Tag Archives: Leelanau Peninsula

Leelanau, 2017

There is just something about Leelanau County that keeps drawing us back.  Since we were coming back to Michigan for annual doctor appointments, we knew we would definitely want to make time for our beloved finger of land on northern Lake Michigan.

On September 24, we headed across the Mackinac Bridge, completing our quick trip across the Upper Peninsula.

It’s always a thrill to pull a 13 foot tall fifth wheel over this span…especially since the railing is only 3 feet high!  The Mackinac Bridge Authority limits loaded trucks to 20 mph for good reason, as the crosswinds can be formidable. As a result, I had a good 15 minutes to ‘enjoy’ my unobstructed view over the rail on the 5 mile crossing. 😉

We stopped by Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse to see how it was doing.  You may recall that my great-grandfather was the general contractor on the lighthouse and barn way back in 1892. I worked with Mackinac State Historic Parks for several years to get to light station reopened as a museum.  It’s great to see that the buildings are in fine shape.

The next day, we headed toward Leelenau.  When we drove through the intersection of Grandview and Division in Traverse City, we essentially completed our circle of the country we began last October 1st.  It was pretty overwhelming to reflect on the amazing experiences we’d had over that time period. It was also exciting to see what was new on the peninsula.

Our friends Rod and Mary had built a beautiful cottage just up the road from Wild Cherry Resort, so they invited us to use their RV pad.  They worked their tails off over the summer and have ended up with a dandy little slice of paradise!  We really appreciated being able to stay on their property.  We had piled up a ‘to-do’ list of items that needed attention on the rig, so I picked away at most of them.  It was there that our refrigerator door fell off, so that assumed the top item on my list.

We also stopped into Wild Cherry and saw Jim the owner, Paul, JoAnn, Skip and Rex.  Later in the week, I saw Rex’s wife Nellie in the grocery store.  Rex broke his leg earlier in the summer but is back mowing at the age of 93.  I snuck up alongside of her and said “Hey, Beautiful…how are you doing?”  She said “Well, hello!  I’m fine…it’s him that’s the problem!”…pointing to Rex back by the meat department.  😊

Rod also took us out sailing on Suttons Bay.  The breeze was stiff enough to allow us to sail with only the jib.

Mary and Diana were enjoying the wild ride!

On Saturday, September 30, we went to Leelanau UnCaged with Lane, Patti, Rod and Mary.  The event was a street fair in Northport which morphed into a park party with three bottles of wine and snacks from the town grocer. 😉   The six of us previously had gotten together for dinner at our place a couple of days before and also got together later in the week when Lane and Patti had us over to their place for dinner. It’s always a great time when we are together!

Later in the week, we went over to John and Julie’s new place on the southern end of the county.  John was one of my college suite mates and a fellow Zamboni driver.  He and Julie just built a really cool place that features beams and planks from a huge pine tree that grew where the house now sits.

After we hung out there for a bit, we headed to the village of Cedar for dinner.  Man, it’s great to be able to catch up with these two!

On Tuesday, Diana and Mary headed to Grand Rapids to do some shopping and to check out Meijer Gardens and some of the Artprize entries there.  I rode along with Rod to Traverse City where he was having his boat stored for the winter.  It was neat to see the process of pulling the vessel out of the water.

First thing they did was lift the mast from the boat, secure the rigging and then store it on a trailer with a multitude of other masts.

Then they had Rod pull the cruiser into slip and over the slings.

Up she goes…

…and loaded on the cradle.  Pretty cool name, seeing that Rod is a retired commercial airline pilot who took up sailing.  😎

It sure was great to get back to Leelanau for a few weeks and see everyone!  From here we head down to Grand Rapids for our doctor’s appointments and to see more friends and family.  Stay tuned to see what we come up with during our time there!

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Ready for the Season!

We have returned to Wild Cherry RV Resort on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula for another season….and it is good to be back.  We arrived Friday afternoon, set up our rig and locked onto one of the best satellite signals we’ve ever pulled in on our DirecTV.  Life is definitely good.  🙂   We were greeted by Patti and Lane, and also JoAnn and Paul.  It was great to see them all again.  While I was setting up, Rex drove up in his pickup to say hello.  He and Jim (the resort owner) spent the morning getting the riding mower ready to go, as Rex will be starting to mow on Monday. He had set up his 5th wheel earlier in the week and was having a little issue getting his Dish Network signal locked on, so he asked if I would help him with that. Diana and I jumped on the golf cart and headed down to his and Nellie’s rig.  To remind everyone, Rex will be 92 years young this summer, and his charming wife Nellie will be 90.  They proceeded to pour us a drink, as we all know that aiming a satellite is easier with a vodka and tonic.  🙂  Rex and I headed outside to move the dish, while Diana and Nellie stayed in to watch the signal meter on the screen, calling the numbers to us through the open window.  Factor into this that Rex and I are both somewhat hard of hearing…and you basically have  the makings of an ‘I Love Lucy’ skit.   Even with my Dishpointer app on my phone, we were only able to get the meter to about 50%…which I was sure wouldn’t be enough.  I called Dish.  After telling the tech that “the neighbor moved it” …with me being ‘the neighbor’, he worked a little magic on his end and suddenly Rex and Nellie had great reception!  They insisted on taking us out to dinner to thank us, so we headed into town for a bite to eat.  Just getting to spend time with these two is a treat for us.  Let’s change that earlier statement to life is definitely better than good!  🙂

