Ignoring the Signs

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Michigan Ice Festival, 2016

Signs often give direction, suggestions, information needed to get from point a to point b. In my case, the signs I encountered on my way to the sheet of ice I was about to attempt to ascend at the Michigan Ice Festival in Munising said run the other way.

It started with my travel buddy being sick. She alerted me the day before and while it would have been easy enough to cancel the trip, we decided to go anyway. It was sunny skies and temperate weather in Iron River. A few hours later, as I drove over the Michigan border, visibility was deteriorating quickly. Within an hour, plows had abandoned all hope of keeping roads clear leaving us nothing but marginal trail tracks, rumble strips and snow covered signs guiding us through the UP. By the time we hit Marquette, even my well-trained winter driving skills were maxed out.

We fueled up at a UP favorite—Donckers. Walking down Main Street headed to get our fill of chocolate, I couldn’t help but question my sanity. The road was shutdown and packed with several feet of snow in anticipation of an evening sled dog race scheduled to take place in sub-zero temperatures. We didn’t hesitate to tromp over the barricades and snow piles for our caramels.

wroadclosedBut, perhaps the biggest sign was the one I almost hit (literally) on our final leg of the journey. MI-28, the main interstate between Marquette and Munising, was closed. Somehow, I missed the sign notifying me that this main artery was no longer passable. The barricades, while barely visible, were hard to miss. Did I mention they were placed nowhere near a detour as well?

Did we turn around? Absolutely. Did we head home? Absolutely not. Instead, we navigated our way through the back roads of the UP. At first, we thought the steady stream of hazard lights approaching us was a funeral procession. We later learned, this was common during white out conditions in Big Snow country.

The signs didn’t stop here. Once in Munising, temperatures plummeted. Even the hardcore climbers were talking about how unforgiving a cold, winter day in Munising can be for folks heading out. Rather than wimp out, I just put on another pair of pants. There was of course the embarrassing gear check-out moment where I had to point out that my supersized ass would not in fact fit in the harness designed for the normal climbers body type. After several attempts and a lot of wriggling around, I was told I was equipped with straps that’d withstand me falling from a cliff.

And then there was the trek -in. Did I mention there would be an uphill climb in a snowy, ice-covered trail full of steep ledges? Or, that I wasn’t aware of said trail and had an extremely top heavy backpack on me that was packed with shoes (yes plural), coffee, snacks, extra clothes, 3 cameras and other miscellaneous outdoor gear.

This is what was below us when we climbed. Lots and lots of hill.
This is what was below us when we climbed. Lots and lots of hill.

The first time I fell over on an uphill incline, I questioned whether I’d get up. Like a turtle straddled on its back, I somehow waddled my way up the hill. There was of-course the embarrassing and somewhat frustrating attempt to secure my crampons while sporting 4 layers of clothing. But somehow, despite all of these signs, I soon found myself at the base of a 40-foot cliff with only one way to go—up.

We were handed some pick axes and given some basic instruction on how to ice climb. It seemed as though the ice hated me. If I swung hard, the ice shattered. If I swung delicately like our instructor, the pick ax ricocheted back at me, threatening to take my eyes out. This didn’t seem promising. But again, I ignored the signs.

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One of our instructors giving us some tips on how to climb. That is what it looks like to get to the top. This was not me.

My girlfriend and I were in an intro teaser course. Our instructors were awesome. One was from Salt Lake and a rep for Black Diamond. The other, a world cup ranked speed climber. (Yes, that’s a real sport and she is an amazing athlete). They made climbing look so easy. They provided serious encouragement and didn’t scoff as I fumbled about like an idiot.

