|See the chefs compete, then taste their handiwork (Chef's Challenge photo)|
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
|Henrys Fork at Harriman State Park (author photo)|
Fish 1, Sightseeing 10, Four-Wheel Noisemakers, Zero
Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is a unique resource in Idaho.
Flowing straight out of the side of a mountain at Big Spring, just south of West Yellowstone, Mont., this river with a nearly constant cold temperature has nurtured generation upon generation of trout and trout angler, and it deserves a visit even if you just appreciate nature, and are not a trout fisherman.
Near the small vacation community of Island Park, which boasts the longest main street in America at something around 33 miles (done in the 1940s to circumvent the state’s liquor sales laws), the Park and Henry’s Fork have become huge draws for recreationists and fly anglers, both after fun, but both of a different sort. The problem is, do the two mix?
The upper river above the U.S. 20 bridge has become a spot where hundreds of kids and adults jump on their tubes and float the cold waters. Below, the river is still somewhat sedate, and fly fishermen can find trout. Henry’s Fork is termed the largest spring creek in America. No lesser folks than Teddy Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan fell in love with it.
Some 120 million gallons of water a day— think about that; that’s enough to provide a city of one million people—flow from its point of origin at Big Spring. Trout Unlimited declared it as late as 1998 to be the best trout stream in America. However, since then, the river’s health and fishing have suffered.
At the famed Railroad Ranch, now called Harriman State Park, fishing used to be phenomenal all summer. Note the past tense. Except for the fishing shops whose business depends on anglers coming here from across the globe in search of monster rainbows, browns and cutthroat trout, the locals I talked with said that the river here is not what it used to be. Shop employees even alluded to the fact that the river may not be what it once was, except for certain times of the year, such as the green drake hatch in mid- to late June, and possibly during other mayfly hatches in mid-August.
Over the years, a series of natural and manmade mishaps have occurred here since I visited last. First there were problems at the Island Park dam disturbing critical spawning habitat as well as the insect life the fish depend on for food miles downstream. Then came the white pelicans. Beautiful yes, but fish killers you bet. You can see them working the river, herding fish like cattle before gobbling them up.
The cormorants also. Diving little critters that chase their prey underwater. Michiganians who fish are very familiar with those, which have gotten so bad that Michigan and federal officials have taken to oiling eggs so they never hatch to keep their population somewhat in control.
Then there are the people. Well-meaning, yes. But people tend to love a thing sometimes to death, and that’s what’s happening at Henrys Fork in many areas.
Upper Coffeepot’s Boiling Point
|The river at Coffeepot Campground (author photo)|
There once was a great little campground, for example. Once. As in, past tense again. It’s not anymore. One with the peculiar name of Upper Coffeepot. About a dozen or so sites along Henry's Fork about two miles down a gravel road into the woods and just upstream of Coffeepot Rapids.
People loved it. I loved it. Note the past tense, again. The last time I camped there, new arrivals kept track of who was leaving so they could immediately take a vacated site. A cow moose crossed the river downstream every evening. Deer came out into the river to delight kids. And the fishing here too was great.
People still love it. The problem is, they’re loving it to death. What was a peaceful piece of heaven to campers who saw and appreciated its beauty and quiet, would now turn their heads away in disgust and disbelief that the National Forest Service would have let something happen that’s happening right now.
When I visited this unique resource last summer, what I found is a heaven for motorized machinery and the motorheads who use them. You name it, someone’s riding it, either through the woods on a dusty, beaten up hodgepodge network of trails ground into the forest by four-wheeler enthusiasts in their quest to enjoy their own brand of “peace and quiet,” just scented with a little gasoline and oil and most of all, constant noise and grime.
Fathers and sons scream down the road on their wheels rather than walk. Through the stands of lodgepole pine that never used to be carved up with dirt trails. Back and forth. Many not wearing helmets. Many a lot younger than they should be allowed to pilot these exhaust-belching …things.
The campground I loved for years has become such a dirt bike and four-wheeler haven. There’s even a corral where all riders must (thank God someone at the Forest Service thought of this at least) park before entering the campground proper, so at least the campground isn’t buzzed by one every 30 seconds.
