time.  Buried beneath a tangle of fallen trees, the spring was adjacent to a dumping area from a nearby logging camp.  Mr. Bellaire recognized the potential of the spring and convinced the owners, the Palms Book Land Company of Detroit, to sell it to the State of Michigan for the hefty sum of $10.  Part of the deal was that the spring would forevermore be kept a public area and be known as Palms Book State Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a hand propelled raft on a cable in the 1930’s.

  
But that was not the first raft at the spring.  In the late 1800’s, this vessel was constructed to take visitors across the 45 foot deep pool. Why it transitioned from a tourist spot to a logging dump prior to Mr. Bellaire’ discovery is unclear.

Once it became a state park, more and more tourists came to Kitch-iti-kipi.  Mr. Bellaire could be seen at the site well into his 70’s, as he was fascinated by the spring.

  
Even though the current raft is much larger, it is still human powered.  There is a large boat davot wheel that passengers takes turns spinning to move the craft along the cable and across the water. The kids on our voyage really had fun acting as the pilot. There is no park ranger present, yet the entire process stays very organized.

  
The cable that runs above the spring can be seen in this photo, as can the bottom of the pool.  That white sand bottom is 45 feet down!

  
The center of the raft is open. With the canopy over the top providing shade, visitors enjoy an excellent view of the spring. There were several large fish, but they refused to pose for my camera.

  
Near the center of the pool, the force of the water could really be seen.  Imagine filling a 25 foot round by 5 foot deep swimming pool every minute.  That’s a LOT of water!  And with it being a constant 45 degrees, it doesn’t freeze in the winter.

That wraps up our current tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Our focus on this trip was the Porcupine Mountains, so we skipped over several points of interest that we have seen in the past.  We could have easily spent the summer here and not seen everything. The U.P. is a wonderful place to explore, and we highly recommend taking the time to discover it for yourselves.

 

Fayette, Michigan – Another Era

Iron – the backbone of industry –  was in increasing demand in the late 19th century, following the U.S. Civil War. Steel mills began appearing in the lower Great Lakes and in Pennsylvania to feed the Industrial Revolution. The Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan, known for it’s copper deposits, was also rich in iron ore.  In those days, getting the iron to the mills was not as easy as it is today.  The giant ore freighters that ply the Great Lakes didn’t exist back then.  Transporting the ore to the mills prior to extracting the pure iron wasn’t economically feasible.

Enter the Jackson Iron Company. Formed by businessmen in Jackson, Michigan in 1845, this company hoped to mine copper in the western U.P.  Iron was discovered the year before in the central U.P. by surveyors when their compasses began fluctuating.  When the Jackson team arrived and heard of this discovery, their focus switched from copper to iron. By the late 1860’s, the need for a smelting operation became evident, so that pure iron could be shipped south to the mills in Chicago.

An agent for the Jackson Iron Company, Fayette Brown, was sent to scout a location for a smelting blast furnace.  An ample supply of limestone and timber was needed to produce charcoal to fire the furnaces, along with a deep harbor to bring in the sailing schooners that were to carry the iron south. The small natural bay known as Snail Shell Harbor on Lake Michigan’s Big Bay de Noc was chosen, as it met all three requirements. The townsite was named Fayette in honor of Mr. Brown. 

Fayette became a town of some 500 residents.  Churches, a school, hotel, town hall and store all were constructed.  It was the true definition of a ‘company town’, existing solely for the purpose of supporting the smelting operation.  Jackson Iron remained here until 1891, when the local timber reserves were exhausted.  After that, the town became a resort and fishing village, until the State of Michigan acquired it in 1959 to feature it as a state historical park.

  
Our visit to Fayette (our second) was late afternoon on August 7.  The weather was not cooperating, but we are not ones to let that stand in our way.  Our rain gear served us well. However, after viewing our somewhat drab photos, we decided to try to go the ‘historic’ route and convert them to sepia tone.  We hope you enjoy them!

  
 
From inside the blast furnace building, the limestone cliffs on the northern shore of Snail Shell Harbor can be seen.  The pilings from the docks are still protruding from the water, all these years later.

  
The slag at the base of the furnaces remains where it was left in 1891.  These furnaces produced 229,288 tons of pure iron in the 24 years they were in operation.

  
Across the harbor, the superintendent’s house sits high on the hill.  This offered the head of the operation a commanding view of the furnace and the surrounding town.

