Wet and cold weekend in Michigan still yields fun timeWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Poor old Michigan can’t even get global warming right! It’s another wet and cold Saturday up here in the North Woods. One in a long succession of rainy, dreary weekends that are pretty disastrous for a state that relies so heavily on its short summer tourist season for its treasure.
The Mio Pine Acres, a campground some eight miles from our cabin, is a sloppy puddle of tents, RVs and sad-looking campers. The ladies of the farmers’ market that normally sets up on the courthouse lawn behind the supersized replica of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler — don’t even manage to show. And any produce that they might have had for sale, has already been seriously delayed by the unseasonably cold weather.
So, with the rain beating down on our rustic cabin roof, we decide to go to a birthday party. The Huron National Forest turns 100 years old this year and is having a “knees-up” to celebrate.
Because we spend a good portion of our summers slap in the middle of this 437,000-acre wonderland, and have even preserved a parcel of it for posterity, we feel a kind of obligation to attend.
But first, breakfast.
Our regular egg and potato place, The Branch Cafe in Mio, has a line of frustrated campers and canoers outside the door. So, we head instead along the Au Sable River to the village of Glennie where the Chat and Chew Cafe has empty tables and eggs, hash browns and steaming hot coffee as good as anyplace.
We listen to a table of locals chattering about greyhound adoption. Another couple is chewing over last night’s losses at the casino slots. The waitress calls us “darlings,” and the gas station across the street is abandoned and for sale.
Further up the road at the Lumbermans Monument, however; the birthday bash is in full song when we arrive.
Center stage is a windblown tent with a guitar-strumming troubadour singing songs and telling stories about the CCC — the Civilian Conservation Corps — which was responsible for recreating much of the Huron Forest that two centuries of lumberjack’s axes and forest fires had decimated.
And quite a story it is, too.
President Theodore Roosevelt created the CCC in 1933 as a response to the Great Depression and some 100,000 young Michiganders living in 11 camps in the Huron Forest, reseeded 85,000 acres of forest with 484 million trees, built 504 bridges, 222 buildings, constructed 7,000 miles of tracks and fought hundreds of forest fires before World War Two intervened and sent the men off to fight a completely different kind of war. (www.fs.fed.us/r9/hmnf/pages/About_Info/huron.htm).
Several exhibits tell more of this extraordinary saga. Someone is taking oral histories. A campfire sputters. Forest Service employees huddle, and birthday cake is handed out.
But it’s all a bit soggy. So we pick up some maps — and a brochure about Trumpeter Swans that are making a comeback on the Au Sable — and push on along the Scenic Byway to Oscoda where the Au Sable River tumbles into Lake Huron.
The town itself, once a thriving community because of its (now decommissioned) Wurtsmith Air Force Base, is putting on a cheerful face. Flapping flags, neon signs and touristy shops all help a bit. But it’s a difficult to overcome a deeply depressed economy and a very rainy day!
The public beach, normally alive with swimmers and sunners, is sad and soggy, too. The car park’s deserted. And only a couple of very brave souls are out body-surfing among the whitecaps.
There’s still something most appealing about this “Sunrise Side” of the state. Something unpretentious. And ’50s. A marked contrast to the mega-mansions, the gated communities and the up-market shops of the Lake Michigan shore.
As we drive further up the coast, we can’t help but marvel at the vast and endless lake vistas. The waves beating on beaches. Seagulls soaring with the wind and an occasional freighter breaking up the far horizon.
In Harrisville, we buy just-dug potatoes and two quarts of Michigan sweet cherries from a roadside stall — to help the local economy, of course. And then, before heading home, we stop off at The Cove where their line of yummy ice creams that include Moose Tracks, Cafe Latte Caramel and Lake Shore Cherry is dreamily unsurpassed.
Next week, when family arrives, we’ll do it all again. And more. Before returning to our cabin in the Huron Forest for barbecued burgers, a campfire with s’mores and tall tales beneath the white pines and the bright August moon.
This is, after all, “Pure Michigan!”
E-mail Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer at email@example.com.