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Four Fabulous Fall Hiking Trails

Looking east over the Brown Bridge Quiet Area

Looking east over the Brown Bridge Quiet Area

By MIKE NORTON

Peak color season has arrived in the Traverse City area, and so have leaf-peepers from all around the Midwest – maybe even a little farther, if the license plates I’ve seen lately are any indication. Folks are heading out on some of the region’s most beloved color-touring roads and highways, stopping along the way to snap photos, shop at farm markets and explore the beauty of a Traverse City fall.

There are advantages to touring by car. You can cover a lot of ground – and you don’t have to worry that windy, cold or rainy weather will ruin your experience. (Although sometimes I think a little rain can actually make the colors look brighter.) But the best way to experience the full sensory overload of autumn – the sound and smell of those new-fallen leaves, the feel of the breeze — is to get out and spend some time hiking or cycling one of our many trails.

Of course, you have to pick the right kind of trail! Some provide cozy tunnels through deep woods, where the colors surround you on every side and there’s plenty of protection from autumn winds. Others are high on open hillsides, where you can get sweeping views of sky, water and autumn foliage and that dramatic interplay of sunlight and shadow.

Here are four of my favorites:

A lake view at The Timbers Recreation Area

  • The Timbers Recreation Area on North Long Lake Road, just 10 minutes west of town is a 250 acre preserve, complete with trails, historic buildings and 9,000 feet of waterfront on three lakes, and it’s open to the public. Once the backwoods retreat of meat magnate J. Ogden Armour and his family, then a Girl Scout camp, it’s now being administered by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

The really impressive thing about The Timbers is how much land is just there. Almost 2,000 feet of frontage on Long Lake, an entire 20-acre lake (Fern Lake) inside its boundaries with 4,500 feet of shoreline, and 2,400 feet of shore on yet another, Page Lake. There are two-tracks and trails winding their way through woods, meadows and fields.

Hiking on the Old Mission Point Park Trails

Hiking on the Old Mission Point Park Trails

  • Most people know Old Mission Point Park, near the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, for its handsome little 1870 lighthouse, but it’s also home to more than 500 acres of trails that wander through a fascinating variety of terrain. There are shady coastal forests of hemlocks, steep bluffs covered with ferns, bright upland woods of beech and maple, broad meadows where old cherry orchards are being reclaimed by aspen, elm and chokeberry, and high ridges where you can glimpse the dark blue of Grand Traverse Bay, and the smoky purple hills of the Leelanau Peninsula. The high country here is rich in wildlife: deer, coyote, fox and rabbits, and birds too numerous to mention.
On the Old Orchard Trail at the Grand Traverse Commons

On the Old Orchard Trail at the Grand Traverse Commons

  • Want to stay close to town? No problem – some of the loveliest fall trails in the area are on the grounds of the Grand Traverse Commons. Surrounding the beautiful old buildings of Traverse City’s former mental asylum is an extensive network of hiking trails that weave through the surrounding forests, fields and hills. With hundreds of acres of forested hills, spring-fed streams, flowery meadows and winding trails – not to mention the imposing, if slightly spooky walls and towers of the old asylum itself – the Commons has long been a favorite with hikers, joggers, cyclists and birdwatchers.

The best fall color is west of the buildings, in the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, where you can choose from an impressive variety of landscapes – from the fragrant shadows of the Cedar Cathedral Trail and the storybook beauty of the Streamside Loop to the steep climbs and panoramic views of the Old Orchard Trail, where you can look down over most of Traverse City, and the Copper Ridge Trail, which runs just behind it. There are secret springs bubbling out of the hillsides, deer and fox peering out from the trees, and a multitude of birds – and the best time to be here is definitely autumn, when the meadows are full of asters and goldenrod, the old orchards still smell of windfall apples, and the leaves rain down on you like a technicolor  shower every time the wind runs through the treetops.

A view of the Boardman River from an Overlook at Brown Bridge

A view of the Boardman River from an Overlook at Brown Bridge

  • But sometimes you need to get away from it all. And that’s when you should check out the 1,320-acre Brown Bridge Quiet Area. Located on the Boardman River, it’s actually owned by the City of Traverse City even though it’s about 11 miles upstream from the city limits. Until a few years ago, this was the site of a beautiful forest lake, Brown Bridge Pond, created by a hydroelectric dam that has since been removed. Now the river runs through a narrow valley when tall 300-foot bluffs on the north side where you can stop at scattered viewing platforms to enjoy the fall scenery.

There are more than six miles of trails on this side of the river (and some less visited ones on the south bank) with many different habitat types, timber bridges, boardwalks and gorgeous views of the river below. What’s even cooler is that the Brown Bridge trail system has just been connected to the new Boardman River Trail, which leads south and west to the village of Mayfield and its lovely millpond – gorgeous on a fall afternoon!

 

Hunting Down the Reds in Traverse City Wine Country

Tasting an Award-Winning Cabernet Franc at 45 North Winery

The Reds are coming! And wine lovers in this northern Michigan resort area couldn’t be happier.

Over the past 20 years, the vineyards of Traverse City’s Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas have gradually established an international reputation for the quality of their white wines, especially their Rieslings. Almost lost amid all that attention, however, has been the transformation of the region’s red wines into a force to be reckoned with.

