Apostle Islands Sea Caves Are Now Open to the Public

The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009--the last time they were open to the public.
The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009–the last time they were open to the public.

seacaves1 seacaves3 seacaves2The Apostle Islands Mainland Sea Caves are now open! If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. While lots of folks visit the Apostle Islands Sea Caves during the summer, winter is tricky because you never quite know if they are going to open. In fact, the last time they were safe to visit by foot was 2009. I highly urge you, before heading out, to be sure it is safe. The easiest way to do this is by calling the National Park Service at (715) 779-3397 Ext. 3. I’d call the morning of because conditions can change on Lake Superior in a heartbeat. And, while the Sea Caves are amazing, safety first folks.

This is the first time the caves have been since 2009. I imagine this weekend will be packed with locals and tourists alike. I’ve managed to make the trek a few times and this is what I’ve learned. Early morning/dawn is the best time to head out. In addition to beating some of the day crowds (and there can be lots of them/as in van loads), the way the sun shines on the caves creates some great photo options. It also has a bit more of a rustic feel to it. By mid-day, the single lane trail to the caves feels like an ice highway and getting a snapshot or enjoying any solitude among the caves is pretty much nada. Plus, parking is limited and you may find yourself parking down the street versus next to the beach in the small parking lot.

The hike is flat. You are hiking along the shores of Lake Superior and on Lake Superior. It is about 2-miles round trip. But, it is an easy 2-miles in terms of having interesting things to check out for a portion of that hike. Be sure to bundle up as the wind off the lake can be brutal. That said, the windier it has been prior to your visit, the cooler the ice formations will be hanging off the caves. Many times, you can actually see the curved ice that formed as the wind literally froze the run off coming off the caves. If you find yourself making the trek up to hike within the Sea Caves, only to learn conditions have changed and it is unsafe to visit the caves, consider taking the hike that runs along the shore on top of the sea caves. While views are limited, it is a great winter hike.

Afterwards, consider sharing some of your love with some of the smaller South Shore restaurants. They struggle a bit and frankly, it is the nice thing to do since you are taking over their normally quiet beach. A few of my favorites – enjoy super crunchy taters and hot burgers at Woody’s in Herbster. The hearty Fish Chowder at Village Inn in Cornucopia will warm you up after your morning hike. Or, if you aren’t staying for lunch, grab some smoked fish from Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia or Everett’s Fisheries at Johnson’s gas station in Port Wing.

To get there: Meyers Beach is located 5-miles east of Cornucopia, just off Highway 13. Look for the brown park service sign on Highway 13 directing you to Meyers Beach. This is a recreational fee area of the National Park Service so be sure to pay the couple bucks before enjoying one of the great wonders of Wisconsin.

For additional information about your hike, visit this National Park Service website page.

 

Got Milk? (Guest Post by Beth Probst, author of circletouradventures.com)

This past week I had the opportunity to share my favorite ice cream business along Lake Superior for the oober cool “Girl from the Northwoods” blog. I also did an article in the July issue of Business North about the dairy industry and Tetzner’s. I frankly don’t have the patience or desire to ever go into dairy farming, but as a true northerner who loves my cheese, milk and ice cream (not to mention top the tater but that’s a whole different post), I’m sure glad there’s still folks out there willing to put in the time and investment for dairy. Enjoy the post and be sure to check out their blog as well!

Girl from the Northwoods

dairy sign

Ask anyone, and you might be surprised to discover that I’d choose pickles over ice cream any day, even when I’m not 7.5 months pregnant. I’m the gal that used to win pickle juice drinking contests as a kid while I watched my friends gag over the salty, tangy goodness of a chilled vinegar drink. That said I’m not one to discriminate against sweets just because my taste buds prefer salty, so I can throw back a bowl of ice cream like no other.

I’m not sure if that makes me an ice cream connoisseur. But, it does mean I have an opinion about the best ice cream around Lake Superior and that’s Tetzner’s.

Tetzner’s Dairy Farm is located just outside of Washburn, Wisconsin.  The family farm dates back decades—in fact 82-year old owner Philip Tetzner has been in-charge of the family affair for 64-years. He took over the farm…

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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

deltadiner

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.

Just how big of a Saint is Saint Urho?

St. Urho's DayI was never much of a believer in Santa Claus. Logic told me a big man couldn’t fit down a chimney and in the case of our house, he’d burn to death. Plus, my sisters pointed out presents Santa would be bringing to us about a month before Christmas in our garage.

That said, I was much more naïve than most folks I know. I share my birthday with a very important day for Finlanders fondly known at St. Urho’s Day. The only problem, it is quite likely nobody in Finland knows about this rich and important piece of their history.

“Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” the poem fondly goes. (“Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go to Hell, for those who don’t know Finnish.) Growing up in northern Minnesota, all of my friends seemed to know or at least nod my head when I said I was born on St. Urho’s Day. Never once did it seem odd to me that the holiday landed right before St. Patrick’s day and involved driving grasshoppers from Finland to prevent the grape harvest from being destroyed. I mean honestly, this makes complete sense, right?

Turns out, the entire holiday is a hoax. St. Urho’s day originated back in the 1950s and while there’s some discrepancy about where it originated, it definitely didn’t originate in Finland. What I do know is that when I hit college, folks looked at me a little more strangely when I proudly pronounced I was born on St. Urho’s Day. And, while working in a television newsroom, I was told to attempt tracking down the creator of the holiday for a spoof package we wanted to produce. After looking at my boss with a look of bewilderment, he said to me, “you know it isn’t real, right?” “Of course,” I replied, feeling my nose grow as I spoke.

Today, I accept that perhaps I don’t share my birthday with a national holiday in Finland. But, I take pride in knowing my special day will always involve the Miss Helmi crowning in Finland, Minnesota where local men showcase the best in women’s clothing. I’ve only been to the festival once, and that was to see an unusual parade full of purple and green (the official St. Urho’s Day Colors)… I guess it’d be best described as a mini Northwoods version of Mardi Gras, only rated G for grasshoppers. Plus, it feels good to one up the Irish and their snakes.

So, to my fellow Finlander friends, Happy St. Urho’s Day and Happy Birthday to me!

P.S For those wanting to take a snapshot of St. Urho, head to Menahga, Minnesota where a 12-foot statue of the infamous Saint sits…

A Goose, A Moose and Pooh, Oh my!

Today was a mixed bag of touristy gimmicks and authentic beauty. Our morning starts in Wawa, Ontario with a snapshot of the world’s largest fiberglass goose. Steve refuses to act like a goose so I have no choice but to step up to the challenge. Up close, it is obvious Mr. Goose has had better days. A sign on our way out of town confirms our suspicion—a mere $50 gets you a commemorative goose feather towards the new goose. We do not linger long.

From here, the road takes us away from Lake Superior around Pukaskwa Provincial Park. The drive is quite desolate. However, it is in this stretch of bog and swamp we experience our first moose sighting. I slam on the brakes. Luckily, this stretch of Trans Canada 17 has no traffic in sight. I jump out of the car and snap away, while Joey stares (and barks) in awe of the largest dog she’s ever seen. The moose lazily looks at me, almost seeming to accept its role of posing for yet another tourist photo. After posing for 30 seconds or so, it lazily makes its way back into the woods.

Next up is tourist stop number 2—White River, Ontario. I was particularly psyched for this stop, given it is home to the real Winnie the Pooh. Needless to say, I was less than enthralled. The Pooh on display in downtown White River makes the fiberglass goose seem new. The bright yellow fur is faded. The downtown is destitute. The one open “souvenir” shop has overpriced Pooh items you can get at Wal-Mart. A tourism brochure boasts about a saw mill you can tour. Steve asks the store clerk where the mill is and she looks at him like he’s crazy—“that’s been closed for about 5-years. I don’t know why you’d think you could tour that” she says. “It was in a tourism brochure,” Steve says. She laughs, commenting on how we must have had an old brochure. We had picked the brochure up in the tourism information place in White River just moments before. I think I’ve said enough about White River…

Back in the car we continue on our lackluster scenic drive of the Canadian woods. The road eventually makes its way back towards the lake. Here, we can see swaths of Lake Superior and in the distance the Slate Islands. Initially we had hoped to charter a boat to the islands and camp, hoping to catch a glimpse of the caribou. It ended up not fitting in our itinerary, which is good given there is a 40-50 mile per hour wind blowing off the lake. The rain comes and goes, coming more so when we are out of the car.

We stop by Pebble Beach in Schreiber. Similar to Whitefish, the beach is littered with driftwood. Large lake stones dot the shore with a pinkish tint that is different from the slate blue we are used to seeing on the southern end of the lake.  Still hoping to find the perfect souvenir in this stretch of the trip, we seek out downtown. We leave empty handed.

A few miles down the road, we arrive in Terrace Bay. Again, we leave empty handed. We do stop and stretch our legs at Aguasaban Falls, though, which is an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

Still searching for the perfect souvenir, we make our way towards the campground. Our plan is to camp near Lake Superior at the campground in Rainbow Provincial Falls. By now the skies have cleared and we’re anxious to get our site set-up. But first, we make our way into Rossport for some ice and firewood. It turns out Rossport is not equipped to cater to tourists/poor planners.

