An Unforgettable Paddling Experience at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Earlier this year, we shared Courtney Kotewa’s spectacular photo of a kayaking tour at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Her prize-winning photo will be featured on the 2015 National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass! Today, Courtney shares the unforgettable experience at Pictured Rocks that inspired her creative capture. 

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Last year, my mom Beth came across a deal for a kayaking trip at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with Uncle Ducky Outdoors in Munising, MI. Though she has been a lifelong resident of Michigan, she’d never made it up to the spectacular shoreline. She couldn’t pass it up, and she made plans to bring my younger brother Matt and me along, too. We’d never been to that part of the state either, and were excited for the getaway. We had no way of knowing what a fateful trip it would turn out to be!

The kayaking tour itself was everything we hoped it would be. It was a six-hour guided paddle starting at Miner’s Beach. We set out in tandem sea kayaks, up close and personal with the multi-colored sandstone cliffs that make the area so special. Along the way, the guides informed us about the area’s geology and history, telling us some fun facts about Lake Superior and pointing out a shipwreck. We stopped for the lunch we’d packed on a beach partway through the trip. We continued on to the turn-around point – Lover’s Leap. I had been taking pictures along the way whenever I managed to get my phone out of my life jacket. Seeing Lover’s Leap, I grabbed my phone again and took one shot before we paddled through and started the journey back.

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

I contemplated not bringing my phone along, because I knew there was the possibility of some big waves along the way. On the return trip we encountered those waves! The guides called it a “wind event” and it made for a fun and challenging paddle back. I was thankful for my kayak skirt! My upper half got pretty soaked but my phone, luckily, remained safely tucked away. Later, when I went to look through the photos I took, I remember being pleasantly surprised with how they came out. But mostly, I was just happy to have had such a great day with my family in what has to be one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

A few months later, I got an e-mail about a photo contest called Share the Experience, put on by the US Department of the Interior. To make a long story short, the contest was open to any amateur photographer who had taken a recent picture on federal land. My thoughts immediately went to my photos from our vacation, and I entered the shot of Lover’s Leap on a whim. A few months later I would learn, to my disbelief, that I was the grand prize winner. I was absolutely shocked, not only because over 16,000 people had entered the contest, but also because my picture was taken quite casually on my cell phone.

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

Photo by Courtney Kotewa

I was, of course, ecstatic to win the cash prize, but what struck me more was how happy I felt to have the winning photo come from Michigan. Working as a travel nurse, my patients often ask about where I’m from and usually know little about Michigan outside from what they hear on the news. I always tell them about what a beautiful and diverse state Michigan is, and now they can see for themselves.

I loved growing up in Michigan. I grew up enjoying summers at Higgins Lake, boating with my family in Holland, running on cross country courses with my best friends, camping, skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding. I could go on and on. Our state provides an enormous variety of ways to get out and appreciate your surroundings. And while I’m currently exploring other parts of the country, I’ve found my appreciation for the mitten state growing when I’m away. When I return, I’m always more aware of how nice people here really are, how the slightly slower pace allows people to relax and enjoy themselves. How much space there is for everyone to roam around in. How easy it is to find a nice place to watch the sunset. How many different parts of the state are truly worth some exploration. I love coming back to Pure Michigan because it’s home.

IMG_1278Courtney Kotewa is a travel nurse from Essexville, Michigan. Travel assignments have taken her all over California and to New York City, but she happily returns home to Michigan often. Courtney loves any opportunity to explore a new place, and likes to stay active in the great outdoors whenever possible.

Michigan Golf Courses Put a New Spin on the Sport with FootGolf

FootGolf, a hybrid of golf and soccer, has been popping up at Michigan golf courses this summer. Today, guest blogger Janina Jacobs tells us how these Michigan courses are putting a new spin on the sport. 

Love it or hate the idea, FootGolf has arrived. What is this phenomenon that’s bringing new life to area golf courses and why is it here?

Photo courtesy of Shanty Creek Resort

Photo courtesy of Shanty Creek Resort

First, the why: There is no debate that overall, golfer numbers have declined in recent years, even in this golf rich state. Assuming the downturn comes from core golfers playing less and newer golfers slowly trickling in, new markets are needed. The Pure Michigan campaign is beginning to bring people in from all over the U.S., but it does take time for folks to pack their clubs and head over. For us long-time golfers – those growing up in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s – soccer was not what we did; a little kickball maybe, but not the local, regional, and national traveling leagues and organizations that abound today. Almost every kid born after 1980 was introduced to soccer primarily in school, along with parents who drove them to every game and practice.  And so, enter FootGolf. Sort of a hybrid between soccer and golf, some facilities are embracing the concept and allowing footgolfers access to tee times along with regular golfers. Other than the initial shock of watching four players, likely dressed in Hogan caps, plus-fours, and argyle socks kicking soccer balls up the fairway ahead, regular golfers will experience no interference from the relatively new sport, which has actually been around since the 1980’s but is fresh to Michigan. In fact, golfers would do well to keep up considering FootGolf holes are shorter and flatter, the only club selection necessary is which foot to use, no time is spent looking for lost balls, and can take half the time to play.