The cacophony continues in the campground, however. As if to mimic what they ride, kids raved and screamed as loud as they could. I asked one camper, “Why is it that the people here have to bring the city with them when they come to what should be the quiet of the forest? Why not just leave part of that home? Isn’t that what this should be about? And not making as much noise as they can?” He just smiled, and walked back towards his air-conditioned RV.
|Feeding the gulls at Big Spring... (author photo)|
|...When they should be feeding these--rainbow trout (author photo)|
Meanwhile at Big Spring, tourists feed the gulls. What you’re really supposed to do is stand at the bridge at the spring, and watch below as huge rainbows keep station, feeding on passing insects. Now, they too are gone, a victim of having been loved to death. Now, tourists throw popcorn and bread to seagulls—Utahans should be so familiar with gulls that their appearance shouldn’t be a novelty. It’s not that I’m picking on Utah, but they are the prevalent tourist species in the Island Park area. Apparently they don’t realize that if the seagulls wouldn’t be fed, the dirty birds wouldn’t be there at all.
Then they could see what people have been coming to see for decades: the trout. Not seagulls. Trout see the gulls as potential predators, so they leave. And people still feed the gulls. A dispenser containing fish food sits unused at the side of the bridge, but I’d bet all the trout in the river that not one in 100 visitors here knows it’s not for gulls; it’s for fish. All that’s needed is a sign: Please don’t feed the seagulls. Why is that so hard to place, Targhee National Forest?
All this leads to questions. What outdoors are we trying to show our kids? One that needs machines to enjoy? What are Americans teaching our kids about enjoying the outdoors? Sure, there’s a place for everything, and four-wheeler and dirt bike riding is fine in its place.
But there also should be a place so kids don’t have to feel they have to be entertained by gasoline-fume-spewing equipment all the time.
As if the Targhee National Forest supervisor cares (or do you?), but what about us? What about those who don’t want to see dads with a helmetless five-year-old tucked on the gas tank riding away in a cloud of dust on numerous routes plowed through what used to be prime moose, deer and bear country without a tire track between the trees not so long ago?
What about those who come to the woods to hear the whisper of a river and the subtle splash of a rising trout? What about those who enjoy the sight of a moose slowly meandering across the river, and stopping for a mouthful of vegetation before disappearing into the forest? And to sit around a campfire at night and tell tales of the road as the setting sun turns the sky ruby red.
Campers who entertain themselves with themselves and the wonders that surround them, not with generator-fed televisions and videogames… What about us who want to fish a stream and enjoy the outdoor experience without the cacophony of mechanical crap that people THINK they need to enjoy the very outdoors they are destroying?
Here’s what I propose: A perfectly good campground exists on the Henry’s Fork near the rest of the weekend rowdies that hang out at Mack’s Inn, part of the Island Park complex. It’s called Flat Rock. It’s within walking distance for the tubers and other camping facilities for those who float the river here on weekends upstream from the highway bridge, plus the rickety lodge rooms at Mack’s Inn (the motel rooms are good).
Make THAT area the headquarters for motorhead fun. And please, please, please, return to us who love this special piece of Idaho called Upper Coffeepot Campground.
In fact, innovate, and make it a “quiet” campground. No dirt-tossing four-wheelers or dirt bikes. No mega-decibel noise. No rowdy campers. Just the sound of the river. Of a moose splashing a path through the current. Of an eagle swooping low. Things that would amaze even the most ardent fan of motorized toys if they only stopped to listen. Reserve those city noisemakers for Flat Rock or another campground nearby. Make this the spot it once was. How about it?
And yes, a copy of this will go directly to the Targhee National Forest supervisor, and others.
And what about the fishing at Harriman State Park and in other areas on Henrys Fork? We still found small fish downstream from the noise pollution at Coffeepot campground.
And guides who tell tales of big trout in Harriman State Park greeted us with “well, you should have been here in June during the green drake hatch.”
Sorry boys, but I’ve fished this stream before, during, and after that prolific hatch. From mid-June through mid-August. And I’ve always seen and caught big trout. ALWAYS. Until the last few visits, that is.
They may be there during that hatch, but they’re not there in mid-July when they should be. And to me, that means something’s wrong here with a river that no optimistic words from a fly shop owner can fix.