But the winemakers of the scenic Leelanau Peninsula, just northwest of the city, have been quietly celebrating the growing excellence of their red wines each autumn with a whimsical tasting event called “The Hunt for the Reds of October.” This year’s Hunt will be held on the weekend of Oct. 24-26, when each of the peninsula’s 23 participating wineries will offer free tastings of selected red wines.

“We’re growing great reds on the peninsula, and we look forward to sharing them,” says Alan Eaker, owner of Longview Winery in Cedar. “Our Pinot Noirs are light and aromatic, showing more of the true characteristics of the grape varietal than many other regions. Our Cabernet Francs and Merlots are bigger and more complex with a memory of the Leelanau Peninsula in every glass.”

Pinot Noir at Black Star Farms

Among red-wine grapes, the most widely-planted in Traverse City is Pinot Noir, a variety that makes light, complex wines, often with a peppery taste. Almost as popular in the area is Cabernet Franc, a more full-bodied red with ripe plum and blackberry flavors.

Merlot is grown in selected areas here, too, and a few wineries make it into a stand-alone wine — but most use it as part of a blend, sometimes called a meritage. Another Traverse City variety used mainly in blending is the rich, fruity dark Syrah, or Shiraz.And an increasingly popular cold-climate red is Blaufränkisch, a dark-skinned (almost blue) grape that makes rich red wines with a full spicy character.

A mark of the local wine industry’s growing confidence in the quality of its reds is a new event in this year’s Hunt for the Reds of October: a Peoples’ Choice ballot in which guests at each tasting will vote for their favorites in several categories.

There’s reason for their confidence, too. Leelanau reds and their counterparts on the nearby Old Mission Peninsula are increasingly sweeping up top awards in national and international wine competitions. Just this year, Boathouse Vineyards’ Pinot Noir and the Baco Noir from Leelanau Wine Cellars won Best of Class at the 2014 Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, while the Blue Franc and Franc N Franc from Shady Lane Cellars each took a special Chairman’s Award at the 2014 Riverside International. The Merlot from French Valley Vineyards and Verterra Winery’s Lemberger each took a gold medal in the 2014 Tasters Guild International.

Old Mission Peninsula reds have also been making a strong showing for several years. The Cabernet Francs at Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery brought home a Best of Class/Gold from the 2014 Pacific Rim Competition and a 2014 Best of Class from the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, while their Pinot Noir and Cab Franc each took gold medals in the 2014 Tasters Guild competition. WineTastingat BrysEstate

“It was not inappropriate to compare these wines to a classic French Chinon,” said Master Sommelier Claudia Tyagi, one of six judges who awarded all the medals in the 2014 Harding Cup Michigan Cabernet Franc competition to two Old Mission Peninsula wineries, 2 Lads and Brys Estates. “Our best wines demonstrate the class, structure, and nuance of the finest old world, terroir-driven wines.”

One Old Mission vintner is taking extraordinary steps to create an entirely new family of red wines. Marty Lagina of Villa Mari Vineyard & Winery, has almost 60 acres of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah grown under shelters that allow him to extend the growing season by as much as six weeks. And his tasting room, slated for a 2015 opening, will feature a 3,000 square-foot wine cave where his Italian-style reds can be properly aged.

It hasn’t always been easy to persuade wine consumers whose idea of a full-bodied red is a thick California Cabernet or a “fruit bomb” Syrah that the qualities of Traverse City reds – light, fruity, and rich with subtleties that are usually missed in “meaty” hot-climate wines – are something worth pursuing. What usually clinches the argument, say local vintners, is pairing the wines with food; once people experience how those northern reds complement a meal, they’re usually won over. Mac&Cheese08 015 - Copy

Speaking of food pairings, wine lovers who fail to make The Hunt for the Reds of October, can participate in one of Traverse City’s most popular wine/food pairing events on Nov. 29. It’s the Great Macaroni & Cheese Bake-Off, a “comfort food extravaganza” where the eight wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula partner with chefs from local restaurants to create the perfect pairing between mac & cheese and wine.

My Favorite Fall Color Drives

M-37 near Mission Point on the Old Mission Peninsula

M-37 on the Old Mission Peninsula (All these photos are from last year — we’re not quite this far along yet!)

By MIKE NORTON

Fall is my favorite season, and the Traverse City area abounds in places where you can almost always find great color.

Our characteristic landscape of rolling glacial ridges, lush forests and wide expanses of open water creates broad panoramas where autumn color is simply the finishing touch to an already dramatic vista of water, sand and sky. And because color seems to come soonest to the high forests to the east and south of us, gradually spreading to the low-lying areas along the water, color season tends to last quite a long time here.

Fall color at Sleeping Bear

Fall color at Sleeping Bear

For many folks, the best place for fall color around here is the magnificent Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, whose steep hillsides and lush hardwood forests burst into sheets of flaming scarlet, orange and gold each fall. Set against the deep indigo of Lake Michigan, the towering bluffs and islands of Sleeping Bear are particularly dramatic when clothed in their autumn finery.

Somehow, though, I never seen to get to the Dunes at precisely the right time. Either I come too early or I end up visiting after a big windstorm has knocked all the leaves off the trees. It’s still gorgeous, but I’ve never seen the big show everybody talks about.