Given the time limitations of our course, we only got two chances to climb. And, despite the our class title has intro in it, most of the guys in our class had climbed before. The gals, while less experienced, were primarily rock climbers. I am neither. We lined up like little soldiers, each taking our turn at the base. When it was finally my turn, I clipped myself to the rope and climbed. And fell. And climbed. And fell. Even though I knew that each time I slipped off the icy rock or my pick ax gave way, I wouldn’t in-fact plummet to my death, my survival instinct screamed what the F**** do you think you are doing? I managed to ignore that voice and kept trying. Progress was slow but progress just the same.

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This is me early on. It did not get better as time progressed.

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Did I make it to the top? Absolutely not. Did others? Absolutely. But, I’d be willing to bet our experiences were equally as scary, exhilarating and frankly fun. There I said it. Despite all of these signs and obstacles, ice climbing is a pretty big high. If given the opportunity, I definitely would have kept trying to get to the top. And, knowing the stubborn Fin in me, I would have at some point made it. In hindsight, I wish I had taken two days of classes so that the second go around I’d maybe experience more success. Who knows, I might even go back next year. It is unlikely the weather or road conditions could be any worse.

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After my climb. Did I mention it was cold out there?

For everyone curious to know how high I went… I honestly don’t know. The Go Pro was stopped about 10 seconds into my first climb and I later realized I had nobody take shots on my second climb. I don’t want to pull a Paul Ryan on his half-marathon time or a angler’s tale of the big fish by exaggerating my climb, so suffice is to say, let’s just say I went high enough. The second time, I climbed even higher. But, by far the hardest part of the climb was getting to the base.

Crampon Casualty 2016.
Crampon Casualty 2016.

And, I’m just happy that in total, the only real casualty of the day was my snow pant leg that got shredded by my crampons when I tripped attempting to pose for a group photo.

That evening, I had the opportunity to listen to keynote speaker Tim Emmett. An athlete for Mountain Hardware, he redefines adventure. I loved his presentation and the photos and videos to accompany it were spectacular. In his presentation, he mentions that life is what we do before we die. It sounds stupid but it is so true. So much of life is about the unknown day-to-day stumbling we make trying to navigate this thing called life.

Afterwards, Aaron Peterson premiered The Michigan Ice Film. It was an enduring combination of extreme ice climbing and the people and culture known as the UP. Peterson did an awesome job intertwining the two to create a solid story line amongst a backdrop that only Michigan ice can provide. Two thumbs up for sure.

At the end of the day, I loved my experience at the Michigan Ice Fest not because I was good at ice climbing, discovered a hidden talent or because it changed my life. Instead, I love that this festival and instructors opened my eyes up to the fact that I can in fact climb, even though every sign along the way said I couldn’t.

Future ice climber in the making! Watch-out Michigan Ice Festival 2025...
Future ice climber in the making! Watch-out Michigan Ice Festival 2025…

Predator Round-Up, Sea Cave Mayhem, Playing Hookie and an Unwarranted Pity Party

Newsflash: Last week I had an unwarranted pity party. It started during my 5-hour drive home from the UP after a weekend of bonding with women at a 3-day Becoming an Outdoor Woman camp (more on that experience in a different post). I left the camp recharged and excited about life. But then, I had a bout of road rage with an irrational SUV somewhere in God’s country. In the heat of the moment and cursing him out for almost running me off the road, I missed my turn. It was an important turn that resulted in my 5-hour drive being more like 6.5 hours… in a place where there is no coffee. Seriously, look at a map of coffee shops (or any shops for that matter) in the route from Big Bay, Michigan to Iron River, Wisconsin. It is dismal at best. (Although Mount Huron Bakery in Ishpeming and Marquette makes up for it… almost).

About this time, I came upon a small town where trucks lined the highway on both sides for as far as the eye could see. My heart jumped for joy believing that any winter festival that draws this many visitors, must be stocked with some fabulous food and a well-kept porta potty. Imagine my surprise when I learned at the epicenter of this UP traffic jam was dozens of dead animals hanging from a poll. It turns out this winter festival was in fact the Kenton Predator Round-Up in which sportsman harvest as many bobcat, coyote and fox over a 3 day period as possible. Despite my curiosity, I opted to not stop at Hoppy’s Bar in Kenton.

