Sidetracked in the Midwest: A Green Guide for Travelersby Mary Bergin
This green guide to the Midwest states offers travelers fun and innovative places to visitall with an environmentally conscious approach. Restaurants, lodging, festivals, parks, tours, farms, museums, nature centers, factories, shops, wilderness areas, retreats, and more are included in this guide, from the National Mississippi River Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa
This green guide to the Midwest states offers travelers fun and innovative places to visitall with an environmentally conscious approach. Restaurants, lodging, festivals, parks, tours, farms, museums, nature centers, factories, shops, wilderness areas, retreats, and more are included in this guide, from the National Mississippi River Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, to the Heartland Spa (in a former dairy barn!) in Gilman, Illinois. Intrepid traveler Mary Bergin covers Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, plus a few cool places to visit in Indianapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Nebraska City.
“A mix that includes low-budget to luxury eco-aware projects in rural areas and cities alike.”St. Louis Beacon
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Isle Royale National Park
Our 100-passenger ferry is rocking me like a drunken sailor, so I keep my eyes closed during most of this three-hour ride. Never expect Lake Superior to behave, but putting up with impudence sometimes yields exquisite rewards.
Isle Royale National Park is an archipelago of 400-some islands, the longest of which is 45 miles. Backpackers and kayakers can roam for days and not repeat their route. The worlds longest-running predator-prey research project, involving moose and wolves, began here more than 50 years ago. Day visits to Isle Royales Rock Harbor are possible but illogical. Why endure the six-hour boat ride, with only two or three hours to explore? Ferries cruise roundtrip daily. Four-person seaplane service from Houghton, Michigan, cuts the trip to the park to 35 minutes but is more expensive than the ferry ride.
You dont go to Isle Royale unless youre committed to being there, concludes Phyllis Green, superintendent. Her park is one of the least visited in the National Park Service.
Isle Royale gets about as many visitors in a year (16,000) as the Grand Canyon averages on a summer day, but the average Isle Royale stay is four days, compared with about six hours at the Grand Canyon. One out of four who visit Isle Royale will return another time, and this ratio of repeat business is one of the highest among national parks. Youll see kayaks and canoes, but not autos, bicycles or pets. Only 17 types of mammals make Isle Royale their home, says ranger Mark Kudrav. Mosquitoes and black flies irritate in swarms until late July, but Lyme disease and poison ivy are not a problem. Ticks threaten the health of moose but not humans.
Most visitors come to backpack and camp; some will hire a water taxi to take them miles away and then hike back to Rock Harbor. A popular starting point, Chippewa Harbor, is a 12-mile walk. The trek back can be tranquil or arduous, depending upon weather and a hikers preparedness. Camping is rustic. A few campsites have three-sided shelters, to screen out insects and wildlife. Bring your own tent and gear for wilderness camping. The less adventurous bring their own provisions and rent one of 20 roomy housekeeping cottages with kitchenettes. Rock Harbor Lodge accommodates still others in 60 motel rooms; you can add hearty meals to the daily rate. A snack bar cooks up lighter fare; all menus depend on provisions delivered by ferry.
Most people find theres more to do than they expected, says Kim Alexander, lodge manager. Park rangers organize hikes and evening talks about the islands history or habitat.
The first time you see visitors, theyre backpackers, he says. Then that 50-pound pack gets heavy and they come as lodge guests during their next visit.
A few miles away, at Edisen Island, Leslie Mattson shares his love for commercial fishing with the occasional visitor; he and his wife, Donna, maintain a small home at waters edge. A short hike uphill leads to the parks oldest lighthouse, built in 1855. Head in another direction, and youll find the headquarters for the predator-prey research.
Excursion boats also take the curious toward Lookout Louise, where on a clear day youll see Canada. At Hidden Lake, hear the birds sing and watch for moose at the shoreline. Wild orchids and roses dot the landscape in summer.
The waters surrounding Isle Royale have been the site of 10 major shipwrecks. Scuba diving is a popular sport; wetsuits or drysuits are a must in the 45-degree water.
The ferry ride back to Copper Harbor is smooth and beguiling, just the opposite of how this trip began. Lake Superior changes that fast. The park is open from mid-April to late October. Campsite reservations are not accepted for groups of fewer than seven; its first-come first-served.
Isle Royale National Park
800 E. Lakeshore Drive
Rock Harbor Lodge, the only motel and cottage accommodations on the island, is open from late May to early September. Reservations are necessary.