In fact, one of my favorite drives in the fall is the one I take twice every day – my commute between work and my home on the Old Mission Peninsula in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay. Nearly 20 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide, it’s a beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages. Perfect for a morning or afternoon drive that combines fall color with beautiful views of the bay, visits to wineries and roadside fruit stands, and unforgettable meals at several charming restaurants.

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I think the most spectacular views along the peninsula are generally to be had along M-37 (Center Road), which runs along the steep ridge at its center, through the village of Mapleton (is it even big enough to be a village?) to the cute little lighthouse at Mission Point. But it’s just as much fun to amble along the roads that follow the shoreline on either side, stopping to visit the historic village of Old Mission and the quiet settlement of Bowers Harbor.Looking west from Cedar.

Of course, just northwest of Traverse City is the much larger Leelanau Peninsula — the “little finger” of the Michigan mitten – a place of beautiful scenery, quaint lakeshore villages and fascinating history, and home to those beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes. Most leaf-peepers stick to the peninsula’s coastal area, which means following M-22 along the Bay through Suttons Bay, Omena and Northport, then turning abruptly southwest to skirt the Lake Michigan shore through Leland, Glen Arbor and Empire.

Personally, though, I think there’s usually better fall color in Leelanau’s hilly interior. On the slopes above Lake Leelanau and the two Glen lakes you’ll find farmlands, woods, vineyards and small towns like Maple City and Cedar that still retain traces of their Polish and Bohemian founders. County Road 633 and 641 are a couple of my favorites.

A hillside along Lake Leelanau on County Road 641

A hillside along Lake Leelanau on County Road 641

Some of the same feeling can be had just northeast of town, in Antrim County’s glacier-scoured Chain of Lakes region. This is a dramatic landscape of rolling drumlins and long, deep blue glacial lakes. Two of the largest, Elk Lake and Torch Lake, are particularly beautiful when the hills in which they nestle are aflame with fall colors. Nearby you’ll find the steep valley of the little Rapid River, whose forested slopes look as though they could have been transported from the Appalachians.

A good introduction to this region can be had by following U.S. 31 north from Traverse City, past orchards and farms along the shore of East Bay to Elk Rapids. From here, it’s possible to drive east between the lakes and into the hills above them, where the autumn views of distant blue hills evoke fall in the lochs of Scotland. The tiny village of Alden, on Torch Lake, makes a great stop for lunch and some shopping, while the summit of Shanty Creek near Bellaire provides awe-inspiring views of the surrounding countryside.

The view from Schuss Mountain at Shanty Creek Resorts.

The view from Schuss Mountain at Shanty Creek Resorts.

A more woodsy landscape can be found in the highlands just south of Traverse City, dotted with dozens of small lakes and dense forests of evergreens and hardwoods – as well as the majestic Boardman Valley. Much of this intensely varied landscape is contained in the Pere Marquette State Forest, and it is best explored by heading out into the maze of twisting roads that wind through the forests, around lakes and along the tops of high wooded bluffs. (But beware of the roads around Arbutus and Spider Lakes – they’re beautiful, but so confusing to the newcomer that this area is known by locals as the “Arbutus Triangle!”

Entering the Arbutus Triangle

Entering the Arbutus Triangle

From the Chair: Featuring Sharon Pierce

 

Sharon Pierce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this new blog series a Traverse City Tourism employee will be featured once a month. Each story provides an “inside” look at the people behind the scenes who promote the region and help make it an incredible destination. Read on and learn more about Traverse City from the people who live, work, and play here—all day every day!

Tell us a little about what you do at Traverse City Tourism? 

I’m the new Traverse City Visitor Center Manager.  I supervise over 100 dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers. My job is to stay current on events in the area, keep track of restaurant and store changes and be knowledgeable about other attractions that would interest visitors. The volunteers and I are here to give advice on activities, driving directions, suggestions for dinner or hotel reservations. I manage the scheduling of the volunteers, arrange educational outings and oversee the maintenance of our building.  I also oversee placement and procurement of over 400 brochure slots for local businesses. I am all about education and the power, self-confidence and self-esteem it can give you, especially when you share it with others.

What did you do before Traverse City Tourism? 

I’ve had many jobs, and all have given me experience for what I do now.  I learned customer service skills as a “Ball Boy,” waitress, and bartender at Wildwood Lanes.  I was an airline service agent and travel agent.  I was an office temp and even got to dress up as several costumed characters.  I worked 24 years as a cashier at Meijer and was “loaned” out to every department. In 2009, I went back to school with my wonderful family’s support and earned my Associates degree. This led to a two-year stint as a Volunteer Management intern at the National Cherry Festival and four years (and counting) as an Event Director for them.  All of this—combined with the fact I’ve lived in Traverse City practically my whole life—gives me special insight about everything the area has to offer.  I know where everything used to be and what’s there now! Traverse City has been wonderful to me and I hope in my present job I can return the favor.

What do you love the most about working for Traverse City Tourism? 

Every day I look forward to telling people about my home town.  The entire Traverse area has something to offer everyone.  I find out what each person is interested in doing and match it with things we have to offer.  I want people who visit to fully experience the town and love it as much as I do!

What attractions, destinations, restaurants, etc. do you favor in Traverse City? 