And, unless and until something is done about the desecration of the beauty of Upper Coffeepot, and an improvement is made in the river quality of Henry's Fork, I know a lot of people who are already avoiding the area, and more who will now do so. Me included.
Friday, November 19, 2010
As I write this, it’s 32 degrees on the slopes of Shanty Creek Resort between Bellaire and Mancelona, and chair lifts will are scheduled to start humming Nov. 25.
|Base of a run at Schuss Mountain|
Occupying the hills here since the 1960s, both resorts have undergone a massive renovation in the last few years. Here’s a preview of what you’ll find when you return:
As part of its massive $10 million renovation reopens its Lakeview Restaurant & Lounge and the new Grand Lobby looking out over one of northern Michigan’s most spectacular views.
The Lakeview Hotel & Conference Center – formerly known as the Summit Village Hotel – was given an upscale “lake house” design. Inspired by the Hotel’s mountaintop setting, designers brought the magnificent view of Lake Bellaire and the hillsides beyond into the Lobby and Restaurant with expansive glass walls and tall hardwood ceilings. The complete redesign features rich wood tones, warm reds and chocolates as well as green fabrics, giving an inviting, sophisticated feeling.
Three new runs will open on the north face of Schuss Mountain, bringing Shanty Creek’s skiable runs to 52.
Two will weave through the glades to the Red Lift. And a new all- natural terrain park located between Purple Daze and Village Way will offer enthusiasts another option for grinding their way downhill this winter. It’s also located on the north face of Schuss Mountain.
Schuss Mountain will also be open for night skiing on Friday nights until 10 p.m. For guests checking into one of Shanty Creek Resorts 450-plus rooms and condos, night of arrival Friday skiing is included with ski packages. And to expedite your time to the slopes on Saturday morning, you can get t rental equipment Friday nights until 10 p.m.
In addition this season, Shanty Creek will be unveiling a new solar-power- lighted cross-country ski trail at its Summit Village, home of The Lakeview Hotel and Conference Center.
Shanty Creek will offer what it bills as Michigan’s most affordable lift ticket”—the Summit Only package. Introduced last season, the Summit Only lift ticket is Michigan’s most affordable skiing and for just $18 a day, what the resort says is one of the best ski values in America.
The package includes a ski/snowboard rental option for just $17a day more. For beginners, families, and experienced skiers alike, the Summit Only package is available weekends only all season long.
In addition, a family of four, all skiing or riding at Summit Mountain, can spend the day on the slopes for less than $150 including rentals.
The resort also offers what it bills as the Midwest’s most affordable weekend packages:
The Summit Ski Package
The Summit Ski Package starts at $75 per person per night on weekends. Requiring a two-night stay, it includes lodging in a condo guestroom, two-day Summit ski slopes ticket, and complimentary skiing night of arrival. In addition, children under age 8 ski free and children under 12 eat free.
The Midweek Ski Package
For even greater value, check out the Midweek Ski Package at Shanty Creek, which starts at only $54 per person. Available Monday through Friday, it includes lodging in a condo guestroom, one- day lift ticket good for any of Shanty Creek’s three villages, and complimentary skiing night of arrival. Children under age 8 ski free and children under 12 eat free.
Other packages include one for couples that combines skiing with visits to nearby wineries, culinary workshops, and meeting space, which has been totally renovated.
For more on the resort, go to www.wshantycreek.com.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Meet Michigan’s Newest National Park, Other Monroe Sites: River Raisin Battlefield Figured in War of 1812
|Visitor Center for River Raisin Battlefield contains dioramas and other park information|
What’s great, or lucky, about the number 393 in Monroe?
It’s because the long-campaigned-for-and-finally-reality River Raisin National Battlefield Park is now officially the nation’s 393rd national park.
The War of 1812 battlefield was set aside by Congress, and signed into being by President Obama, and this battle just south of Detroit was one of the bloodiest, and crucial to controlling the Great Lakes.
The national park doesn’t commemorate a victory for the American side, however. Rather, the battle, which took place on Jan. 18-23, 1813, was one of the worst defeats of the war inflicted on the Americans by the British and their Indian allies, as you’ll learn at the Park Visitor Center, in a former 20th century home built on the edge of what in 1813 was near-wilderness in the portion of the Northwest Territory.
