A Mid-Summer Les Cheneaux Weekend Adventure

For years, I’ve heard about the Upper Peninsula communities of Hessel and Cedarville, the historic harbor towns on the mainland around the Les Cheneaux Islands. And while I was casually aware of their significance, I had yet to visit. Last month I finally had the opportunity to trek to “The Snows” as they’re referred to by locals, for a three-day adventure full of history and education.

French for “The Channels,” this area is home to a group of 36 small islands that stretch out for 12 miles through the waters of northern Lake Huron. All but one island, Government Island, are privately owned.

The minute I pulled up to the Hessel Bay Sunset Cabins, I knew I was in for a treat. A stone’s throw away from the jet blue waters of Lake Huron at the west entrance to the Les Cheneaux Islands, this quaint complex offers six cabins, a private beach area, docks and unspoiled views of a handful of the islands.

Hessel Bay Sunset Cabins. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

Hessel Bay Sunset Cabins. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

The resort itself sits on over an acre of land (300 feet of frontage on Hessel Bay), just blocks from the Hessel Marina, Market & Deli, EJ Mertaugh Boat Works and Les Cheneaux Culinary School (and less than a mile from Woods & Water EcoTours). This proved to be increasingly important to me as those were all stops on my itinerary!

Becky and Perry Kogelschatz greeted me upon my arrival and made me feel right at home. We talked about my statewide travels, their connections to Grand Rapids and their history of owning this resort for more than a dozen years. In planning my trip to the Les Cheneaux Islands, I found a common theme in my research: there were things to be learned here!

The newly opened Les Cheneaux Culinary School & Restaurant in Hessel provided more than one tasty meal during my stay. I started with the duck prosciutto dates, followed by a chopped salad with spring vegetables and a champagne honey vinaigrette and ended with rainbow trout—sourced from the local Harrietta Hills Trout Farm. An impressive Michigan wine, beer and spirit list also complimented the menu. Under the auspices of Executive Chef Zach Schroeder, the school offers classes from September through May with the restaurant open during the summer (as well as for events and groups during the off-season).

The Les Cheneaux Culinary School. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

The Les Cheneaux Culinary School. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

Considered one of the top programs in the country, the Great Lakes Boat Building School in Cedarville not only offers a two-year program for those looking for professional careers in boat building, but throughout the summer months the general public can take part in a series of workshops. Whether it’s making a paddle, a kayak or a dinghy, hobbyists will find passionate and qualified instructors at the helm of this unique school.

Since opening in 2005, this school has also garned some high-level commissions including this summer’s completion of August Glory—a 32-foot Cornish pilot gig for the USS Constitution, the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy and the oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat in the world (launched in 1797 and named by George Washington himself).

Great Lakes Boat Building School. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

Great Lakes Boat Building School. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

With Woods & Water Eco Tours I was finally able to get out on the open waters of Lake Huron for a three-hour paddle to and around Marquette Island. As we passed by the shoreline, the guide would point out various plants and trees, and could identify birds first by their sounds and then pointing them out to us in the distance. The Mackinac area is well-known for its raptors, so we were pleased to have not one but two bald eagle sightings during our trip.

Woods & Water Eco Tours. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

Woods & Water Eco Tours. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

My visit also included a stop at the Les Cheneaux Maritime Museum and Historical Museum, EJ Mertaugh Boat Works (and their newly opened seasonal North Coast Company serving homemade fudge, ice cream and gourmet coffee), the Pickle Point gift shop and the Cedarville Public Library, where I did a crayon rubbing of one of the commemorative family bricks for a downstate Michigan friend now living in South Carolina.

Unfortunately, I was a week early for the inaugural Aldo Leopold Festival (June 19-21, 2015) which celebrated the life of one of the region’s most noted summer visitors—a conservationist, forester, philosopher, professor, ecologist and author of the A Sand County Almanac (1949). Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation. Between the 1890s and 1919, the Leopold family spent several months a year at their cottage on Marquette Island where the “Aldo Leopold Preserve” can now be found.

Les Cheneaux Historical Museum. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

Les Cheneaux Historical Museum. Photo Courtesy of Dianna Stampfler.

My trip was also two months ahead of what is undoubtedly the largest annual event in this region—the Antique Wooden Boat Show & Festival of Arts, Aug. 8, in Hessel. Now in its 38th year, this event showcases the finest classic boats including launches, sailboats, runabouts, cruisers, dinghies, rowboats and canoes. This year’s focus will be the Hackercraft models which were built in the Detroit area from 1914 to 1957.