It was about this time, something in me snapped. A full-fledged pity party began. I was irritated. I missed my son. I wanted to be vacationing somewhere warm, drinking something indulgent, and sporting cute summer sandals instead of oversized fishing boots. By the time I got home, my mood had only lightened somewhat. Then I logged onto Facebook and saw friend after friend posting photos from somewhere other than here. I was instantly jealous.

This sour mood continued for a few days. And then this happened. A co-worker was connecting with me on a project and mentioned she was taking the rest of the day off to hit up the Apostle Island Mainland Sea Caves. The sun was out. Temps were above freezing. I had no pressing deadlines. So, after a few logistical phone calls, I crashed her party and checked out of work a half day early. For those of you who know me, this is unprecedented. I’m a planner. I don’t randomly use my precious vacation time for spur of the moment events. This was huge (my life is in fact this boring).

Yes, the Sea Caves were busier than they’ve ever been when I’ve been there. Yes, I was a bit appalled by the number of folks I saw talking on their cell phone or shooting selfies even though I’m totally guilty of doing at least one of these things. But, somewhere along the way my mood lightened. I discovered that my life doesn’t involve cocktails on the beach…. right now. But man I’m blessed. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say, crabby pants was squashed by the blessings in my life.
Looking back, it frustrates me that it took a day on a frozen beach to put things back into perspective. But then again, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten these great shots. And for those who missed the memo, the caves are now closed for the season. So for all those folks sipping margaritas in the blistering sun, I’ll see that margarita with a locally made mead and Mother Nature’s glory.

The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County, Wisconsin – Part III

The tough ones.

I’m using tough in a generic sense. The falls I was able to find weren’t necessarily difficult to access or remote in terms of mileage on foot. However, they either involved fleets of steps, vague directions, or a lack of signage making it a bit of a hit or miss in terms of finding. That said, each of these falls is definitely worth visiting. Each ones presents an impressive view and in many cases an opportunity to enjoy the falls in complete solitude. Despite it being fall peak, these falls were not overly packed. In fact, with the exception of Potato River Falls, I was a lone hiker at each of these falls.

Potato River Falls
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This falls barely makes this list. The primary reason is the falls involves at least 150 steps to and from the parking. The waterfall is a 90-feet drop on Potato River near Gurney. The falls is located within a town park that has rustic picnic campsites. I also found the outhouse to be particularly photogenic among the golden leaves. Once in the park, you have two main options. The first is to head to a nearby observation deck where you can see the river valley. This does not provide great views of the falls, though. From there, you can take a footpath to the dramatic descent down. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing worth noting on this staircase, the step sizes vary dramatically depending on the steepness of the grade. In some areas I felt I could skip two steps each time while in other areas, a single step was the height of three. This is something to watch if you are use to uniform stair steps. In terms of finding the park, it is relatively easy. Take Highway 169 South from US 2 through Gurney. Turn west on Potato River Falls Road and drive approximately 1.5 miles. The park is clearly labeled.

Peterson Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeterson Falls was my first stop of the day. At first glance, I thought this waterfall would be simple to find. To be frank, it ended up being way more complicated than it needed to be due to false directions. Both the Iron County website and Travel Wisconsin provide directions that reference an Ero Nasi Construction sign. I’m not sure at what point in time this sign existed and/or if I’m blind but after multiple drives along Highway 2 outside of Hurley and never noticing this large construction sign, I finally veered off highway 2 in frustration at Stoffel’s Country Store. It was here I noticed a dirt road heading the approximate direction of the falls. At the intersection of 2 and this road, a white TODD sign indicating Peterson Falls. Once you find that road, you drive approximately .3 miles. Directions imply a small turnaround. Highlight the word small. I missed what is the turnaround and ended up driving on what I can only describe as an ATV trail. Keep in mind this is literally 1 mile from a major state highway. Regardless, it definitely felt remote. Once parked, the rest is easy.