My husband Mike and I prefer local restaurants as opposed to the chains.  We go out for breakfast more than dinner. He used to work at Round’s Circle Inn so we eat there a lot, but we also like Randy’s Diner, Sparky’s Diner, Willie’s Rear, and the Happy Hogg Café. For special dinners we go to Sorellina, Copper Falls, or Boone’s Long Lake Inn.  For takeout we do The Kitchen, Taco House, That’s a Pizza, and Peegeo’s.  We love the Grand Traverse Mall’s Teriyaki Express bourbon and sesame chicken, too!

Our favorite attraction is, of course, the water and all of the beautiful views and recreation it offers. I don’t really have a favorite destination (well, maybe Lola’s!).  When you have a Harley it’s not about the destination; it’s all about the ride.

What’s your favorite downtown lunch spot and why? 

I enjoy meeting up with friends at The Green House Café, The Dish, Little Fleet, and J&S Hamburg. All of these places have a great lunch menu and are easy to dine at in an hour or less. 

How you would you describe Traverse City to a first time visitor? 

I tell them it’s a beautiful, small town with all of the activities, restaurants, culture and events usually only found in big cities.  You can do everything or nothing at all! It’s like Heaven, only without the Pearly Gates!

What is your perfect day in Traverse City? 

The perfect day starts out with jumping on the motorcycle. We ride towards East Bay and head to Old Mission Lighthouse to watch the sun come up.  Then we’d go down Peninsula Drive, follow M-37 to West Bay and jump on M-22.  We’d have lunch at Boone’s Prime Time Inn in Suttons Bay, catch M-204 to Lake Leelanau and do taste samples at Northern Latitudes Distillery.  Get back on the bike and head to M-22, then M-109 for the Pierce Stocking Drive.  After taking in all 12 breathtaking vistas we’d head back to M-22 to watch the sun set on Empire Beach, then it’s homeward bound to park the bike.  We’d call for a pick up order of pizza at Peegeo’s then walk back home, pull out lawn chairs and listen to the (NASCAR) Night Race at Bristol (with our favorite driver winning, of course!) chewing on a slice of Mike’s Sicilian. Yup, that’s the perfect day!!

If you could wish for a celebrity sighting on the streets of downtown Traverse City who would you want to see? 

The band Journey would be really cool to run into down at the Open Space!  After spending time in our beautiful and unique “City By the Bay” they’d forget all about theirs!  Then I’d have them listen to the Traverse City song Take Me There from The Hackey Turtles. That would be awesome!!

What is your favorite season in Northern Michigan? 

Can anything beat summertime!?!  Having the warm sun on my face makes me happy.  I love going to all of the festivals, fairs and events that weren’t around when I was a kid growing up in the “boonies” of West Silver Lake Road.

Describe a memorable Traverse City moment or experience…

Some of my most memorable times in Traverse City have to do with music or the Cherry Festival and include:

-I’ve been lucky to get backstage passes for both Interlochen and the National Cherry Festival concerts for several acts including Faith Hill, Montgomery Gentry, Joe Diffie, and Uncle Kracker.

-At their concert in Interlochen, Randy Owen from Alabama came down and talked to our daughter because she kept waving at him and blowing him kisses. She made him sing “Angels Among Us” just for her. She was only 5!

-I was in a downtown club when Kid Rock came in and started a jam session.

5 1/2 Reasons it’s Great to Live in a Foodie Town

We’ve landed on countless lists citing Traverse City, Michigan as a mecca for the gastronomically enthusiastic traveler. But what makes our little lakeside town such a delight for the culinary tourist? I’ve narrowed it down to 5 1/2 reasons why I love our foodie town. Restaurants

1. Unique Restaurants 

From upscale dining like The Towne Plaza to the food truck lot at The Little Fleet —and everything in between— there are chef-owned restaurants across our city with creative menus to please any palette. The hardest part is making dining decisions when delicious options lie in every direction.

2.  Farm Market Fresh 

Fall is by far my favorite season to visit the farmers market. Apples and pumpkins and flowers, oh my! The Sara Hardy Market in Downtown Traverse City runs through October. But the farm-fresh season doesn’t end there. The indoor farm market at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons means you can buy honey, vegetables, and handmade goodies all year round.Benjamin Twigs Cherry Basket

3.  Locally-made Specialty Products 

Yes we are the Cherry Capital of the World. And purveyors like Benjamin Twiggs have opened our eyes to the bounty of our region. Foodies can share a taste of Traverse City anytime thanks to our growing specialty foods industry. It’s pretty amazing when you realize even a PB&J can be locally made. (I recommend the Naturally Nutty cinnamon vanilla sunflower butter, American Spoon fruit preserves on Old Mission Multigrain, with a side of Great Lakes Potato Chips).

4 Beer, Wine & Spirits 

Who likes to eat without something to drink? Access to local fruit, hops and grains means even our alcohol is locally made. The pastoral landscapes along Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsula with neatly trained rows of vineyards are a vital component in Traverse City’s tourism draw. But it’s not just wine tasting that has travelers keen for a visit. The opportunity to take a tour at the Grand Traverse Distillery, or buy craft beer by the growler means visitors are taking home more than a buzz.

5.  Fabulous Food Events 15250877511_330a9b4700_z

We aren’t just a one-festival town these days. And a growing number of events have culinary at their core. Festivals offer entertainment and an opportunity to explore many tastes in one place, which is great for foodies. Whether it’s summertime Paella in the Park, Restaurant Week mid-winter or a celebration of spring at Green Cuisine, there’s a party on a paper plate nearly every weekend if you know where to look.

