Old Dog Like Their Old Tricks

June 15, 2012

It was apparent that we weren’t fooling anyone, but that was of little concern. These old dogs had three tricks: going fishing, going exploring, or going to Clydes. Our technique was perfected when Duke and I were yet young dogs. We still maintain our cover though, but the pattern has become actually institutional. When told of our plans, everybody just nods and wishes us well.
Most of the time these journeys begin in the most curious way. This one started with a Saturday phone call from Duke exhorting me to come over and see the size of the trout that a friend had given him. He was preparing the lunkers for smoking and felt that a picture would not do them justice. He was right, having no pans available that could contain fish of this size. We decided at his kitchen table that it was time to go fishing. That set the wheels in motion.
A trip going fishing dictates an early start, and the day began this way. However I knew pulling into Duke’s driveway our lines would not see water. It had been too long since either of us had been to this river to pick a spot. We as always had a checklist of spots to go, and proceeded to ascertain the worthiness of each. They all checked out positively, and were added to the inventory of future angling destinations.
The important things of going exploring were now at hand. There were donuts to be had in White Cloud, a road whose destination was unclear to be driven, and a cold beer buffered by a burger on Croton backwaters. These were the true destinations today, and by all measures it was a success. The donuts survived the coffee, the road went where it should’ve, and the burgers were cooked just right.
Now we were headed home. The day was complete, and the ordinary laid wait. Both of us had obligations upon our return, and the Jeep was quiet for the last hour or so. It wasn’t so much a reluctance to return as it was a resignation to reality again. Old dog like their old tricks, trying new ones isn’t as much fun as keeping the old ones.

The End Of The Road

September 9, 2011

As you may suspect, many of the prizes of wandering Michigan are found at the end of a road not on the itinerary.  These little surprises are more often than not are well worth the effort made to get there, and have actually been the subjects of some of my postings. Here’s a look at some of my recent discoveries at the end of the road.

The first picture here is of a road that presumably ends at Lake Michigan.  Though I had great confidence in my vehicle, the far shore seemed a bit too far to chance it.  Still, the road to this spot had been through a great stretch of rare undeveloped shoreline along this Great Lake.  To drive my front tires into the water and step out into a vast stretch of primitive shoreline was a special moment.

Forest Service roads are also an irresistible harbinger of chance. Last year on my convoluted route home from Traverse City, I blew past a Manistee National Forest trail named Firetower Road.  After a quick U-turn, I was on a two-track bound for the unknown.  Sure enough, the road was aptly named, and several miles later I found myself at the last remaining firetower in the Lower Peninsula.  The Udell Hill tower was fenced off, but the Forest Service has erected a story board here to illustrate the history of this site.  Seems it was manned until the mid-1960’s, rather remarkable figuring it’s lack of technology.

On Drummond Island in July, I drove past the Four Corners intersection on Johnswood road to seek out the ghost town at the end of the road there.  It was curious and all there was was a large empty field fronting onto Lake Huron and sporting a large for sale sign out front.  The property and its remains are available for those who seek their own town.  Other than several foundations and pier trailings on the lakeshore, there is little left here. But who knows, this could be the next Fayette.

Somewhere on the road north, I saw a sign pointing to the way to Yuma.  Who’s gonna pass that up?  After passing through several Christmas tree farms, I saw the southern foothills of the Lowhead Mountain Range, the only mountains in the Lower Peninsula.  But there it was the remnants of a resort town that once existed.  Now there is only a tavern and township office.  There were several cabins scattered along the platted streets, though most seemed abandoned.  It wasn’t hard to imagine tourists stopping here at the train station to take in the Alpine air, and forking out the cash for a lot.

There are dozens more which I’ll probable explore in the future, but until then, sometime you might want to seek out a road’s end somewhere.

Leaving Lovells

July 24, 2011

The phone told me I missed a call when I went in to pay for gas.  Duke had left me a voicemail that our cabin was not quite what he had reserved.  After playing phone tag and battling reception dead spots for the next hour, I pulled into Bud’s.  We had passed by this place for years, and finally managed to get together there for some fishing this weekend.  It was particularly special since the cabins were in Lovells, one of our favorite destinations over the years.  There’s not much to the town, but it’s a special place.