The Isle Royale Queen IVs three-hour ferry rides from Copper Harbor, Michigan, run from mid-May to late September. Ferry service also departs from Houghton, Michigan (a six-hour trip), and Grand Portage, Minnesota (three hours, but to Windigo, which is at the opposite end from Rock Harbor). Reservations are necessary.
North House Folk School
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Forty miles south of the Canadian border, a Minnesota village of 1,400 overlooks a shore of near-paradise.
Were a long way from everywhere, observes Greg Wright, and most people who stay for more than a vacation dont come here by accident.
It is the same with many of the students at his North House Folk School, where traditional northern crafts and ways of life are taught. Students leave with more than wall hangings and harbor photography.
Imagine thinking like an Inuit when building your own kayak or sculpting art from sandstone. Weave strips of bark into baskets, shoes, hatsor make a birch bark canoe. Make mukluks from moose hide and canvas, or drums from cedar and rawhide.
Learn blacksmithing, bladesmithing and flintknapping. Make sausage, a wood stove, yurt or earthen oven. Become a student of solar power or herbal health care. Wood turningusing a lathe to shape wood into a bowlis a Scandinavian-inspired process taught here. A fall class focuses on wild rice, from harvesting to hulling.
Many of the classes celebrate cultural traditions, the things that bind us together over time, says Greg, the nonprofit schools executive director. Teachers find joy in creating with their hands and connecting with the northern landscape.
The school emerged from a community already rich in the arts. About 13,000 people from 36 states and three foreign countries found their way to North House in 2009.
Most instruction occurs in warehouses built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. When the buildings became eyesores, they were given to the community. Then came proposals to level the property and build condos, open a museum or transform the structures into artists studios. The folk school idea was floated and received a six-month trial run. They hoped for 100 students and got 200, Greg explains. Now the campus also includes converted fishing buildings and harbor docks.
The folk school philosophy emphasizes learning and creating, not grades or competition. Tuition reductions are possible, in exchange for labor. Students arrange their own meals and lodging. Choices include campsites, cottages, motels, bed-and-breakfast inns.
Craft and wood-fired baking demos, Norwegian fjord horse-and-cart lessons and sailing lessons on a 50-foot traditionally rigged schooner occur at least weekly during summer and early autumn.
North House Folk School
500 Highway 61 West
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Red Stag Supper Club Minneapolis, Minnesota
News, to me: Energy and water account for 30 to 40 percent of the average restaurants operating budget. Reduce these expenses, and its good business as well as good for the planet.
Red Stag Supper Club, the first LEED-certified restaurant in Minnesota, cuts energy bills in half and saves 70 percent on its water bill because of an eco-savvy design in a former industrial warehouse in its northeast Minneapolis neighborhood. Seating cushions are stuffed with ribbons of tape from many, many discarded cassettes. Dining tables are doors recycled from a condo project. The marble bar comes from a hotel. Corn is a key ingredient in the carpeting.
Supper club, in this location, is more about bringing people together for interaction and community than big-as-your-plate steaks served after an hours wait for a table, says Lauren Schuppe, Red Stag manager (but she adds that owner Kim Bartmann, a Wisconsin native, has fond memories of traditional, rural supper club fare).
At the Red Stag, chefs will make their own sausage, pickle 50 pounds of ramps and boil down bushels of homegrown heirloom tomatoes so that a rich and locally sourced pasta sauce is available in the dead of winter. A majority of the menus ingredients come from within 60 miles of the restaurant.
Corned beef hash arrives with parsnips and carrots. An herbal hollandaise sauce transforms poached eggs into a clever Green Eggs and (smoked) Ham. Sometimes ingredients deviate from whats local, and results are extraordinary: Consider the chunks of lobster and avocado in the house egg salad sandwich.
Cheap Date night, on Tuesdays, means a couple can order two entr?, dessert and a bottle of wine for $32. A block party in August draws together the music of local bands, roller skaters and hula hoop contestants. Red Stag Supper Club
509 First Avenue NE
Green arts in the neighborhood:The neighborhood enjoys a flourishing arts district whose anchor is Casket Arts, a coalition of 100 artists and art-related businesses. Open studio and gallery tours occur monthly, from 5 to 9 p.m. on the first Thursday. Much of the studio space fills a former casket factory, at 681 Seventeenth Avenue NE.
More at www.casketarts.com.
Meet the Author
Mary Bergin writes weekly “Roads Traveled” columns syndicated in daily newspapers throughout Wisconsin and at www.roadstraveled.com. Her other books include Sidetracked in Wisconsin: A Guide for Thoughtful Travelers, Hungry for Wisconsin: A Tasty Guide for Travelers, and Eat Smart in Germany.
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