A spacious footpath through a dense forest leads you directly to the East Branch Montreal River. From there you follow the path and river upstream to Peterson Falls. It is a 35-feet drop and takes about 5-minutes to walk to. From there, you can continue along the footpath for additional views of the river. I followed the path for approximately 25-minutes before turning back due to a mixture of rain sleet. In addition to a couple of waterfall snapshots, I also enjoyed the side pools of water filled with swirling fall leaves.

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Spring Camp Falls
Since several folks have written about this waterfall, I have to believe the falls does in fact exist. However, despite my best intentions to find this remote waterfall I certainly could not find it. It doesn’t help that the Travel Wisconsin website cuts off its directions mid-sentence. My secondary source from the County was more helpful but I was unable to find East Branch Road. Or, if I did, I didn’t know it was East Branch Road and the rustic path signs never came into my view. After more than an hour of driving up and down gravel roads in this approximate area I gave up. Next time, I may have to use a GPS.

Foster Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the flip side, finding Foster Falls was a walk in the park compared to Spring Camp. The falls is somewhat remote in the sense that you are once again driving on unmarked roads. However, this waterfall has just one dirt road you travel down making it easier to navigate. Also, the road abrubtly ends when it intersects with the Potato River. From there, you just put your car in reverse until you see a dirt road on your right. You travel down this road right into a remote riverside campsite. Once parked, you can hop out and hear the falls. Follow your ears to Foster Falls. The 25-feet falls is the only thing you’ll hear in this country. Not much for traffic, homes, hikers, anglers. I was not only the lone sightseer on this fall Saturday afternoon but the only car on Sullivan Road. To get there, go north from Upson on Highway 122 for 5 miles. Turn left on Sullivan Road (this was not marked when I drove so be sure to use your mile gauge) and proceed 2 miles until the road abruptly runs into a raging river. When you get there, you’ll know you’ve gone far enough.

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Wren Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf all the waterfalls in Iron County that I visited, this was my favorite. I’m not sure why. Perhaps, it was the drive in. It was particularly picturesque. It was also the most adventuresome portion of my journey. My 10-hour journey took place immediately following a solid 12-hour rainfall. Many of the roads were muddy and at times had standing water that I was never quite sure about. Each time, though, my trusty Subaru plowed through… except this time. During my drive to Wren Falls, I hit a particularly muddy patch of road. Unfortunately, my car halted. I’m confident, with a little acceleration motivation, I would have continued along my journey. However, it was during this time that a lone truck drove around the bend. In it, a man determined to rescue the damsel in distress. As someone who has watched a few too many after school specials, not to mention my remote location, it caused me great angst. Once standing in the muddy waterhole knocking on my car window and gesturing he could help, I decided to accept his help. In addition to being quite nice, he was very effective in getting my Subaru back on dry land. The timing was odd given he was the first and last truck I saw in this portion of my journey, but sometimes that’s how life works. I continued along until I hit the hairpin turn where a center road would take me to the entrance of the trail to the falls.

To my surprise, when I hit this turn, a large sign summoned me to the falls. The only downside – it was a rusted out sheet of metal, filled with bullet holes and spray painted Wren. It didn’t exactly scream pristine waterfall but at least it verified the directions. Once parked, I hopped out my car and made my way to the falls. The falls, which is located on the Forks River, is 12-feet. While this may not sound large, the vantage point from where you can see the falls makes if feel much larger. While there isn’t much in terms of a footpath to walk along the river, the natural rock formations lend themselves to scrambling up and down over ridges providing a number of angles to look at the river. In every case, the view doesn’t disappoint. I ended up spending nearly an hour taking in the sites of this waterfall and wandering through the woods. For those wanting to spend even more time exploring, a primitive campsite positioned just a hop, skip and jump from the falls await. To get there, head 5.5 miles south on US 2 on Highway 169. Take a left turn on Vogues Road. Travel about 3.5 miles until a hairpin turn. From here, take the center road for about 1 mile where the road forks. You can hike up the hill to the primitive campsite and waterfalls from there. (I missed that part of the directions though, and drove which is also a possibility. In all honesty, it is very easy to mix up ATV trails and dirt roads in this country).