I stumbled upon thirty years ago when wandering the Au Sable country for the first time.  Driving along Lovells road I spotted a little building signed as Bill’s Fly Shop. Who could resist that?  Obviously built by the proprietor, this little cinder block building was the epitome of what a fly shop was.  He was a Korean War vet who fished when He wanted, worked when He wanted, and generally enjoyed whatever the hell the day presented.  I also learned more about trout in the forty five minutes there than in the decades since. Perhaps it was that which captured my fancy, but Lovells had a lure of its own.

It’s at a crossroads of sorts, if you can call intersecting roads that really don’t take you anywhere that.  Little has changed since my first time here, yet there has been progress.  Hartmann’s has changed hands, but not its inventory.  The general store and hardware store are still there, and the Riverside Inn still offers diner a nice waterfront location.  A restaurant opened across the street three or four years ago,  but before closed up shortly before our arrival.  The biggest change has been the resurrection of the old Lovells hotel as the North Branch Outing Club.  It’s great to see the long abandoned building now thriving again.  There’s also another by luck or chance attraction, the Lovells Historic Museum.  It has a great collection of local history and fly fishing memorabilia.  However, it keeps irregular hours, so check ahead.

Turning into the cabins per Duke’s instructions, it was apparent that his admonition was correct. The layout was not how we had pictured it.  It was a decidedly nice cabin, and had a great screened in porch.  My fishing buddy had taken full advantage of it in the time he had already spent there.  Showing great hospitality, he offered me a choice of beverages.  Walking down to the river with our Labatts, we gazed upon the North Branch of the Au Sable with the reverence it had earned.  Our many trips to this river had allowed it to recognize this. This cabin was perfect, knotty pine paneling, screened in porch and a fire pit.

By this time dinner was running late, so we threw a couple of New York Strips on the grill. Don’t know why, but Duke always does the cooking on our journeys. What He did with the steaks though answered that question.  Afterwards, I strung up my 3-weight and wandered to the dock to see if I could pick up a fish or two. A couple of bad casts and an insurmountable birdsnest later, I packed it in and returned to the campfire.  It was a perfect cloudless night, and the stars were everywhere.

Morning found us in Grayling for breakfast and a trip to the flyshop.  It seems the Hex hatch hadn’t quite started, so I opted for some nymphs.  Upon arriving back at the cabin, into the river we went.  Several hours and uncountable brook trout later, I caught up with Duke back at the cabin. Amazingly, he hadn’t caught a single fish.  It had been a great day on the river, exactly what I was looking forward to driving up here.  The North Branch of the Au Sable is a beautiful river, rivaled by few others in Michigan.  These are wild trout here, making the experience of fishing it even that much more satisfying.

After dinner, we returned to the water, and I suggested a “one fly” contest, a competition among angler using a single identical fly to see who can catch the most fish on that fly before it is unfishable. The immediate tally was 4-0 in my favor and had just lost a very large fish beneath a willow before the curse hatch started.  Finding my way to its source, Duke informed me the contest was over.

Later by the campfire, we reflected upon the day.  I agonized about not hooking that very large tug on my line, and my buddy waxed philosophically.  A couple of fellow anglers ascended from the river about then, and we exchanged our accounts of the day’s events.  They had spent far more time on the water than we,  but told of a monster brown trout lurking beneath a stream side willow.  They had targeted that trout for years, with no success.  I took a long swallow from my drink.

The next morning, as I headed home, it was hard not to turn back.  Having a previous commitment for the evening kept me from doing that.  Sometimes there just isn’t enough time.  My appetite had been rewetted here, and that was why I came. I stopped at the Lovells museum to ponder my options, and took the long way to my next destination.

The Long Road Home

July 3, 2011

It was strange seeing him riding shotgun. There were only a handful of times that I could remember riding shotgun with him.  Now, I get to drive and He gets to enjoy the view.  Fitting that it should come down to this, taking Him to the places that were instilled in me as a child.  I guess that it is every son’s aspiration to experience what his father did, but nothing could have foretold of these circumstances.