Here’s how it works: Ideally, holes are mapped out along a portion of the normal course routing but using more level ground. Tees are placed in a closely mown area on the fairway, usually away from regular tee boxes. Footgolfers use their own #5 Soccer ball and the kicking commences until reaching the green which is actually a closely mown fairway, about 30-feet in diameter and often near a regulation green. So you can erase any idea of greens becoming mutilated from footgolfers stomping and kicking all over the beautiful bent grass greens so beloved to Michigan golfers…..or worry about what happens if you should accidently hit your golf ball into the 21-inch cup. If you do, take it out please! You will find it at the bottom of the ‘normal’ size cup where the flagstick is nestled within the larger hole.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 9.25.55 AMIt is not as easy as you think. I was introduced to FootGolf at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, which has transformed the lesser-used but magnificently conditioned Summit Golf Course into a multi-use facility. Director of Golf Brian Kautz came from a very traditional club in Florida, and no one is more surprised than he at the transformation taking shape: You can 1) play regular golf using standard 4 and ½ inch cups; 2) play regular golf using the 8-inch cups cut into every green; 3) play the par-3 tees on each hole using either cup; or 4) play FootGolf using the alternate greens and oversized cups. I hadn’t kicked a soccer ball in years, so after a few holes of 6 or more kicks, where even the slightest elevation and rough will make you aware of leg and hip muscles you didn’t know existed, you’ll gain new respect for the sport. The kids will get a kick out of it…pardon the pun…because for them, it’s easy and familiar. Even better, they can walk; and in the process, they may also observe regular golf and get the urge to try that as well. Watch for the possible re-introduction of the pull cart, which in the last decade or two virtually disappeared from golf clubs. How better to solve the problem of trying to walk and play FootGolf while transporting adult beverages?

In case you think that rules are relaxed even for this seemingly tame sport, you should know that there is an international governing body, the Federation for International FootGolf (FIFG), and its Rule Book is 47 pages long. Rules govern ball size, weight, hole dimensions, and many other situations that regular golf rules cover. And there are leagues and tournaments…plenty of them.

Other courses around the state are offering FootGolf, including Elmbrook Golf Course, which celebrates their 50th anniversary this year. Owner Carolyn Olson felt it was ideal considering their location: “at first we thought it was for kids or birthday parties and such. But it’s a perfect fit for Traverse City, with all the elite soccer clubs and coaches in the area.” Ironically, the median age for footgolfers is about 20-35 years old.

Photo courtesy of Fox Hills Golf Course

Photo courtesy of Fox Hills Golf Course

In the metro Detroit area, Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center in Salem Township opened their FootGolf course on the renowned Strategic Fox, a popular 18-hole par-3 layout, in May. They are already seeing interest. In Grand Blanc, even the stately Warwick Hills, a private club that hosted multiple PGA Tour Buick Opens, is contemplating the idea. Treetops Resort in Gaylord offers every FootGolf customer on the Rick Smith Tradition course a deal sweetener: a voucher for a free golf clinic. Prices average about $10-$20 per round at most facilities.

For the naysayers, one cannot argue that Footgolfers bring a different energy to the course: high fives, acrobatics – including doing cartwheels down the fairway – and more yelling. All of these formerly frowned-upon outbursts certainly change the dynamics of golf courses where everyone is often afraid to cheer, shout, or even talk. Sometimes people cannot use the words ‘fun’ and ‘golf’ in the same sentence. With FootGolf, it is hard not to.

Janina-Jacobs-headshot1Janina Parrott Jacobs is a lifelong Michigan resident but her passion as a multi-media golf and business specialist and international golf and travel writer takes her all over the world.  Her website, www.janinajacobs.com, features many other entrepreneurial adventures as a motivational speaker, professional musician and performer, owning Capers Steakhouse in Detroit, and volunteer efforts with the U.S. Navy where she advocates for and mentors young people concerning health, nutrition, and fitness issues.