So that’s five reasons I think it’s great we live in a Foodie town. But I did say 5 1/2. There’s a reason they call the streaming content on social media a feed. My Twitter & Instagram accounts are very hungry. So I give partial credit to our lovely town for providing such a delicious feast for my iphoneography.

What else can I say? We are living in a foodie town, and I am a foodie girl.

About the Author Author Photo

Brandy Wheeler is the creator of the Traverse Traveler app, a free smartphone app designed to promote northern Michigan restaurants and attractions to area visitors. She lives in Traverse City with her husband and two sons. Look for more of Brandy’s adventures online at TraverseTraveler.com or say hi on Twitter @TraverseTravelr.

Watch Traverse City’s Official Theme Song Video!

What do you love about Traverse City? Beaches, colorful sunsets, delicious food, award-winning wines, craft brews, four season recreation, and so much more—whatever you favor you will find in “Take Me There”—Traverse City Tourism’s new theme song by The Hacky Turtles.

“Take Me There” was selected from 18 entries submitted in this summer’s Song Search contest. The Hacky Turtles consist of vocalist Marc Kanitz, Austin Spencer on guitar, Alex Rushlow on guitar/vocals and Erik Krueger on drums. They describe themselves as a “funk/reggae fusion band with strong folk roots,” and their song is a wistful celebration of the things they love best about Traverse City.

The video features the Hacky Turtles and an evocative series of local landscapes and scenes displaying highlights of a Traverse City summer and more!

Special thanks to Andy Wakeman photography, Grant Floering for recording the song and Pure Michigan for highlighting it on their blog!

An Unlikely (but Really Fun!) Attraction: the Boardman River Fish Weir

 

Hanging out at the fish weir...

Hanging out at the fish weir…

By MIKE NORTON

Sometime in the next week or two, one of Traverse City’s most popular seasonal attractions will be opening. Each day, hundreds of people – especially kids – will congregate along the Boardman River on Hall Street, in the city’s warehouse district. If this season is anything like past years, there will be lots of laughter, jumping up and down, pointing of fingers and juvenile squealing.

A lot of fuss over fish, you might think. But these are BIG fish, and there are lots of them – all hanging out at the bend in the river and waiting their turn to swim into the James P. Price Trap and Transfer Harvest Facility (which we locals just call the Boardman River Fish Weir).

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On any given day during the fall salmon run – which usually starts in the third week of September and runs to the end of October – there can be so many Chinook and Coho backed up below the fence-like weir that you could almost walk across the river on their big slippery backs. Assuming you’d want to.

But the big fun (especially for youngsters) is watching the huge fish make their way, leap by leap, up the churning water of the fish ladder into the facility’s three holding bays, where they cruise back and forth like caged tigers and splash the unwary onlookers. Each year, anywhere from 3,000 to 13,000 salmon are trapped and harvested at the weir, while other species are returned to the water and allowed to continue their journey upstream.

Typically, this happens about once a week, whenever there are around 1,000 fish available at one time. (The number of fish entering the weir depends largely on the weather; when there’s been more rain, the water gets cooler and the fish respond by swimming upstream.)

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The weir may not seem like a particularly sporting way to catch fish, but it’s very necessary. Since 1985 the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been planting Pacific salmon in the Boardman to enhance the once-depleted fishery in Grand Traverse Bay, a move that brought our local sportfishing industry back from the edge of disaster.

But salmon are huge fish, and when they swim upstream to spawn and die they can create a smelly, unsightly problem. The solution? Remove them from the river before that happens! The state went into partnership with Traverse City Light & Power and built the Trap and Transfer Facility, named for former TCL&P board member Jim Price.

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Now all those captured Cohos and Chinooks are brought inside, iced down and sold – eventually to be turned into salmon fillets, smoked salmon and cat food, while their eggs are made into caviar or used for bait. Other fish – steelhead, brown trout, lake trout and Atlantic salmon – are released back into the river. (There’s another fish ladder just upstream at the Union Street dam where you can watch them make their final climb to freedom.)

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None of that seems to matter to the families who crowd around the weir during the salmon run to watch the fish climb that watery ladder and prowl the long concrete alleyways of the holding bays. In fact, the DNR gives free tours of the facility to school groups and other members of the public, showing them how weirs and fish ladders work and talking about the threat of invasive species and how Michigan’s fish hatcheries rear fish. It’s quite a blend of history, biology and environmental stewardship.

Public tours this year will be offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. To check for times, go to www.michigan.gov/huntfishcenter. (Other tours can be scheduled through the week by appointment.) To schedule a tour or a school field trip  to the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center in Cadillac — or to arrange for to arrange for a visit from the DNR’s “Salmon in the Classroom” program, contact park interpreter Edward Shaw at 231-779-1321 or shawe@michigan.gov.

 

Home is Where You Run

It’s sticky-hot, one of the final days of summer, and my feet have a mind of their own — they’re taking me past my parked car and toward the sparkling waters of West Bay. Water. Cold, refreshing water.

I come to the end of Maple Street, the sweet bakery smells greeting me as I run past Bay Bread and turn the corner taking me closer to the beach. I stop at the crosswalk, then sprint across the busy Parkway, keeping up a steady pace until I reach the quiet, sandy shore.