This hasn’t been this kindest of years for my Dad. He lost his soulmate of 52 years in March, only after her valiant struggle with breast cancer.  Every day is clearly still a struggle for him, and it is obvious the void can never be left behind.  In May, fate dealt another cruel hand, the death of his oldest sister, leaving him as the last survivor of 8 siblings.  He faced it stoically as he has always done, and through it all kept a brave face.  In my entire life, this man has never initiated one ounce of self-pity.  There are times I construed this as weakness, now I am aware of the true strength of my Father’s character.

Early on to me it seemed as if He had lived a pretty simple life. Though I was aware that He was in Europe in World War 2, it was never spoken of.  Pretty much all of His life before getting married was and still is a mystery.  I’ve tried to imagine heading off to a war at 18, but it is way beyond I can imagine.  It seems some things are best just left where they are. All I really knew about is what happened after he got married, perhaps that is the only reference point I need.  Things come out now, in very considered increments.  These are welcome.

Now it is a pleasure to have his company on a road trip, and I certainly hope He appreciates mine as well.  It seems that he has wandered Michigan nearly as much as I have over the years. Having a passenger who can tell me what was here on this road decades ago is fascinating.  It’s great for me that I am experiencing this with my Dad.  I only hope that these journeys bring Him the enjoyment that they do me.  There are lots of ideas floating out there, and the bloodline seems to be renewing itself.

Where the road takes us next is still undecided.  Any nice weekend day is fair game.  So far it has taken us to a lot of the old family strongholds. It appears likely that the scope will transcend these.  A handful of possible destinations are currently in play.  All that I can be sure of at this point, is that it never seemed likely that I would have this opportunity.  It is truly a blessing that we are able to take the long road home.

The Perfect Lie

June 7, 2011

Fly anglers tend to elevate their sport to religious status.  They will speak of the sanctimony of stepping into a stream and the reverence of a river.  No doubt this is due to the long literary heritage of a pursuit that has always sought to elevate itself from the mere catching of a fish. To this day casting a fly carries a certain differentia from other fishers. You tend to accept that you are doing this for a higher purpose.

All of this had brought me now to Seney, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The most famous of all trout fishing stories took place here.  Ernest Hemingway wrote of Nick Adams coming here to fish the Big Two Hearted River.  It was instead the Fox River that the character fished.   The Fox River, as well as the Two Hearted River thirty miles east, both remain largely as they were in Hemingway’s story, and it is not difficult to imagine oneself as a modern Nick Adams.  Thousands still journey here annually to savor such an experience.

Seney is actually probably a fraction of the town Nick Adams experienced.  The railroad he arrived on is still here, but there is little else remaining of the raunchy lumbering town of a century ago. There are possibly a hundred full time residents, and the remaining commercial activity has located along the state highway.  In its heyday though, Seney was likely the most infamous town east of the Mississippi.

As I explained my plans to the proprietor of the Fox River Motel, he groaned under his breath, yet he willingly accepted my payment.  It was the last weekend of trout season and the weather was astonishingly midsummer like.  It was one of those days which seemed was ordered by a higher power.  I would fish the Fox tomorrow, the east branch of the Fox on Friday, and wrap up the season on Saturday on the Two Hearted River.  All now seemed in place for my religious experience.

Following breakfast at the Golden Griddle the next morning, one’s only option in town for that meal, I drove across the street to County Road 500, which parallels the Fox River for about fifteen miles.  After passing several promising turnoffs, it dawned on me that no one else was on the river this day.  At the state forest campground, I opted to make my stand.  The stream here was exactly as Hemingway depicted it in his story.  The casting lanes were narrow, and the currents ran strong.  While I was using flies as bait, as opposed to Nick Adam’s self-dug worms, modern regulations were the culprit.  There was no doubt that this was the river I had sought out, and my sojourn to this shrine was rewarded with a pair of well-earned brook trout.