Ten Ways to Take On the Outdoors in Frankenmuth

You may already know Frankenmuth for its Bavarian charm. However, you may not have known that Frankenmuth is also a prime destination for some outdoor summer activities. Today, guest blogger Christie Bierlein from Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Buereau shares ten ways that you can take on the outdoors in Frankenmuth this season.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Warner at Bavarian Inn

Photo courtesy of Thomas Warner at Bavarian Inn

No doubt Frankenmuth is known for their beer, chicken and having the largest Christmas store in the world, but most visitors don’t know all of the scenic outdoor adventure it has to offer. Below are ten hidden gems off the beaten path from the regular bustle of Frankenmuth. Sure to provide days of fun and entertainment for the whole family. That is the magic of Frankenmuth.

Great Views

Fun Ships is a business that thrives on creating unique experiences along the beautiful Cass River for thousands of guests per year. They are a recipient of a “Keep Michigan Beautiful” award for their stunning patio views that are built right into the hill and wind all the way down to their docks along the shore. Fun Ships offers quaint, historical boat rides on an intimate 12 person electric Duffy boat; you can even experience a wine and chocolate pairing while you take in the scenery of the Frankenmuth countryside.

Paddleboard and Kayak

One thing you might notice as you cruise down the river is Frankenmuth Outfitters, a trendy new company to Frankenmuth offering kayak and paddleboard rentals. They also have bike trail maps available if staying on land is more your thing.

Cast a Line

Michigan is obviously a great place to fish with all of the Great Lakes but Frankenmuth is quickly becoming a popular place to drop a line. This fall, construction will begin on the fish passage project at the Cass River Dam in the heart of downtown. The fish passage project is a constructed rapids or rock ramp that will allow sport fish to pass over the dam, returning to spawning area further upstream. The project will benefit the Cass River through the increase in fish populations, with regional benefit to the award winning fishery in the Saginaw Bay.

Fly through the Trees

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Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau at Frankenmuth Adventure Park

If you’re looking for even more adventure, make sure to stop at the Adventure Park. This aerial forest adventure course is a fun family outing. They offer five different levels of climbing and zip lining so there’s no need for excuses to try it!

Hike through the Hills

Frankenmuth has many parks but their two most popular are Heritage and Memorial Parks. Memorial Park is surrounded by hills which make for great family fun. Look for toads in the creek or walk along one of the trails in the woods. Heritage Park is located on the Cass River and is home to the Frankenmuth Outfitters and the canoe launch. There is a one mile paved walking/running path around the park which makes is perfect for the active traveler.

Take a Riverboat Ride

The Bavarian Belle Riverboat is another great way to experience Frankenmuth by water. Feed the ducks and watch the Frankenmuth countryside float by as you get a historical narrated tour on how Frankenmuth came to be on this authentic Stern Driven Paddlewheel boat.

Get your Fitness on!

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Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Quickly becoming known as a “race town” Frankenmuth offers many different sporting activities throughout the year. Kicking off August is the Bavarian Inn Experience Triathlon continuing to the Bruckläufe (Bridge race) half marathon in October. Other races and events throughout the year include the 8K Winterläufe in February, the Zehnder’s Tour de Frankenmuth bike race in May, the Volkslaüfe 5K, 10K, 20K (on the fourth of July) and the newest event, the Frankenmüdder (an obstacle style 5K) which debuted July 19th 2014.

Have a Beverage… Outside!

Frankenmuth offers a variety of beautiful outdoor beer gardens. Try out the Fischer Platz under the “glockenspiel” at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, offering German music and entertainment daily. The Frankenmuth Brewery is another do not miss in terms of outdoor dining and drinking, their patio overlooks the Cass and Heritage Park. Tiffany’s is a local favorite in Frankenmuth, especially known for their pizza and laid back style night life; their outdoor patio has a great view of the downtown area. Prost is the newest addition to Frankenmuth, opening in August they boast a rustic chic atmosphere both inside and their outdoor beer garden. What sets Prost’s patio apart is its gazebo (equipped with a chandelier), fire bar all the wine, craft beer and unique cocktails you want with charming downtown views.

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Smell the Flowers

Boasting over 380 hanging flower baskets, 40 annuals and 50 perennials Frankenmuth is a plant lover’s dream. Along with the 90 plants and flowers planted each year they plant 15 varieties of tropical plants, one of which is a prized “Bird of Paradise.” July and August are great months for a walk downtown to enjoy the color, perhaps even while you enjoy a beer at one of our beer gardens.

Give Disc Golf a Whirl

Rounding out our top ten is another Frankenmuth local favorite; disc golf! Played in Memorial Park and rated as one of the top 20 disc golf courses in Michigan, the course offers 18 holes of hilly and wooded fun that will challenge beginners to the most advanced players.

Planning on visiting Frankenmuth this summer? Join the conversation and share your photos using #muthfun on Twitter and Instagram or share your photos on Facebook.