After six sweltering miles on hilly trails and steaming city streets, I’ve earned this dip in the Bay. I tear off my socks and shoes, toss my watch and sunglasses on the pile, and jump in. The chilly early-morning water is a jolt to my sweat-drenched skin, but my muscles nearly sigh in relief. I dive under once, then turn to float on my back, staring at the cloudless sky, the swoosh of cars and trucks driving past fading as my head falls below the surface. West Bay Beach

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of swimming — well, more like soaking — after a hard run on a humid day. It’s one of my most favorite pleasures in life. Living in Traverse City, there’s plenty of places to achieve this bliss, of course — whether it’s inland lakes (I’m partial to Spider Lake, where my dad lives and I have a favorite 10-mile loop), or the Bays (I’ve enjoyed post-run dips most often near West End Beach after navigating downtown streets, and Traverse City State Park on East Bay is where I’ve soaked my fatigued calf muscles after especially tough training runs out Old Mission Peninsula).

I’ve discovered that my love of running is as much about the landscape surrounding me as it is about the activity itself. I’d like to think I’d be a runner no matter where I lived, but there’s no doubt that northern Michigan’s year-round beauty helps fuel my passion for this sport. Wayne Hill

Aside from beachside running and breathtaking water views — trust me when I say the reward that is the scene atop Wayne Hill never, ever gets old no matter how many times you run up that steep incline — I’m a trail lover at heart who relishes tree-lined dirt paths and wood-planked bridges. Getting lost in thought on hours-long runs on the Vasa is my way of re-centering when life gets busy. Earlier this summer, as it began to rain hard on a morning I planned to run my neighborhood trails, I couldn’t lace up my shoes fast enough. Crazy as it may sound to some, running in the rain in the woods, with all that lushness around me, makes me feel alive.

Eight years of running, in beautiful spots across Michigan and throughout the U.S., have taught me this: traveling by foot is the very best way to truly see and know a community. I’ve been surprised to realize just how well I now know my own hometown of Traverse City. Though I grew up here, it’s only as a runner that I’ve become intimate with street names, even the most out-of-the-way ones, both on the east and west sides of town. I know exact distances between neighborhoods and businesses and landmarks, thanks to the many miles logged throughout the past several years. (Go ahead, ask me just how many miles is between the Boardman Lake trail and the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, or from the Open Space to the start of the Bayshore Marathon route. I could tell you about the short-cuts to and from these places, too.) It’s a runner thing. Run long enough in a particular area and it’s just how your brain works. Half-mile from here to there. Seven miles flat from this place to that spot. Ice Crystals

I love that running in Traverse City includes picturesque views no matter the time of year, and in fact the changing seasons only add to the variety of experiences you’ll have while pounding the pavement or taking to the trails. Winter running is especially interesting, and this past year, as we endured an especially long and brutal season of snow and cold, running revealed new treasures: water frozen hard enough to run on; diamond-like ice crystals strewn along the shoreline as West Bay (finally) began to thaw; and the sounds of ice cracking as it melted along East Bay during a 17-mile training run.

My hope is to keep running, for as long as I am able — to remain healthy and strong in body and mind, and to stay connected with this gorgeous place I call home. Heather

Heather Johnson Durocher is a journalist who lives with her husband and their three children in Traverse City. She is the publisher and editor of MichiganRunnerGirl.com, a site dedicated to running and living healthy in Michigan. Take a look at her great list of routes, areas, and upcoming races to run while in Traverse City.

 

Traverse City’s Latest Foodie Boom: Artisanal Cheesemaking

By MIKE NORTON

Already famed for its wines, craft beers and innovative farm-to-table cuisine, this northern Michigan resort town is now acquiring a new reputation as a center of artisanal cheesemaking.

“People just love cheese. It makes them giddy and goofy — tasting it, talking about it,” says Sue Kurta,who left a promising career on Wall Street to become  the “big cheese” at Boss Mouse, a small-batch creamery in the village of Kingsley, just south of  Traverse City. “As foods go, cheese is very accessible.”

Even among small cheese operations, Kurta’s one-woman operation is tiny: she produces about 100 pounds of aged natural-rind cheese a week – from an aqed cheddar and a Monasio (an Italian-style”washed curd” cheese that’s a bit like Monterey Jack) to a nutty “sweet Swiss” and several varieties of mozzarella.

BossMouseCheese1

The area’s reputation for fine cheeses actually began several years ago with the advent of the Leelanau Cheese Co. John Hoyt and his French-born wife, Anne, produce an aged Swiss-style raclette and a variety of soft fresh Fromage Blanc cheeses. When they started their operation – using space behind the wine-tasting room at Black Star Farms, between Traverse City and nearby Suttons Bay — the Hoyts weren’t sure they could wean customers away from their preference for imported European varieties.

They needn’t have worried. After their aged raclette was voted Best of Show at the 24th American Cheese Society competition in 2007, demand for their products has skyrocketed. (It didn’t hurt when superstar chef Mario Batali confessed in the pages of Bon Appetit that he uses their raclette on his pizza.) Traverse City restaurants regularly feature their cheeses, and most retail stores in the area also carry them. Last year they moved into a larger space of their own, where they can substantially increase production.

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They now produce around 50,000 pounds of cheese per year. And although that may sound like a lot of cheese, they still consider themselves a fairly small-scale operation.