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Amnicon Falls: The Unassuming State Park of the North

Amnicon Falls is one of those often overlooked but beloved state parks near my home in northwest Wisconsin. The park is small compared to nearby Jay Cooke State Park. It is often lost in the hype and marketing of the North Shore and the countless parks and waterfalls that dot the shoreline. By some respects, it falls on the wrong side of the bridge. I have a hunch, if it were 15 miles northwest, it’d trump Gooseberry Falls in visitor counts and poised family waterfall photos.

Lucky for me, it isn’t. Instead, this unassuming park provides meaningful moments of reflection and an opportunity to pause in life. This past month was no exception. I awoke early on a Sunday morning to meet a friend for coffee in Duluth. As I pulled out of the driveway, I discovered I was ahead of schedule and had an extra 20-minutes to kill before breakfast.

As a new mom, these moments of unexpected solitude are prized possessions that compare to winning the lottery. I immediately knew I’d find myself at Amnicon State Park. I arrive at the park just before dawn. Despite the park being open for over an hour, the parking lot is empty. This is often the case when I visit these falls. I hop out of the car and take in what the park has to offer. By many definitions, it isn’t much. But for me, it is everything.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe park has no extensive trail system. There isn’t a single set of stairs to an expansive overlook of Lake Superior. The state hasn’t invested in a multi-million dollar interpreter center or deluxe restrooms. Instead, it is a simple park that encompasses an impressive portion of the Amnicon River. Within seconds of getting out of your car, you find yourself staring at a series of small but picturesque waterfalls. A few moments later, a wooden canopy crosses the river framing a set of lower falls that is a photographer’s dream.

amniconbridgeAccording to the Wisconsin DNR, the bridge is a Horton or bowstring bridge, named after Charles M. Horton. Horton patented the bridge structure while working in Duluth. In its prime, it was one of several highway bridges that allowed folks in northwest Wisconsin to connect to the west. Today, only 5 of these Horton bridges remain. The bridge moved the park in 1930. During the height of the Depression, the Brule CCC constructed the wooden roof that covers the bridge.

One can’t argue the park’s beauty. But what I love most about it is its simplicity. To me, parks exist for people to reconnect with nature—a simple time-out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In some cases, this means wilderness areas that can take days to explore or hikes that are measured in miles not footsteps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI snap photos for a few minutes and then pause to take in the silence. Despite being just moments from Highway 2, the only sound is that of thundering water. I wander across the bridge and upstream to another set of falls. Snap, snap, snap. I have photographed these various streams of water countless times. I pause on the riverbank and take in this untouched beauty. I admire the neat line of pines and the golden needles that are starting to fall from their branches. After another few moments of pause, I make my way back to my car. As quickly as I arrived, I leave knowing this park will wait for me until next time.

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Ice Melt in Bayfield County

This past Saturday I was supposed to be lacing up my tennis shoes and running a half-marathon in Nisswa, Minnesota. But, Baby Boy Probst had different plans for me. (Yes, I may in fact slip a mention of baby from here on forward). In early March I retired my running shoes for walking shoes. At first I was disappointed about this—especially on the morning of race day. My hubby was traveling and I was scheduled to photograph a volunteer luncheon for work. I suppose in some respects, it was a pity party.

But, once out of bed I discovered spring had finally arrived in Bayfield County. The air was warm, ice was receding from Moon Lake and the sun was beaming down. Plans came together to have coffee with a new found acquaintance who loves coffee and photography even more than I at my favorite local coffee shop Big Water. And, as I packed up my gear for the event, I threw in my personal camera to check out at least one spring waterfall on my way home.