The fishing village is quite quaint. And, more importantly than ice and firewood, it has the cutest pottery shop overlooking Lake Superior called Island Pottery. Better yet, it is open! We drive out to the pottery studio, which is located at the Tim Alexander’s (the artists) home. The pottery is well crafted and functional. I find the perfect, oversized coffee mug in a sandstone brown with a kayaker engraved in the clay. I can already see my morning joy poured in the cup as I pay for the purchase. Tim asks us if we’re making our way around the lake. Steve nods while saying, “it is a big lake.” Tim smiles and says, “yeah, massive.” No matter what the adjective, nothing really seems to describe this endless blue vat of water we’re driving around.

With the souvenir hunt out of our way, it is time to buckle down to business. We spend the next 45 minutes or so tracking down beer and ice. We appear to keep striking out on firewood. The problem is finally resolved when we discover you can buy firewood at the campground… for $6 a bundle.

We pull up to our campsite—number 23. The park attendant had told us it was the best spot in the campground. As an avid camper around Lake Superior (in a previous life), I’d go as far as saying it is the best campsite on the entire lake. This is good given my husband is not into camping and a series of mishaps over the next 24 hours, could have spelled disaster had it not been for the calming effect of the big lake….

Back in Civilization

Day one equaled no internet access so I’m already delayed in my posts but I did manage to write a quick recap last night of our first day adventures which I can post now, along with hopefully some photos from yesterday and today. In about 30-minutes, we’re headed out for a Sunset Cruise on Lake Superior around the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. It is 70, sunny, and absolutely gorgeous! This is good since the first half of our day was solid drizzle. I’ve discovered that I have way too many photos to post (over 200 in the first 24 hours) but I’ll post a few at least. Enjoy!

Day One

Our morning starts out simple. After loading our car (and making one last trip to the house for that must have thing we “almost” forgot), we head east. Soon, we find ourselves inMichiganfor our first roadside attraction of Hiawatha – the world’s largest wooden Native American statue. After figuring out the self-timer, we snap a few shots and hop back in the car for the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park. There, we hike some trails and enjoy a cooler lunch under a bright green canopy.

Our focus for the afternoon is historic sites along theKeenewahPeninsula. Our first stop—Old Victoria. The mini-village is impressive from the parking lot. Unfortunately, the caretaker is nowhere to be found. This doesn’t prevent some great photos from happening, though.

As we role into Calumet, my guide book casually mentions Schute’s as the oldest known tavern inMichigan. I figure the bar is one more thing I can check off the list. Plus, my husband looks like he could stand a beer. Walking in, it is readily apparent this isn’t just any old bar.

Schute’s dates back to 1890. On tap, Keenewah Brewing Company’s favorite brews. (I highly recommend the Pick Axe Blond). What’s more intriguing, though, is what’s behind the taps. “Pretty cool glass,” my husband casually says to the man behind the bar. The bartender’s eyes immediately light up. He soon dives into a story about the Tiffany stain glass backdrop that 10-years ago sold for $1.3 million to a tourist. Unfortunately, (or fortunately forCalumet,MI), not a single insurance company would insure dismantling and shipping the piece so the piece remains. It is now owned by the town and is registered with the historical society. As the bartender wipes down the counter, he takes us back toCalumet’s mining boom. Stories about the original bar owner and the Speak Easy during prohibition role off his tongue, bringing me back more than 100 years.

Our historical trip continues at the Old Delaware Mine where a self-guided tour gives me a glimpse into mining life. Despite being in the 60s above ground, the weather is cold and damp in the mine. Our dog runs ahead, indifferent of the chill. I find myself grateful that my life is easier. On the way out, we meet Snickers and Oreo—two pet skunks who are an unexpected touch and attraction for an old copper mine.

Soon we arrive in Copper Harbor. The town itself takes mere minutes to explore. We’ve arrived too late to hit any of the shops. But, after chatting with the owner of the local bookstore in-town, we find ourselves driving down an unmarked (and unpaved) road to a hidden cove called Horseshoe Bay. The bay, which is now owned the Nature Conservancy, is speckled with skipping rocks and an expansive horizon of blue water. The million dollar view is preserved in perpetuity.

Our day comes to a close in front of a bright orange fireplace fire in a private cabin at the Keenewah Lodge. The lodge, which dates back to the 1930s, was built entire off the sweat and tears of the Great Depression. Following the Mining Boom, unemployment sat at 70-80 percent. Rather than sit, the men joined the CCC and built an impressive series of cabins, a lodge and an endless brick wall. Today, the lodge and golf course are owned and managed by the county ensuring many of the historical aspects remain.