“We’re never going to be terribly big because there isn’t enough milk being produced in this area for a really big cheesemaking operation,” says Anne Hoyt. “There just aren’t enough cows.”

In keeping with the area’s passion for locally-based agriculture, both the Hoyts and Sue Kurta make their cheese with milk from nearby dairy herds. The Hoyts get theirs from farmer Denis Garvin in the nearby village of Cedar, while Boss Mouse’s milk comes from the same herd that produces Traverse City’s signature ice cream, Moomer’s (voted “best scoop in America” by viewers of “Good Morning America”).

But Mark and Amy Spitznagel of Northport have gone a step further:  the cheese at their Idyll Farms Creamery is made from milk produced by their own herd of Alpine and Saanen goats. Now in their second year of business, they’re nearing their goal of 150 milking goats – the country’s largest pasture-raised goat herd – producing up to 80,000 pounds of French-style goat cheeses (chevre, camembert, crottin and tommes) a year. They, too, are playing starring roles in the area’s bustling restaurant and farm-market culture.

Idyll Farms (4)

“I think this has the potential to be pretty huge,” says Stuart Mitchell of Cherry Capital Foods, a company that markets products from small farmers and food creators. “Frankly, the sky’s the limit right now. Farm-to-table cuisine is very important to many restaurants, and we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm for cheeses that reflect the taste and personality of this region.”

Just as important, local cheesemakers are receiving lots of attention from the traveling public. The new Leelanau Cheese creamery/tasting room was designed expressly with visitors in mind; customers can even watch through a large glass wall as the cheese is made.

Idyll Farms, too, is impressive enough to be a destination in its own right. Perched on a high bluff above Lake Michigan, the 200-acre farm is over a century old and features cheese-curing caves made from huge glacial boulders, as well as a handsome set of cupola-topped designer barns and outbuildings. They’re open for scheduled tours, too.

20+ Tasty Brews at Five of Traverse City’s Craft Breweries

Traverse City is home to world-class dining, award winning wineries, stunning views, sugar sand beaches, and the best sunsets in all the world, but did you know that it’s also one the best beer cities in America?

Back in 2012, the Travel Channel named Traverse City as the best emerging beer town in America. Just two short years ago, they wrote of how impressive it was for such a small town to have four microbreweries.  Boy, how things have changed…

Traverse City now has over 10 breweries, with more on the way. So when Traverse City Tourism invited me to cover the local beer scene, I knew a trip was in order – there were so many I haven’t had a chance to try!

I spent last weekend exploring five Traverse City breweries we hadn’t visited before. We drank, we talked with the staff and made friends with the other customers, and then drank some more.

On to the show! Here’s the scoop on our weekend:

Stop #1: Brewery Terra Firma3d printed tap handle at Terra Firma (1)

Located just five miles from the heart of downtown Traverse City, Brewery Terra Firma describes itself as both a brewery and an agricultural destination. They embrace eco-conscious practices like sustainable brewing methods and innovative waste/water recycling operations. They opened just one short year ago, and already have an impressive lineup.

What I drank:

  • Beehive Honey Blond, 5.4% ABV
  • Manitou Amber Ale, 5.3% ABV
  • Scarborough Fair, Herb beer, 5.8%
  • John Henry Stout, 6.2% ABV
  • Magnum Hospitality IPA, 8% ABV
  • Cherry Festive Ale, Bourbon Barrel Aged Cherry Ale 7.5%
  • Stillhouse Stout, 7.5%

My favorite:

It’s a tie:

Magnum Hospitality IPA had a strong floral nose, but was intensely hoppy on the palate. My favorite kind of IPA, there was nothing subtle about this one.

Cherry Festive Ale – I was surprised how much I liked this – I’m normally not a fan of fruity beers. This one is made with local cherries from Kings Orchards, and aged in Traverse City Whiskey Bourbon Barrels. It’s light compared to other bourbon barrel beers I’ve had, but packs quite a punch. You’ll have to be careful with this one!

Fun fact: Head brewer John Niedermaier was the former head brewer at the now-defunct Traverse City Brewing Company. When John decided to open Brewery Terra Firma, he discovered that the bank owned his recipes from TCBC – he actually had to buy them back!Beer at Rare Bird

Stop #2: Rare Bird Brewpub

Rare Bird is Traverse City’s newest brewpub, opening their doors just two  months ago. They are located in a gorgeous red brick building right next to Patisserie Amie.

Everything they brew is in small batches right now, so when we arrived they only had two  of their own beers available, but there were plenty of other craft selections to choose from. They also have a delicious and creative menu – I highly recommend the pork belly sliders!

What I drank:

  • Her Name Was Amber, Amber Ale, 4.7%
  • WhipPourWill, Belgian Wit with orange peels & coriander, 4%

My favorite:

Loved them both, but WhipPourWill was my favorite of the two. It was a spicy, well-balanced Belgian.

Fun fact: The owners, Nate and Tina, met in a brewery, but their first words weren’t about beer – they were about birds. They are both birding enthusiasts, hence the name of the brewery. Workshop Brewing Co

Stop #3: Workshop Brewing Company

Located just west of the downtown area, Workshop Brewing Co. is the embodiment of their motto: Nature. Community. Craft. The tasting room has a big bar perfect to belly up to and make friends at, and tons of seating both indoors and outside for larger groups. They also have fun bar games, including one where you have to try to swing a ring on a string onto a hook on the wall. I watched the same guy try this for the 90 minutes I was there- it’s addictive (and probably frustrating)!