Friday arrived with another perfect weather forecast, which seemed to be another sign.  It appeared inevitable that casting on the East Branch would be fruitful.  Regarded as Michigan’s best brook trout stream, the inaccessibility of the river is somewhat responsible.  After several miles of tumbling along two-tracks, I reached my chosen spot.  It was a large open meadow, with a level stretch of river riffling through its grasses.  It was a perfect casting spot here, though the

high sun would make these wild fish wary.  The temperatures rose dramatically and gave rise to an unexpected consequence, the mosquito hatch.  Ill prepared, I soon acquiesced to the cutthroats and returned to Seney.

The early culmination of the day allowed for a stop at Andy’s Bar, the last tavern in this town which once hosted dozens.  Conversations came easily here, and once more I was revealed as little more than the latest Hemingway reader to end up here.  It was all taken in stride granting that my tale had many times been told.  They were glad to accept my payment at this establishment too.  After quenching my thirst, I walked back to my room.

Early the next morning I fled the sleepy hamlet for the Two Hearted River.  It was about an hour’s drive away, a journey it would’ve taken Nick Adams two or three days to make.  My destination was a private spot near the Reed and Green bridge, which is actually on an unnamed road.  Armed with bug spray, I reached the end of the trail at the river.  It was yet another day pulled from somewhere in mid-June.  The poetic beauty of the river’s name is matched only by its scenic splendor.  If nothing else were to happen today, standing here right now would still be enough for me.

Barely had my first cast hit the water when a brook trout struck my fly.  Brook trout do not strike hard like a rainbow, which I would’ve expected the fish to be.  It was just a tug, nothing you dare over respond to.  Still there it was a moment later, sliding from my hand back into these revered waters.  Over the next two hours, I caught and released nearly two dozen more of these, a day unlike any other I have experienced before or since.  There was nothing I could do wrong.

Now my revelation was complete. Whether it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, or somebody was smiling down on me that day will forever remain a mystery.  Having fished all of these rivers before and since, that solitary afternoon remains an singular anomaly.  It has cemented my belief that fly fishing is a sport which is aspired to as much as it is practiced for its virtue.  As trout inhabit of the most beautiful of locales, it is not difficult to imagine they may have been sent from that better place.


May 14, 2011

At the end of the road where my aunt and uncle had their place was 72nd street, across which lay the Pere Marquette River.  The cabins were different there, and I would walk across the road to appraise the difference.  Being on the water was virtually the only variation, yet it was significant.  The river was a trout stream. They are markedly different from other waterways, usually discernable by sight alone.   This alone made Baldwin a special place for me and it remains so to this day.

Baldwin remains among my favorite destinations, and aside from the fishing opportunities, it is the character of the place that is the draw.  It is actually one of the first planned communities, having been platted three miles away from the Pere Marquette River in order to protect it.  It’s a hardscrabble village, nestled on three sides by the Manistee National Forest, and bounded on the northeast by the Pere Marquette State Forest.  It is the seat of a county whose population is barely more than a handful of counties in the Upper Peninsula.  Given this, it’s not hard to understand why Baldwin and Lake County consistently rank as among the poorest places in Michigan.

Only about ten thousand residents inhabit Lake County, with roughly thirty percent living in Baldwin and the surrounding townships. The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, and the area ranks high in the state in the number of second homes.  As one could tell from my aunt and uncle’s place, most of these are belong to the working class.  The low land prices and property taxes were appealing, and have also made the region a magnet for retirees.

Just east of Baldwin is Idlewild, probably the closest thing to upscale Lake County will likely ever see. Created as an African-American resort in the mid twentieth century, it drew vacationers and entertainers from across America.  Middle and upper class blacks were drawn here, and their spending made Idlewild the most prosperous town in the area.  With the end of segregation though, the town lost its appeal.  Now barely more than a ghost town, little remains of the colorful past here.

Being the county seat is likely the life blood of Baldwin. Compared to the few other settlements in Lake County, it seems bustling.  Bounded on three sides by the Manistee National Forest, and the Pere Marquette State Forest on the other, Baldwin has something of a frontier feel.  The Forest Service has a ranger station here, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has a field office in town too.  The county courthouse and jail seem to block the main street as you enter into Baldwin.  While not architecturally impressive, this century old structure imposes a commanding presence.