Fought along the north bank of the river, the battle pitted American and British troops for control of the important port of Detroit, and all of the lower Great Lakes region. With the British were the troops of the famed Indian leader Tecumseh, who did not personally participate.
After virtually destroying the American army, which had hurried here from Detroit, Indian’s hopes of preserving their land from the ever-encroaching Europeans and Americans rang more true than ever.
In addition, the British force destroyed the town of Frenchtown, near present-day Monroe, and left the entire Ohio territory exposed to British capture. After the battle, Indians killed most of the injured Americans. In all, more than 400 were killed, the highest number of Americans to die in that war during a single battle.
After the battle, Americans struggled for months to regain what they had lost, finally relying on Perry’s naval victory in Lake Erie to secure the area. If they had lost that battle, Michigan and much of the Great Lakes area might have eventually become part of Canada.
The National Park Service began studying the idea of creating a park here in earnest in 2008 after years of campaigning by local officials and politicians.
The current visitor center is at 1403 E. Elm Street, and it features a fiber optic display of the battle, dioramas and more.
And, while you’re in Monroe, see displays of Monroe’s George A. Custer, who led his troops into history at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana, around town, including at the Monroe County Historical Museum.
Head to town in summer and catch the annual River Raisin Jazz Festival in mid-August. Rent a canoe for a float down the river, or head onto Lake Erie on a charter walleye fishing boat like Tradewinds Charters or launch your own at Sterling State Park or Lake Erie Metropark (that’s up the coast a bit), or play golf on one of several courses in the area. Then shop at Michigan’s top tourist attraction, Cabela’s superstore near Dundee a few miles west. Or, take the kids to the Calder dairy farm to see what a real working farm looks like and for an ice cream cone, courtesy of the farm’s dairy herd. There are plenty of places to stay, including one made for kids and families: Splash Universe River Run, an indoor water park, next door to Cabela's. For more information on the Monroe area, go to www.monroeinfo.com.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
|From top: bikers with broken equipment sometimes carry their mounts across finish; teams from across North America compete.|
If you’re headed north this weekend, and enjoy mountain biking, you might just want to steer those handlebars toward Traverse City to experience, either from a saddle, or as a ground spectator, the largest one-day bicycle race in the world.
The Iceman Cometh Challenge, now in its 21st year, is a 27-mile point-to-point race, meaning it starts in one spot (in this case, downtown Kalkaska), and ends at another (in this case, Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort, in the hills above Grand Traverse Bay’s East Arm).
And if you’re doubting that world’s largest-claim, look at the numbers: more than 4,000 riders individual and in teams, from across North America, will put the pedal to the mud, snow, leaves, or whatever’s on the ground Saturday (some years it’s been all three).
This used to be a morning event. However it’s grown so big, that there are now two starts for the full race. Amateur riders push off at 9:30 a.m., while pro teams and individuals leave Kalkaska at 2:30 p.m.
This is not only a race for the pros. If you’re of a mind, grab your Schwinn and roll off in the Slush Cup, an 8-mile fun race that’ll take you up and down the tree-covered hills near the finish line, starting at 9 a.m. It’s a fun event that the kids will love, too, as much of the Slush Cup field is comprised of youngsters.
For the really wee ones, the Meijer Sno Cone race, for kids aged 12 and under, gets underway from Timber Ridge at 3 p.m., on a short (quarter-mile) loop.
However, if you want to participate, you’ll have to wait until next year for either fun race, plus the 27-miler, as all spots are spoken for. Registration starts in spring at the Web site, www.iceman.com.
The evening before, head to Grand Traverse Resort & Spa for the accompanying Ice Cycle Expo to see the latest in cycling gear, bicycles, bike racks, and more.
Then, if you didn’t sign up and chose to spectate rather than participate, grab a spot near the track in the woods in and around the finish as the racers tear around the approach, whipsawing back and forth through the trees with such skill you’ll be amazed that a bike can do what these skilled riders manage to put their mounts through.