Workshop has a huge lineup of beers, and there’s something on that menu for everyone, no matter what your palate.

What I drank:

  • Uncapper, Honey Stock Ale, 5.5% ABV
  • Trotsky’s Axe, Belgian Pale Ale, 5.3% ABV
  • 10lbs Cascade, IPA, 5.5% ABV
  • Wrecking Bar, Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter, 8.5% ABV
  • Crowbar, Belgian Dark Ale, 5% ABV
  • Tenpenny, American Blond Ale, 4.9% ABV
  • Tenfranc, Experiment Ale (Tenpenny with Belgian yeast), 4.9% ABV
  • Sickle, Saison, 7.5% ABV

My favorite:

Crowbar – This Belgian dark had virtually no bitterness, and tons of great Belgian flavor.

Fun fact: Workshop actually occupies the space that Right Brain Brewery originated in.

Stop #4: The Filling Station

The Filling Station is a family owned and operated brewery that opened in 2012 located in Traverse City’s former train station. The space is family friendly, with sandboxes out front for kiddos to play in, tons of outdoor and indoor seating, and TV’s all around. The staff was so friendly, even in the middle of a crazy dinnertime rush – you can tell they really love their jobs. Their menu consists of pizza and salads – probably the best pizza in Traverse City, which made this the perfect dinnertime stop.Filling Station Flight

In homage to their location near the railroad, each beer is called a “track”, when they run out of one, a little sign goes up indicating that it’s been “Derailed”, and the flights come in these cool little train holders.

What I drank:

  • Empire Imperial IPA, 8.5% ABV
  • Walla Walla IPA, 7.6% ABV
  • Liverpool Porter, 5.2% ABV
  • Liesing Amber Lager, 4.8% ABV
  • Manchester Mild, 3.7% ABV
  • St. Clair Stout, 4.5% ABV

My favorite:

Walla Walla IPA – a perfect pairing with my pizza, Walla Walla packs a punch without being overwhelming. It’s crisp and light with just the right balance of hoppiness.

Fun fact: If you order a flight, hold on to the selection sheet you filled out. The train on the paper will face the same way as the train flight holder – that’s how you know which beer is where. If you lose the paper, you’ll either have to guess or ask. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Stop #5: Right Brain Brewery

Full disclosure on this one – I had been to Right Brain back when it was in The Workshop’s location, but not since they moved to their gorgeous and HUGE new space in 2012.Flight at Right Brain

Right Brain was the perfect last stop – after four other breweries that day, I was worried that my palate would be blown out, and I wouldn’t be able to taste anything. But thanks to Right Brain’s unique beers, my palate woke itself back up, and I was treated to some of the most surprising and creative tastes I had had all day.  They are well known for their wacky beer flavors like Spear Beer (with real asparagus added during the brewing process) and  Mangalitsa Pig Porter, brewed with pig heads and bones.

What I drank:

  • Concrete Dinosaur, Brown Rye IPA, 7.2% ABV
  • Blue Magic, Lavender Ale, 4.5% ABV
  • Hefe Cubano, Coffee Hefeweizen, 5.9% ABV
  • Midnight Rendezvous, Black Ale, 5% ABV
  • North Shore Iron Works, Barleywine, 8.9% ABV
  • Looping Owl, Barrel Aged Amber, 6.8%
  • Cherry Pie Whole, Amber Ale made with whole cherry pies, 5.2%
  • TC Cherry Mash, Hybrid Cherry Wine Ale, 3.9% ABV

My favorite:

Hefe Cubano – Light in color, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. One sip, though, and I was sold – the coffee comes through loud and clear on the palate, and is balanced out by sweet banana notes.

Bonus: Biggest Surprise: Cherry Pie Whole – I had this the first year they came out with it, and wasn’t a big fan. It’s come a long way! The cherry pie flavor is well layered now – first you get the filling, then some great maltiness, and end on rich, biscuity, pie crust flavor.

Fun fact: There’s a salon attached to Right Brain called Salon Saloon, and those getting their hair cut can actually order a Right Brain beer to enjoy during their services. Russ Springsteen, founder of Right Brain, began his career as a hair stylist, and wanted to keep that part of his life alive in his new venture.

Five  breweries is a lot to do in a single day, especially with the goal of tasting as many of their selections as possible. But this was work, and someone has to do the hard jobs, right?  I would strongly recommend that instead of following in our exact footsteps, you select one or two to visit per trip, and really spend some time in them – each boasts its own unique vibe along with unique beer. No matter what your taste, whether you’re a seasoned craft beer pro or new to the scene, Traverse City breweries have something on tap for you.

Special thanks to the AmericInn in Traverse City for hosting me this weekend. It’s a great property in a great location, and their staff was top-notch. I also would not have been able to make this trip happen without my trusty designated driver – a must-have whenever you’re out exploring breweries!

DRINK-MICHIGAN

 

Trisha Verma is the co-founder of Drink Michigan, a company dedicated to promoting and celebrating Michigan wine, beer, and spirits. A lifelong Michigander, she enjoys spending her weekends exploring the state, looking for great craft beer, good wine, strong whisky, and new friends. Luckily, she never has to look far. (All photos courtesy of Trisha and Drink Michigan)