Notes from the North Country, by Lon and Lynn Emerick

Sled dog racing steps front and center this month as mushers, their dogs and spectators, all from across the country and Canada converge on the central U.P. for a trio of races.
The headline event is the annual UP200, a 260-mile mid-distance race roughly following the Lake Superior shoreline from Marquette to Grand Marais and back. This will be the race’s eighteenth running and it serves as a qualifying event for the internationally known Iditarod Sled Dog Challenge that takes place in March.
The UP200’s highlight is the downtown Marquette start. According to the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association, it draws upwards of 15,000 spectators to watch the twelve-dog teams begin their journey with a dash through central downtown before heading out along the lakeshore. The first racer takes off at about 7:00 p.m.
A popular place to watch the teams east of Marquette, before they get too spread out, is the Lakenenland sculpture park on M-28, said Pat Torreano, president of the UPSDA.
The mushers head south and east through Deerton and Wetmore and, depending on weather conditions, should arrive at the Wetmore checkpoint soon after midnight. They’ll then head east to Grand Marais, where most use a large portion of their mandatory sixteen-hour layover.
“The layover in Grand Marais on Saturday is an absolute blast,” Torreano said. “The town puts everything into it.”
The mushers return by the same track with a mandatory stop in Wetmore, where they are required to use any remaining layover before finishing in Marquette’s lower harbor. The top finisher is expected to cross the finish line sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon, again depending on trail conditions.
Also kicking off the evening of February 15 is the UP200’s sibling event: the Midnight Run. That race is a ninety-mile jaunt starting in Gwinn, winding north up to and over Marquette Mountain and down the Carp River valley. The teams cross under US-41 at the Carp River bridge and then turn south to follow the UP200 track to Deerton. They have a mandatory five-hour layover in Deerton.
Midnight Run competitors continue on through Munising to Wetmore, finishing at Hiawatha Log Homes. The first racer starts in Gwinn at 6:00 p.m. and the winner is expected to arrive around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. Saturday.
Both races are limited to forty teams and both are filled, Torreano said. There is a waiting list of teams for both events.
A third sled dog race, the sportsman’s class Jack Pine 30, kicks off one day later at 9:30 a.m. in Gwinn at Larry’s Family Foods. It features six-dog teams run by mostly recreational mushers. They race thirty miles to Marquette finishing near Upfront and Company and the old ore dock. The top teams should arrive around noon.
The total prize purse for the UP200 and Midnight Run is $34,000, with $6,000 going to the UP200 winner and payouts down to fifteenth place in both races.
About six to seven hundred volunteers help make the weekend happen, Torreano said.
“It’s a huge undertaking,” she said. “It still amazes me that we can pull it off.”
For details or to volunteer, visit www.up200.org
-Matthew Williams

Notes from the North Country
If you would seek a very pleasant sandstone cove, look about you close to home. We call it the “Fern Grotto,” although the Michigan Nature Association officially lists the site as “Twin Waterfall Plant Preserve.” It is cleverly tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Munising.
In this spectacular, deep cove you will find two waterfalls with at least a forty-foot drop. Coursing down through the bottom of the box canyon is a delightful wee stream that winds and tumbles down the incline. The cove is densely wooded with conifers and mature hardwood trees; one huge tree—a yellow birch—was a sapling when George Armstrong Custer blundered into his fateful meeting with the Lakota and Cheyenne in 1876. The walls of the canyon are composed of multicolored layers of sandstone deposited eons ago by shallow seas covering the area. In season, the cove offers an array of wildflowers and a particularly lush growth of ferns.
It is a delightful place to visit in all seasons.
• Winter—This is our favorite time. The deep cove is hushed and white with snow. The two waterfalls become thick ice columns forty feet tall. The freezing and thawing creates wondrous shapes and filigrees. See how many colors you can identify in the icefalls.
• Spring—Try to visit this spot in late April or early May when the snow melt water surges over the waterfalls and fills the cove with a stunning roar and clouds of mist. Look up when the sun reflects off the deciduous trees and you will see the first pastel greening, a promise of summer. From now through early June, look down for the wildflowers—spring beauty, adder’s tongue, trillium, violets.
• Summer—On a warm day in July or August, descend to the floor of the cove and feel the cool. It is green and shady, and now is the season of the fern—lush growths, many emerging from the crevices in the sandstone wall layers.
• Fall—This is the season of aroma and color. Leaves on the ridgelines and along the floor of the cove abound in red, lemon yellow and orange. With each step the musky herbal smell of newly-fallen leaves drifts upward.
To find the Fern Grotto, go to the blinker light in downtown Munising. With the Dogpatch Restaurant just off to your right and the Park Service/Forest Service Visitor Center just ahead, proceed through the intersection after stopping and you will be on H-58. Drive for about three miles, past the paper mill. On the fairly steep hill, look for Nestor Street and turn right. Go one block and look for a Michigan Nature Association sign on your right. Park along the road. The upper path into the woods begins right there. There also is a lower access point with sign and stairs back along H-58.
Please be respectful of the site, don’t pick or disturb any plants and approach with quiet so others also may enjoy their time in this small wild place.
As you spend your time in the cove, send a thought of thanks to local residents who have built steps, bridges and trails, and also to the Michigan Nature Association (www.michigannature.org) which has preserved 8,500 acres of habitat for Michigan’s rare and endangered species….and open land for the rest of us.
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or e-mailing marquettemonthly@marquettemonthly.com
Lon and Lynn Emerick’s Upper Peninsula books: The Superior Peninsula, Going Back to Central, Lumberjack—Inside and Era, Sharing the Journey, You Wouldn’t Like it Here and You STILL Wouldn’t Like it Here are available at area book and gift stores or by visiting their Web site at www.northcountrypublishing.com

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