Following the races, the finish line becomes one big party site as spectators welcome those who finished without too many flat tires or bent equipment, beginning at 10 a.m. There will be music, food, and beverages, both adult and otherwise, to slake the thirsts of cyclists and their support groups, along with spectators.
If you’re going, be ready for any kind of weather. Dress for cold, and be sure to bring wet weather gear just in case. If you’re participating, take it from one who’s done the Slush Cup at least: the entire event is a blast, and crossing that finish line to the cheers of folks who don’t know you from Gary Fisher (a pro racer who’s been credited with beginning the sport of mountain biking), plus your friends, is something you need to experience.
For more information, go to iceman.com, or go to www.visittraversecity.com.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The colors may be fading in the north and peaking in the south, and the days are getting shorter and colder, but there is still time to make a visit to a Michigan Cider Mill.
Many cider mills stay open until at least Thanksgiving, and some operate beyond. And you can bet that as the sugars concentrate in the apples as nights get colder, the cider becomes the sweetest treat of the season.
Near St. Johns, between Lansing and Clare, for example, Uncle John’s Cider Mill has been hosting family fun since the 1970s, and is planning to be open through Dec. 31. This month, kids can pick their own pumpkins, take train rides, and get lost in the corn maze, and after, sip all that great cider and munch on a cinnamon donut, too. Check out Uncle John’s at www.ujcidermill.com, or call 989-224-3686.
In Southeast Michigan, Apple Charlie may be gone, but his cider mill that has crushed the fruit of the season for more than 50 years lives on in New Boston, southwest of Detroit. Apple Charlie’s will be open through Dec. 31 as well, and its haunted house, a fixture at many cider mills, is open through Oct. 30. Go to www.applecharlie.com for more, or call 734-753-9380.
In central Lower Michigan, don’t pass up Fruitful Orchard, just west of Gladwin on M-61. Buy an apple pie produced by the mill’s Amish cooks. Pick a peck of fresh apples, and enjoy that great smell of cider with fresh donuts wafting through the building as you walk through the door. Fruitful Orchard is open through Nov. 24. Go to http://www.michiganappleorchard.com/Home.aspx, or call 989-426-3971.
Three other perennial favorites are Plymouth Orchards and Cider Mill near Plymouth, Parmenter’s in Northville, and the Frankilin Cider Mill in Franklin.
For more information and hours, a good starting point is www.michigancidermills.net. It does not list every one, but if you Google Michigan cider mills and your nearest city, you’ll quickly be on the way to enjoying some of the best of Michigan in fall.
|Schuss Mountain, part of Shanty Creek Resorts, is a great family destination with accomodations both on-slope and chalets off.|
More supplemental snow and more fun await skiers returning to Michigan’s 40-plus downhill ski areas when the white stuff starts flying sometime between now and December.
Capitalizing on two great winters, and with predictions of heavy north country snow due to near-record high water temperatures in Lakes Michigan and Superior (cold winds whipping over the warm water will quickly soak up moisture from the lakes, dumping it when they make landfall in the form of snow), resorts are hoping to build more ring into cash registers, and are reporting some major improvements.
Major developments include the return of Bessemer’s BlackJack Resort to the downhill scene. In its second winter of new ownership, the resort is a favorite of skiers heading the U.P. in search of what may be the closest runs and scenery to Rocky Mountain skiing in Michigan, outside of the Keweenaw Peninsula’s Mount Bohemia. At Bohemia, season passes purchased on Dec. 4 are just $99.
Here’s a brief regional rundown of some of the other major additions you’ll find once the chairlifts start humming again:
Southeast Michigan—Alpine Valley, in the White Lake/Milford area, increased its snowmaking capacity, enlarged its terrain parks, and will offer all new rental skis.
Mount Brighton Ski & Golf, just west of Brighton, is adding new “progressive” terrain parks with lots of tricks, and all served by two surface tows and one chair lift.
Pine Knob, near Clarkston, is lowering its energy costs and footprint by installing new lighting, energy-efficient glass and door vapor barriers. It also changed one chair lift to allow it to run at variable speeds to handle crowds more efficiently.
Mount Holly, near Holly, added a three-story foyer to its lodge, a heated patio and outdoor fireplace, expanded its snowboard park, and added 12 new snow guns.