Since I was traveling solo and the recent chain of weather events meant the woods were still packed with deep snow, I went for an often overlooked but easy to access waterfall in Port Wing.

The snow was still knee deep and the parking lot wasn’t plowed. I parked on the road and made the short trek along the river. As I approached Twin Falls, the sound of rushing water grew exponentially louder. What is normally a graceful stream of sparkling waters was instead a gushing brown rapid river making its way to Lake Superior. I am certainly not disappointed. The rushing water and slippery conditions meant I didn’t hike down the trail that takes you to the river’s edge but instead snapped some shots from the river’s ridge. Soaking in the sun’s rays and admiring the canopy of trees overhead I realize life sometimes takes us on a different journey. Driving home from Port Wing, I couldn’t help but feel great about how the day’s events unfolded. Sure, I would have loved to have crossed the finish life of my 4th Half-Marathon. But, if the concession prize is enjoying a luncheon with amazing volunteers, sharing coffee and stories at Big Water Coffee in Bayfield and photographing yet another hidden gem in the place I call home, than losing isn’t so bad.

Enjoy these shots from Twin Falls in Port Wing, Wisconsin.

To get there: Twin Falls is located on Highway 13 just outside of Port Wing, Wisconsin. You’ll find the trailhead within the city park just 2 blocks from the intersection of Highway 13 and County A.

Dining at the Delta Diner

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Reason #568 I love living where I live – the Delta Diner. I first dined at this hidden gem after a winter hike several years ago. The buzz about this diner in the middle of nowhere had been building and I knew I just had to make the trip to Delta to check it out. Um yeah. Amazing. Great atmosphere, super friendly service and one of the most creative North Woods menus I’ve seen. The Scandinavian in me loves the super thin, flavor packed pancakes and the carnivore in me drools over the fresh ground sirloin patties served up on Burger Monday. Add in handmade sweet treats, such as the caramel apple pie and life’s complete. All of that said, when I set out to do an article on a local investment group recently, I had no idea I’d stumble across another factoid that demonstrates just how amazing the Delta Diner is to my stomping grounds.

While interviewing Washburn Mayor Scott Griffiths about an initiative he’s involved in encouraging folks to pull their money from Wall Street and invest in Main Street, he suggested I speak to Todd about how he worked with the local community to drive his business forward. While the two initiatives are unrelated, I followed up and wasn’t too surprised to learn about the folks who wanted to invest in Todd’s vision. The article ran in this month’s Business North but in case you missed it, here’s a rerun of what can happen when you commit to a project you believe in–others can’t help but follow your dream with you.

Next time you find yourself in Bayfield County, make time for the meal of your life at the Delta Diner, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

To get there: Delta Diner is located at 14385 Cty. Highway H in Delta, Wisconsin. Truth be told, if can find Delta, you can find the Diner. From the East or West on Highway 2 turn south on H in Iron River.

One other notable – if you’re in the area, be sure to check out the Rainbow Lake Wilderness area 4 miles north of Drummond, Wisconsin. The Delta-Drummond road is a great way to access the North County National Scenic Trail within this area which encompasses 6,583 acres. It also just so happens this was one of the first wildernesses designated back in 1975. The first few snapshots of this slideshow are from the trail–yet another overlooked gem in Bayfield County.

Grassroots Group Aims to Invest in Main Street

A grassroots Chequamegon Bay area group has a vision of creating options for northwestern Wisconsin residents to invest their money in Main Street versus Wall Street.

The local investment group consists of passionate individuals and regional experts who are helping navigate and research the concept. One member, who first introduced the idea to the area after attending the Building Local Ecnomies (BALLE) conference in Washburn, is Mayor Scott Griffiths. He said the movement is about providing opportunities for both local businesses and investors.

“It would be a way for someone to go to invest in a business they know and believe in versus sending their money away” to Wall Street, he said.