Poverty is fairly apparent through the community, and while this is unfortunate, it lends to the frontier feel here.  Such downtown staples as Edy’s Log Bar and the Community Bakery cater to a divergent set of clientele, from fly fishermen to foresters.  Other than a seasonal Dairy Queen, there are no chains in Baldwin.  Mom and Pop businesses are the norm, and it’s welcoming to talk to the owner of places you patronize.  Other than the Pere Marquette Lodge, which was built in 1995, all the motels in the area seem to have been cast from the time of Route 66.  Everything is just a little more rugged in this village.

Perhaps the greatest allure of Baldwin is the trout fishing.  There are only a handful of places in Michigan with a comparable selection of trout streams.  Four blue-ribbon trout streams; the Sable, Baldwin, Pere Marquette and Little Manistee all have their headwaters near Baldwin. Another, the Pine River also flows through the area. In all, there 156 miles of trout streams in Lake County.  It’s not hard to find your own private stretch of river.

Each river has its own personality.  The Pine has one of the steepest gradients of any river in Michigan, and the deep swift currents challenge any wader.  The Sable River flows though densely forested wetlands and a lack of access help it guard the brown trout found there.  Most think of the Pere Marquette as a salmon and steelhead fishery, but I’ve always found the large brown and rainbow trout here to be cooperative.  Be prepared to fend off the guides and canoers, however.  For those seeking the sanctuary of a small stream, look to the Baldwin River.  In its upper reaches, a cast is impossible in the overhanging brush.  An intrepid angler will find some nice brook trout with some looking.  As for the Little Manistee, it is usually viewed as a steelhead river, and the eggs for Michigan’s steelhead stock all come from here.  As a trout stream however, it offers some of the most consistent fishing throughout the season.

All of these things are part of the draw of Baldwin.  It’s not for everyone.  There is much in the way of amenities here, no lakeshore, no posh resorts, not even a mall.  Despite its rustic nature it exudes a certain charm.  Perhaps it’s what’s not here that make it that much more.  It might be hard to linger, but pause a moment.  That’s all there is, and that is what makes the place worthwhile.

The I 500

February 13, 2011

I had the privilege of attending the Soo I-500 with my pal Duke on February 5.   It was the first time I’d gone there, and it was probably his fourth or fifth race.  He’s big into vintage snowmobiles, and they had a honorary lap for these great old sleds.  He brought a 1972 Arctic Cat up to show off, and it attracted a lot of attention. While it wasn’t surprising, the comfort of the day and the size of the crowd did seem odd to a novice like me.  This was an event that knew what it was doing.

Coming to the Upper Peninsula this time of year is something of an anomaly too.  The true seasonal nature of the towns is now evident, and it’s curious to guess as to whether a particular business is just closed for winter, or out of business for good.  We spent Friday in St. Ignace, and went to a local hangout on US2 for a nightcap.  Even the crowd at Timmy Lea’s was quite a bit less than when I had been there last summer.

Rudyard and Kinross are interesting this time of year, as they are not particularly tourist towns.  They offer a fairer gage of the true current situation in the UP.  The effects of the recession are apparent here, even though prosperity in the best of times only brings minor improvement to the local economies. A new Clyde’s Restaurant has opened on M80 in Kinross, across the street from the international airport.  Resist your trepidation of the building’s austere exterior, and go inside, you will be rewarded with the best hamburgers in Michigan.

Back to the point of this blog, however.  This year marked the 43rd running of the race. The weather was pleasant, just a touch above freezing, but not warm enough to mess things up.  Though races by themselves do not especially interest me, the peripheral activities do.  The whole event is intelligently arranged, and wandering around for the next couple of hours was time well spent.  For a one day event, the crowd was well prepared, and to me, astonishingly well prepared.