Northwest Michigan--The big boys on the block, Boyne Resorts, always have something new planned each season.
There are 90 new Boyne Low-E snow guns in place at both mountains. The new snowmakers are about 40 percent more efficient at making what Boyne says is a fluffier, lighter more natural snow.
Boyne Highlands has opened additional glade skiing near North Peak and Tournament pass. Riders will see 30 percent more rails and jibs at both ski areas. And for your apres-ski fun, try the twin ziplines at the Highlands and the Mountain. Boyne Highlands is 1,3500 feet, longest in the region, while Boyne Mountain’s is 780 feet.
At the cafeteria, both resorts have turned green, swapping out throw-away products for dishwasher flatware, reducing waste by up to 70 percent. Recycling bins are now in place, and both are using post-consumer waste napkins.
Caberfae Peaks and Golf Resort, near Cadillac, committed to snowmaking this winter with 15 new tower snowmakers, two portable snow machines, plus five new air/water snowguns, fed by 1,000-plus feet of piping.
Caberfae widened one trail and added two boxes to its terrain park. Children aged 17 and under sleep and ski free Monday through Thursday with two paying adults, except for some holidays. Purchase a season pass here and also ski at Shanty Creek resorts for just $10 Sunday through Thursday, $25 Friday and Saturday.
Nub’s Nob, across the street from Boyne Highlands, opens a new race arena ski slope, replacing its superpipe, creating a home for future racers. It also replaced a handle tow with a faster rope tow to service the hill. Nub’s also added eight snow guns and a new groomer. It expanded its terrain park, adding new boxes and other tricks, plus a new jump area.
Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire opens two new runs on Schuss Mountain’s north face, winding through the woods. Boarders will find a new natural terrain park. The slopes at Shanty Creek also will be open for night skiing on Fridays. And, if you’re into sardines, pack as many as you can into your vehicle and pay only $100 to get everyone inside a lift ticket at Schuss between Jan. 8 and Feb. 5. On Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 17, pay only $90 per carload. And on Jan. 22, sample local and other microbrewed beers at the Beer and Boards Festival.
Southwest Michigan—Near Grand Rapids, Cannonsburg, near Cannonsburg, also is under new management, and they’ve added a marital twist: book your wedding reception for 125 guests or more and get free season passes.
Swiss Valley Ski & Snowboard Area in Jones reports adding more snowmaking as well.
East Michigan—Hanson Hills, near Grayling, offers a $1 lift ticket and rental every Friday night.
Treetops Resort, east of Gaylord, gets a new manager, Barry Owens, formerly of Garland Resort near Lewiston, who is sure to make your experience here even better. Treetops also extended a tow rope so skiers have a lower start at the bottom of the hill, and its popular “Yard” terrain park is back, with plenty of tabletops and rails for both skiers and boarders to try. Treetops also has rentals for snowblading and cross-country skiing on nearby trails.
Otsego Club, a public-private facility depending on when you visit near Treetops, will again host World Cup snowboard teams training there from around the world. Last year, the club built a second-to-none half-pipe training area that attracted teams from across the globe, in a big coups for the facility.
Otsego also offers more winter fun, with snowmobile rentals, snowcat rides, sledding and the like. Check its website for when the public can ski this private club.
Upper Peninsula—Besides the return of Blackjack and, plus the new season pass price at Bohemia, other U.P. developments include Pine Mountain in Iron Mountain, which has added a paddle tow for its terrain park so boarders no longer have to risk tearing up gloves on a rope tow.
Pine Mountain also added a rope tow to its beginner area, and a new run.
Ski Brule, near Iron River, is offering a deal for ski clubs and groups: purchase six lift tickets at $30 each and get the seventh free.
Marquette Mountain, near Marquette, opens a new terrain park. Mount Zion, the community ski hill near Ironwood, offers free skiing to all Gogebic Community College students and to anyone aged 62 and over.
If you’re a fan of both Mount Bohemia and Porcupine Mountains ski area, you can ski both all season long for just $124. Mount Bohemia, north of Houghton in the Keweenaw Peninsula, has what’s considered some of the toughest terrain in the Midwest. Most of it is ungroomed, tree skiing.
We’ll report soon on what’s in store for cross-country skiers.