Unlike a loan, the goal is to find creative (and legal) ways to make equity investments versus loans to help a business grow. By accepting such investments, recipients don’t have to worry about interest payments up front but can grow their business while the investor gets a return based on how well the company is doing.

While the concept sounds simple, finance regulations are not. As a result, the group is studying its available options.

“We’re also trying to determine who and where the businesses are that could benefit from this type of investment,” Griffiths explained, and how much they’d be willing to invest.

He envisions the process will ramp up as people learn about it and the group has successes to share with the community. And, while participants can’t take credit, one local business is experiencing significant success with raising capital through its local customers.

Success in Delta

Delta Diner opened its doors in 2003. The East Coast diner sprung up practically overnight in the middle of nowhere, or in the owner’s belief, the middle of somewhere – Delta, Wis., a dozen miles south of Iron River.

“Every time I drove by that spot with the broken down cobblestone building, I felt something should be there,” owner Todd Bucher said of the site.

After doing his homework, Bucher learned that from 1923 to 1972, the site was something special. The broken down cobblestone building was actually the old Delta Store, which included a gas station, groceries, post office and tavern. “It was the center of the universe for folks living in that area.”

Today, it’s home to the authentic East Coast diner. Bucher recognizes Delta isn’t exactly a population center, but says his focus is creating a unique destination dining experience to which folks will drive. So far, he seems right.

It wasn’t soon after he opened his doors that customers recognized how unique the dining experience was and approached him to see if there was a way they could become a part of his dream. While he appreciated the gesture, Bucher genuinely believes that until you prove your concept the financial risk should lie with the owners.

As time went on, business exploded. Successful as it was, to reach the next level he needed to built it out and maximize efficiencies. However, after 24 months of exploring finance options, he discovered traditional lenders just weren’t interested in his business model.

It focused on slow growth. After opening, he removed about 30 percent of the seating so they could focus on the customer experience and ensure they were bringing in the right type of customer. He knew that if he built an experience you couldn’t get elsewhere, people would make the drive, which would bolster sustainability. The banks didn’t agree.

“They looked at the fact that we were walking away from revenue and said, ‘you’re doing what?’”

Frustrated by his experience, he worked with a consultant to create a five-year business plan and explore other finance options. It turns out that state statues allowed him to take on a number of LLC members who were more than investors. These folks would actually own a percentage of the business.

Bucher knew people were interested, so he found creative ways to let customers know if they wanted to get involved, it had become an option.

“We didn’t want to impose on our customers,” he explained. “We didn’t want to imply that we want your money but instead that the door is open if you’re interested.”

Working with his brother’s ad agency, he organized a subtle campaign displayed within the diner that let interested parties know something was happening. If they reached out to Bucher, he steered them to a password protected video that explained his vision for the diner and what the equity involvement would entail. If folks were still interested, they could attend an informal meeting to learn more.

“We were looking for certain types of people to get involved,” he said. “We weren’t selling it as ‘Hey, this is a gold mind investment’. But instead, we were going after people passionate about our business model.”

Once again, Bucher experienced success. By the time the campaign was over, he had recruited 22 new LLC members to his business. They own 40 percent and invested $400,000 towards the diner. They attend annual meetings and vote on important business matters. And, while the return on their investment might take longer than is traditional, Bucher believes it will come.

“From an organizational standpoint, we are a good business with strong financials. But these people also have a personal or emotional connection to our vision. It is a different type of return.”

His investors have changed the future of the diner.

“The impact for us is huge,” Bucher said. “We have a larger, more efficient facility that we paid for in cash. This allowed us to do what we otherwise couldn’t have done.”

Looking ahead, Bucher is ramping up for an exciting couple years of growth and new experiences. One way he’s enhancing this destination dining experience is by offering a series of dinner events that range from a Blue Plate Lecture series that “treat the stomach and feed the brain” to themed meals and outdoor barbecues and bands.