  
Across from the furnace sat the company store.  In those days, this was your Walmart, Home Depot and Costco…all in one building.  The company owned it, and they were the only retailer for many miles around.  When the furnace was down, lines of credit were extended to the workers until they could work off their debt at a later date.  The term “owe my soul to the company store” comes from these lines of credit that were extended to workers in these towns all across America.

  
The hotel was quite large and opulent for it’s day and location, and it featured a two story outhouse off the back of the building.  Our preference would be a second story room please, as we prefer a better view.  🙂

  
From left to right:  the school, a middle class home, and the town hall.  The second floor has a large performance hall, complete with a raised stage and set curtains.

  
Pretty decent acoustics I might add, as Diana sang “The Sound of Music” just for fun.  🙂

  
Adjacent to the furnace was the machine shop.  I would imagine that this was a place of great importance in Fayette.

  
The barbershop became a popular place, as styles changed from beards to clean shaven.

  
Central to it all was the blast furnace complex.  The building was comprised of two furnaces to produce the iron, along with several kilns to produce the charcoal needed to fire the furnaces.  The State of Michigan has covered the open tops with steel roofing to preserve the walls from moisture.  They have been good stewards of the town, and are maintaining this important piece of history.

If you are traveling along U.S. 2 in Michigan’s U.P., take the detour south to this  piece of the area’s past.  We feel it is worth the effort.  For those interested, the state park also maintains a campground at the location.

We’re still “Falling” for each other after 33 years!

Thursday, August 6 was our 33rd wedding anniversary.  We like to celebrate our anniversaries by going either hiking or kayaking, and this year was no different.  We chose to go for a hike on the North Country Trail south of Ontonagon, Michigan.

  
The hike we chose was O-kun-de-kun Falls and the Baltimore River Bridge.  When we arrived at the trailhead, we saw trail workers hauling aggregate from the parking lot down the trail.  As is seen in the above photo, the trail is level stone between treated lumber.

  
A little ways down the trail, we encountered the four college students who were spending their summer improving the path.  They were doing a fabulous job.   They had only been there three days, and they were making good time!  It is interesting to see how a trail like this is constructed.

 

The trail ahead revealed why they were working to improve it. We were glad that we chose to use our trekking poles. With the path being designated as part of the North Country Trail, the traffic is increasing on it.

  Even still, there were spots that the ferns were covering the planks. It definitely made the hike more of an adventure!  It was about this point that something got between my right hand and my trekking pole and stung the base of my right thumb.  It REALLY hurt, but I wanted to keep going.  This trail was way too cool to stop!
  
Further along, the planks gave way to roots and rocks.  There was a clay base, and the mud had caused people to take alternate routes, causing damage to the surrounding vegetation.  The improved trail will really have a positive impact on this heavily travelled section.

  
When we came to the side of the falls, we could see ahead to the Baltimore River Bridge.  The span is a pedestrian only path, and is part of the North Country Trail.

  
On the side of the bridge is an army surplus ammo box that contains a log book.  If you hike to this point, look for our August 6, 2015 entry!

  
Looking back from the base of the bridge, O-kun-de-kun Falls can be fully appreciated.  The waterfalls are named for an Ojibway chief.  The daring can brave the slippery rocks and venture behind the cascade.  The clay riverbed that gives some of the area’s rivers a chocolate milk appearance can be seen here.  O-kun-de-kun is one of the wilder falls in the U.P., and was well worth the effort to get there.

When we completed the hike, we drove to Bond Falls, a Michigan State Park.

  
Bond Falls is incredible!  It’s part of the Ontonagon River, and the trail below the falls is handicap accessible.  We were impressed at the amount of water cascading across this rocky face.

  
We climbed the stairs along the side of the river, only to find more falls!

  
They even look pretty in black and white!

  
Looks like a good spot for a 33rd anniversary ‘couple-ie’.  🙂

Before heading back to Ontonagon, we stopped at Agate Falls.

  
The easy trail to this set of falls descends from a roadside park.  Actual river access is more difficult.

  
High above the falls, an old train trestle crosses the river.  It is amazing the work that went into this old structure.

All in all, we ended up hiking to 3 falls for our 33rd anniversary!  It was a perfect way to spend our day together.  🙂

M.B. HENRY

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