Exploration Adventures in Yooper-land

Tom LounsburyConservation & Wildlife Management, Gear Reviews & Recommendations

There is a unique sense of entering an isolated, slower-paced and back-to-nature atmosphere after crossing the Mackinac bridge into the Upper Peninsula. At least that is the way it is with my wife, Ginny, and me. Our destination was Baraga, where the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association (MOWA) was holding its annual conference at the Baraga Lakeside Inn, which is located right on the shore of Lake Superior and offers great accommodation and food (the meals prepared by chef Doug Smith were outstanding).

Baraga is located on Lake Superior near the southeast corner of the Keweenaw Peninsula and offers a myriad of outdoor pastimes. Ginny and I had brought along our fishing gear, but our main objective was to check out the waterfalls, which Baraga County has plenty of. This required some hiking on occasion, and we went prepared by wearing long pantlegs and sleeves, with a liberal dose of bug spray applied, because the black flies were out in full force, as well as the ticks were ready waiting. We encountered numerous fishermen near each of the waterfalls we visited, and the favorite fish being sought after was brook trout. The area rivers feeding into Lake Superior also offer opportunities for the famous, larger coaster brook trout, which venture up the rivers from the lake.

During our waterfall quest near L’Anse, we stopped in at the Ford Center (Michigan Technological University’s Forestry Center). Henry Ford had a hamlet built there in 1935 that he named “Alberta” after a daughter of a top Ford employee, and it was used to house 50 sawmill employees and their families. Nearby Plumbago Creek was dammed up to create a lake which provided water for the residents as well as for the sawmill which used a steam-driven band saw. The lumber developed there was used during the production of automobiles (my 1929 Model A Ford which once belonged to my great-grandfather has wooden-framed seats and wooden spars across the center of the roof). Henry Ford promoted selective harvesting and said that when you cut down a tree, use everything from it, except the shade. He would eventually donate Alberta to the Michigan Technological University for forestry research and training.

Ginny and I visited the “Nature’s Way Woodworking” gift shop, which is located right next to the historical sawmill, where we met artisan Dave Stimac. Stimac started out as a general laborer in the sawmill and worked his way up to being the head sawyer, a position he held until his retirement. He and his wife still live in Alberta, where he now spends his time handcrafting amazing furniture and other items using Birdseye maple. Baraga County produces the majority of Birdseye maple in Michigan, allowing Stimac to have a ready supply for his business. He creates a unique and beautiful rocking chair, a technique he learned from his “Lithuanian buddy”, and they are the only two artisans in the world who produce rocking chairs of this design.

Rapid River Knife Works


Ginny and I had a wonderful time during the MOWA Conference in Baraga, and we took our time heading home afterwards by enjoying some of the many highlights found in “Yooper-Land”.  Top on the agenda was checking out the Rapid River Knife Works. I first visited this business 19 years ago, and met its owner Kris Duerson, who got his start into knifemaking as an employee of Marble Knives in Escanaba. Duerson started his custom knifemaking in a barn while using just basic equipment to get ‘er done. He would then create his first production facility with a showroom and store which would continually grow to become the largest of its kind in Michigan.

When I stopped by during that first time visit, I discovered a large and very unhappy male black bear confined in a live trap in the parking lot, while awaiting to be transported to places elsewhere by the DNR. Yep, folks, only in “Yooper-Land”! I’ve been using and depending upon Rapid River knives ever since. They are a class act in quality, including durable and well-designed leather knife sheaths.

Our next stop was at the Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring, near Manistique, where we enjoyed a raft-ride across the spring and observed large lake trout swimming down below in the cold and crystal-clear water. Then we headed out for Germfask, where we had been told there was a wooden troll that was a real work of art. Germfask is a very quaint village which truly expresses the laidback atmosphere of the U.P. and it is a favorite location of mine, because I shot my first black bear not far there many years ago.

Benny the Beard Fisher Troll is located on the bank of the Manistique River on property owned by Northland Outfitters, who offer a canoe and kayak livery, featuring 100 “boats” (canoes and kayaks) as well as cabins and a campground in a very rustic setting. Levi and Durea Brady are from Colorado and had been looking around the country for just the right campground to purchase, and immediately fell in love with Germfask. They purchased the campground 2 years ago and have been upgrading matters ever since. It was their hope to create something which would be a drawcard to Germfask. Durea sent a letter to Thomas Dambo, a recycle art activist from Denmark, who is well known for creating notable masterpieces from recycled lumber. To Durea’s delight and surprise, Dambo wrote back and agreed to do it.

Well, folks, when I first heard about Benny the Beard Fisher Troll, I assumed it was going to be something carved out a log or stump with a chainsaw and, oh my, was I wrong! It is a massive structure constructed primarily of pallet wood, and the friendly Germfast folks were very supportive of the project and donated much of the necessary wood. The beard portion, clutched by a hand, is made from long tree branches which reach down into the river. It is an amazing piece of artwork.

Northland Outfitters

Ginny and I are planning to return to Northland Outfitters and sample the fishing in the Manistique River while enjoying a scenic downriver float in a canoe. The business offers a variety of canoe trips, including a 5-day wilderness adventure. They will also furnish drop-off and pick-up if you bring your own canoe or kayak.

Yep, exploring adventures in “Yooper-Land” is never disappointing, and there is always something new to discover.

Tom Lounsbury