The diner also plans to add e-commerce in the next 12 months to serve far away customers who might be craving the red beans and rice or homemade chipotle paste but can’t make the drive to Delta because as much as the diner is in the middle of somewhere, it is still a long distance from most places.

Spring Thaw – Lost Creek Falls

Courtesy: Cornucopia.net
Courtesy: Cornucopiawisconsin.net

I remember it like yesterday. It was spring, 2005 and I had just met this odd duck online named Steve. After dining over Chinese food and cheap beer we determined we liked each other enough to hang out again. Since it was spring thaw and Steve claimed to be an outdoorsman/forester, he suggested we hike to this remote waterfall that is off the beaten path but particularly spectacular this time of year.

An avid hiker and even backpacker at the time, I was delighted by the prospects of heading out on this adventure to something I had never even heard of. On a Saturday morning in April, we made the drive in his ’98 Honda Civic to a remote parking lot next to a cemetery near Cornucopia. It seemed a bit odd to me at the time and I started to wonder just how much do I know about this strange man that’s taking me to this remote location. It turns out that perhaps Steve didn’t exactly know where said place was either.

A snow covered ground and brown and green canopy of trees engulf us. The further we go into the woods, the more my feet squish and break through piles of snow leaving my feet damp and my leg muscles aching. Soon, my visions of murder are replaced with the calm that can only be discovered in the North Woods while one focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. As time progresses, I notice Steve looking around more than usual. I immediately become suspect because while I respect a man who takes in the outdoors, I can also immediately point out a man who is lost. We soon hit a clearing where Steve casually pulls out a satellite map and his compass and looks left and right… and then left and right again. “Hm,” he says.

I begin to panic. I, of course, have been paying absolutely no attention to where I was going. And, since I didn’t drive and was new to the area, I had no clue if we were next to civilization regardless of what way we walked or would spend the rest of our weekend wandering around hoping to find some snippet of life.

Since this was only our second date, I didn’t want to be rude so I refrained from going Erickson on him demanding answers. Instead, I casually question if he knows where we are. The repeated looks around the clearing are answer enough. After what seemed like eternity, he simply folds up the map and heads back into the woods. “I think I know where we are.”

My options are limited. I can either wander the woods in hopes a different random stranger finds me. Or, I can take a leap of faith and follow this stranger to this hidden gem in Bayfield County. I follow my gut, or in this case Steve, back into the dark forest. Soon we hear the trickle of water followed by a deep ravine filled with water, also known as Lost Creek Number 1. As we follow the water that has left its mark in this County Forest upstream the promise of a waterfall grows louder.

The waterfall itself is not that large, maybe 15 feet or so. But, in the height of spring thaw, the water volume is quite amazing. There is also something serene about how quiet the world is around the rushing of these falls. Unlike other falls, this one is out of the way, often overlooked and not easily accessible, allowing you to experience it alone. With no nearby roads, the sounds of traffic and city life disappear.

As soon as we arrive, Steve is ready to move on. Frankly, my wet and sore legs are as well. We make our way back to the car, this time not needing the map. But, something in me said there was something special about this day. I’m not saying I fell in love. But, similar to the river cutting its way into the ravine, Steve made an impression on my heart that day. Now, eight years later, that’s a spring Saturday I’ll never forget.

Unfortunately, I was playing it too cool at the time to snap photos of our first daylong adventure. I hope to return this spring, should it ever arrive in northern Wisconsin. I’ve also been told the fall colors are spectacular in this mix of hardwood and evergreen forest. Stay tuned for photos or find time next time you are in Bayfield County to venture out on this hike where perhaps magic can happen for you, too.

To get there: The route to Lost Creek Falls has changed since I first ventured there in 2005. Today, you can take Highway C south of Cornucopia 1.5 miles and turn right on Trail Drive. There, you will find a marked trail head parking lot. The falls is a solid 25-minute walk over uneven terrain.