The track is one mile, and the race is 500 laps.  It is actually an all day event, starting mid morning and lasting until the evening hours.  There are plenty of crashes, and most of the racers don’t finish.  But it is fun, and as I have said, it is a well executed event.  Much of my day was spent people watching, and that was worth the price of admission.

The Big Wild

February 2, 2011

The brook trout slid from my hand back to the security of the deep pool.  As I regathered my senses from the thrill of landing and releasing this prize, my surroundings once again engulfed me.  It suddenly seemed strange. I was alone here, in the middle of the largest contiguous wild area remaining in the lower peninsula of Michigan.  No other anglers were out on this late September day, the last day of trout season.  Was it fortune or luck?

The Pigeon River Country had a historical and long standing distinction of being a refuge. Elk were reintroduced here in 1918, and today remain the only herd of note east of the Rocky Mountains.  Ernest Hemingway would come here from his family’s summer home on Walloon Lake twenty five miles to the west.  Known then as the Pine Barrens, Hemingway would camp and cast flies into the now christened Blue Ribbon Trout Streams; the Sturgeon, Black and Pigeon.  In the book ‘Prowling Papa’s Waters’, author H. Lea Lawrence writes that the Black was probably Hemingway’s favorite river, as He would consistently catch two to four pound brook trout there.  The area is today as it was then, undeveloped and open to the public.

Over the years, the county-sized area remained a wild refuge, a roughly 500 square mile area of mostly state owned land.  It remained as a retreat for hunters and anglers whose license money had purchased it all.  Campers, canoers and other outdoor enthusiasts also freely meandered throughout the Pigeon River Country, and it became known as the Big Wild. The uniqueness of the region led the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to manage it separately from its other state forest units.  The solace of the Big Wild was soon to be shaken to its very roots however.

The late Gordon Charles describes the enormity of the news that would forever change the nature of the Pigeon River Country and the politics of conservation in Michigan. In his book, “Pigeon River Country”, Charles writes, ‘It was July 2, 1970…a date I’ll never forget.  I turned on the radio for the morning news and a shudder of revulsion ran through me.  A major gas and oil strike had been made in the Pigeon River Country. Predictions were that it was sitting atop a vast oil and natural gas field. “This was the opening shot of a long battle which would lead to the establishment of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Michigan had leased mineral right to several parcels of the forest in the 1960’s with little expectation of anything happening.  As Dave Dempsey notes in ‘Ruin And Recovery’, the discovery caught the DNR completely off guard and led to a series of divisive political battles.  William Milliken, governor at the time, stayed on the sidelines urging the parties involved to reach a negotiated settlement. In his Milliken biography, ‘Michigan’s Passionate Moderate’, author Dave Dempsey notes that the governor made his position clear, while imploring  reaching an agreement with the threat of vetoing a bad one.

Most of the next decade found the matter tied up in both the courts and the halls of government.  In early 1978, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against oil and gas development.   This was the first major step in reaching a resolution, and allowed all sides to come to the table knowing where    they stood.  In the April 6, 1978 issue of the ‘North Woods Call’, Editor Glen Sheppard reported that “this is the first time that the oil companies have had a reason to come to the table.”  Indeed, this new session proved to be most productive.  It created the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, a revenue source for securing lands of significance for Michigan citizens in perpetuity.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNTRF) was created with royalties and proceeds from the leasing and extraction of minerals from state owned land.  Sportsmen, whose license dollars had largely been responsible for the purchase of these properties, realized they were exchanging short term pain for long term gain.  From now on, there would be a perpetual source of funding to purchase additional public land and fund local parks.  Governor Milliken signed it into law.

A non-partisan board was established to oversee the MNTRF, and an application process to nominate lands for purchase and local projects for consideration was put into place.  The members of this council are appointed by the Governor.  To date, over 914 million has been appropriated from the fund.  There have been challenges, however.  During the 1990’s, lawmakers facing state fiscal shortages raided the fund of hundreds of millions of dollars.  Once again, conservationists rallied to protect the MNTRF.  A grassroots public campaign to constitutionally protect the fund was begun in 1994, and overwhelmingly passed by Michigan voters in 1996.  It was now constitutionally mandated how these monies could be spent.  For the last fifteen years, these protections have kept the fund secure.