Saturday morning came early, as Diana and I had agreed to dive right in and work.  JoAnn and Paul had been covering the place since May 1, so they headed downstate to their daughter’s place for Mother’s Day weekend.  Rod and Mary will be here this coming Friday.  Paul and Jim had set up most of the picnic tables already, so I finished that project.  I also helped Jim with a new drain tile along the entrance road.  He handled most of that with his John Deere front end loader, something he is a master at.  Diana started in on the paperwork in the office.

And once again, the woods surrounding the resort are filled with trillium!  The trees are starting to leaf out and soon our wooded tent sites will be filled with campers.

The flowering trees are beginning to bloom, and the apple and cherry blossoms will soon be covering the hillsides throughout Leelanau County.

On Saturday, I picked up where Paul left off on edging the patios.  As you can see, our lakefront sites are wide open right now, so it’s a perfect time to come up and spend a few days.  The only thing you will hear is birds, frogs, crickets and…during the day…Rex mowing those hills.  🙂  Shoulder seasons in Northern Michigan are magical.

Mosquitoes are rarely a problem here.  It’s also very dark at night, so if the sky is clear, the stars are insane!

The wineries, shops, and restaurants in the surrounding villages are all open for business. People are taking to the woods in their annual hunt for morel mushrooms.  We hope to get our trikes on the trails soon, as the weather has been warming up into the 60’s in the afternoons. And this is a fabulous time to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Leelanau Conservancy preserves.

Leelanau was calling us, and we are really glad we got up here as quickly as we could!

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Wild Cherry RV Resort
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Whaleback Natural Area

On Monday, October 19, we decided to check out another one of Leelanau Conservancy’s preserves, Whaleback Natural Area.

  
To truly appreciate why mariners referred to this bluff as ‘whaleback’, you must first view it from Good Harbor Beach to the southeast.  From that vantage point, it appears as a giant sea creature on the horizon.

The starting point for the trail is just south of the village of Leland, just off of M22.  There is a spur trail that snakes between two private parcels of land to reach the 40 acre glacial moraine. 

  
At 1.6 miles, this is not a tremendously long hike, although there is a steady elevation change as you crest the whale’s back.

Click here to see the wind whipping through the trees on our hike.  We had a steady 30 mph breeze that day, coming straight out of the southwest.

  
 
One of the challenges we faced on this hike was the amount of acorns on the spur trail.  They were like walking on ball bearings!  🙂

  
We passed this fallen tree that was covered with bracket fungi.

  

It wasn’t too long until we came to the Good Harbor Bay overlook.  The wind was pretty much hitting us head on.

Click here to see a short video of the bay.  We saw something in the distance across the water, but we couldn’t make out what it was.  I suspected it was a freighter tucked into the bay to escape the wind and waves.  More on that later…

 

This photo is typical of the landscape on the crown of the bluff.  The high canopy of the trees created a very pleasant space on the forest floor.

  

The ravines off of the summit were steep and were absolutely gorgeous! 
  
  

The sun through the trees created a surreal scene.  🙂 
After we left the preserve, we decided to drive down to Good Harbor Beach to see if we could figure out if we were seeing a freighter or not.

  

Sure enough, it was a sizable ship.  I checked the Great Lakes Seaway and Shipping website and discovered it was the 844 foot tug/ barge combination Joyce Van Enkevort/Great Lakes Trader.  Turns out, this wasn’t the only ship seeking refuge in the bays along Lake Michigan.  I noticed another one on the website farther north in Little Traverse Bay near Petoskey.  Even though were on the leeward shore of the bay, the wind was blowing the tops off of the waves, as seen in Diana’s video here.

Whaleback really was different than anything we had seen on the Leelanau Peninsula.  If you are in the area and get a chance to hike it, we think you will enjoy it!

 

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!

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.  🙂