Once again, Michigan’s current fiscal crisis has turned politician eyes to the pot of money.  The first shot was fired by Russ Harding, in an article from the Mackinac Center entitled ‘Natural Resources Trust Fund In Need Of A Change.’  In the article, Harding argues that “it is not fiscally responsible to mandate additional land purchases when cash strapped governmental units are struggling to maintain holdings they already have.”  Harding also supports ending the stipulation that twenty five percent of fund monies be spent on local park projects.  The paper exhorts Michigan’s legislature to revisit the MNTRF’s original goals.

Russ Harding was appointed as the first director of the Department of Environmental Quality when Governor John Engler created it by splitting off functions of the Department of Natural Resources.  Harding faced harsh criticism for his management and was removed by Engler within two years.  Over the years since joining the Mackinac Center,  he has become recognized as a proponent for privatizing and shedding conservation efforts of the state government.  An earlier proposal by Harding to privatize and sell off state parks was greeted by wide disparagement across all political lines.

Following the cue from Harding, Republican state representative Dave Agema has just introduced a trio of bills to rescind the current mandates of the MNTRF.  The bills, HB 4021, 4028, and 4051, are designed to redistribute the way money from the MNTRF is spent.  In an interview on WHTC radio on January 10, 2011, Agema states that twenty two percent of the state is already in public ownership, and that is more than enough.  In actuality, while the twenty two percent figure is appropriate, only half of that, or approximately 3.6 million acres are state owned.  The other half is federally owned and has no relation to the MNTRF.  Michigan has no jurisdiction over these lands.

Agema’s bills specify that money from the MNTRF would be better spent otherwise.  In an article from the Grand Rapids Press on January 23, 2011, he is quoted as saying “since the money comes from gas and oils revenues, it should be used for cars, trucks and airplanes that use gas and oil”.  The bills are reintroductions of identical bills which died last year, something Agema blames on Democratic control of the state house. The Michigan League of Conservative Voters deemed him Michigan’s most conservative legislator, despite not passing a single one of his bills.

In his State of the State speech in January 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder expressed his support for fully funding and maintaining the MNTRF, citing it as a key quality of life component in Michigan’s economic recovery.   While reactionaries such as Russ Harding and Dave Agema may see this as their opportunity to destroy Michigan’s conservation heritage, it seems likely their efforts will fail.  Firstly, their efforts are likely unconstitutional, and at the very least will require a two thirds vote by both chambers of the Michigan legislature, as well as approval by the governor.  It would then have to be approved by a popular vote of the people to change the state constitution.

Finally, it would violate a compact between the people and their government.  The MNTRF has served as the best example of user pay ever enacted.  The users whose fees purchased the lands from which the funding for the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund comes are the ultimate benefactors.  This bond of trust has been decades in the making, and should not be sabotaged by shortsighted politicians.   Beyond that, the general public benefits extensively from funding for state and local park improvements.  In fact, most local governments have come to rely on MNTRF grants for any park improvements.  All of this is done with no money from taxpayers.  This fund is a promise to our children.  We will use these one-time payments to protect and enhance the natural beauty of Michigan, so that we will leave you a better place for our grandchildren.




By The Time I Get To Phoenix

December 25, 2010

Perhaps it wasn’t wise to take the northern route, but the stretch of M28 between Munising and Marquette was not to be passed up today. US2 west from St. Ignace would likely have been equally spectacular. A turn north at Rapid River would have brought me to the same place.  So now I was at the edge of Marquette and it was time to press on. A stop at Beefaroo and I was on my way again. Still a hundred miles to Phoenix.


There was a time when reaching the Northwoods Supper Club signaled the western edge of development along the US41 bypass. Now it seems an oddity, some relic from a bygone era. Once BR28 rejoins the highway west of Ishpeming, calmness to the road resumes. The sun was getting low in the west, and ominous purple clouds danced along it. I passed the junction of M95 and pondered the country it wandered through. Republic is one of those UP towns that seems time has stood still in. One of those treasures that you will only find wandering Michigan.


The faint light of the December sun strengthened as I approached the Baraga county line. It was nice to see a familiar light on the highway ahead and I found the Mount Shasta Lodge had reopened. This location from the Anatomy of A Murder Film has been in and out of operation over the years. The new owners had wisely embraced the heritage of that film, and life-sized cut outs of the cast were scattered about the dining area. They were also wise enough to carry Labatts on draft.

Following a toast to John Voelker, the road led to L’Anse. I took the spur into town, where the last faint glimmer of dusk shimmered across Keweenaw Bay. The surprisingly complete downtown here faces the bay, and the sprawling waterfront park lets you soak in all of Lake Superior’s grandeur.  Unfortunately the spur into L’Anse is just that, and you need to retrace your route back to US41. Gas here is always about the lowest in price in the UP, so I thought it wise to fill up before rounding the bend toward the Keweenaw.

It was something of a blur until I reached Houghton. It was tempting to take a quick side trip to the casino in Baraga, and I couldn’t see much looking across the bay to Pequaming. Shelden Avenue was deserted now, and the warmth of the Christmas decorations seemed cold without the revelers from Christmas Eve.

Climbing up Quincy Hill, it became obvious how clear the night had become. The temperature was plummeting too, and the scattered lights seemed to shoot straight to the sky as if they were frozen. The silhouette of the Hoist against the Milky Way backdrop was a version of it I had not witnessed before. I am always able to revel at some new sight in the Copper Country.

There was no point in stopping in Calumet; even the gas station by the high school was closed. The road was deserted as I passed through Kearsarge, and frost was beginning to claim the windshield. The wind had died too, and it was becoming one of those pristine northern nights. Oddly, the little roadside park at the Keweenaw county line was plowed, so I pulled off to stretch my legs. The air was so cold, it hurt to breathe. It seemed like midnight, but my cellphone said it was only eight o’clock.

By the time I got to Phoenix, road weariness has begun to overtake me. A left onto M26 finally had me in the vicinity of Eagle River. As the highway sloped down toward Lake Superior, the lake never looked calmer. There was no moon, and the grey waters of daylight took on an even more ominous tone, seemingly a body without life.  The road takes a sharp right before reaching Superior, and Eagle River is right there. I saw what I could of the bible camp my Uncle ran decades ago, but the town soon gave way to the lake again. Soon, the odor of wood smoke crept into the truck, and I knew this journey’s end was imminent. This was one chimney that the jolly old elf would not need to come down tonight.



November 7, 2010


Anyone watching the news would likely surmise that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year. Television news depict all able bodied shoppers flocking to whichever mall or store opens earliest and offers the greatest bargain. Good for them, I hope you find the deal of the year. Good for me, because all those people will be at the malls and not cluttering my out-of-doors. You see, Black Friday is also the biggest day of the year for sportsmen, too.

Driving north on any state highway on this day, you’ll find every pulloff, access point, or two-track has some vehicle parked there. Smack dab in the middle of firearm deer season, and at the usual height of the steelhead run, there’s hardly a better time to be outside in Michigan. At one time, this day would mark the beginning of my steelhead season.

As an angler, this is not the ideal time of year to be wandering though the woods to an access spot. Too many guys with guns out there. And why interfere with their sport anyway? The woods and fields are theirs this time of year, and I am glad of that. Firearms deer season in Michigan deserves reverence. The easiest points are fresh at this time.

The trout stream regulations changes a few years back made Black Friday into a new ballgame. It was no longer a scramble to find the remaining open streams to fish, but a decision on which river to cast a fly. It really revolutionized trout fishing in Michigan, and along with it, my options for Black Friday. To be honest, the angling comes second to the chance to head to a nearby watering hole and savor tales from the local deer hunt.

This year will find me somewhere in the Lake Michigan watershed in a flies only stretch of river. I know the pillows I desperately need will be at 1/10th their normal cost at 5 A.M., but you’ll find me then at some gas station trying to pour a cup of coffee, and explaining to the cashier that I paid for the gas a the pump whose number I didn’t remember.