During my next trip to Les Cheneaux, I hope to delve more into the local flora and fauna (walking in the steps of Aldo Leopold) as well as the growing birding opportunities offered by the Little Traverse Nature Conservancy. I want to explore the Lex Cheneaux Area Artisan Cooperative, take a bike ride on one of the trails that wind through the countryside and actually set foot on one of the many islands.

Footnote: One thing that has always confused me was how to pronounce Les Cheneaux but I finally think I have it: Lay Sh-NO. You’re welcome!

HeadshotDianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan and a passionate advocate for her home state!

Thirteen Ways to Celebrate Michigan Wine this Summer

Do you love to explore all of the wineries Michigan has to offer? Guest Blogger Dianna Stampfler, president of Promote Michigan shares a handful of wine festivals you don’t want to miss.

Between Michigan Wine Month in April and the fall harvest season, there are countless opportunities to sample award-wining locally-produced wines. There’s no better way to savor these vinos than on the beach, next to the Great Lakes waters or under towering canopies of trees during the peak of summer.

Photo Courtesy of Promote Michigan.

Photo Courtesy of Promote Michigan.

The Leland Wine & Food Fest, June 13, is one of Michigan’s original wine celebrations and this year marks its 30th anniversary. Over the years, it’s grown to include more than two dozen northern wineries in the historic Fishtown District, nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Visitors will also find a handful of eateries serving local fare as well as live entertainment. Hours are 1-8pm, with tickets $15 online in advance and $20 at the gate.

Toast the Coast from Weko Beach in Bridgeman, during the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival, June 20. Sample the region’s award-winning wines, paired with local cuisine and live music from 1-10pm, just as the sun sets over the horizon. Tickets are $10 in advance and $20 at the gate.

The historic park-like grounds of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is the setting for the Traverse City Art & Wine Festival, June 20, featuring wineries of both Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas. Now in its 7th year, this event offers a true taste of northern Michigan with more than 200 local wines, eight restaurants, 40 fine artists and seven musical performances. Hours are 2 – 9 p.m , and tickets are $40 for general admission or $125 for the VIP Lounge area.

Head over to the Lake Huron shoreline for the Sunrise Side Wine & Food Festival, July 18 in Harrisville. Local wineries, craft breweries and food artisans gather at the Harrisville Harbor in this annual gathering hosted by the Harrisville Arts Council. Hours are 12 – 6 p.m. 

The 5th Annual Grapes on the River, July 25, is presented by the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce to recognize local and regional wines and foods. Set along the scenic backdrop of the Manistee River, booths line the Riverwalk and the newly-renovated municipal marina for an afternoon of fun and festivities. Hours are 2-6pm, with tickets priced at $10 which include wine and craft beer sampling, food tastings, art and music.

Photo Courtesy of Promote Michigan.

Photo Courtesy of Promote Michigan.

End the summer at the Hopps of Fun Beer & Wine Festival, Sept. 11-12, in Mackinaw City. Hosted at the Mackinaw Crossings complex, this unique event features samplings of more than 40 wines from Michigan’s four federally-recognized viticultural regions and dozens of award-winning Michigan craft beers, as well as food and entertainment. Hours are 5 – 10 p.m. on Friday and 1 – 10 p.m. on Saturday, with $5 general admission (and $1 tasting tokens).

Michigan’s largest and longest-running wine festival—The Wine & Harvest Festival—returns to Paw Paw, Sept. 4 – 6 p.m. In addition to all the family-friendly activities, winery tours and tastings are held in tents throughout the festival area—adjacent to St. Julian Winery (the state’s oldest winery).

Other Michigan wine events this summer include:

Art, Beer & Wine Festival
June 6 (12 – 6 p.m.)
Ella Sharp Museum, Jackson

Photo Courtesy of Promote Michigan.

Photo Courtesy of Promote Michigan.

Waterfront Wine Festival
June 27 (4 – 7 p.m.)
Harbor Springs

Wine on the Waterfront Festival
July 18 (1 – 7 p.m.)
Suttons Bay

City of Riesling
July 26 – 27
Traverse City

Tawas Uncork’d & Untap’d Wine & Food Festival
August 1 (12 – 6:30 p.m.)
Harbor Park, East Tawas

Northport Wine Festival
August 8 (1 – 7 p.m.)
Northport Harbor

For a list of other Michigan wine events, information and a list of more than 115 wineries, visit MichiganWines.com.

Dianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan and is a dedicated fan of Michigan wine, especially Riesling!

What is your favorite Michigan wine?

Treasure Hunting for Michigan-themed Antiques

Summer is the perfect time of year to find hidden gems at Michigan’s many antique shops and markets. Today, Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan fills us in on the treasures she’s found at the Allegan Antiques Market.

Do you have a favorite flea market or antique shop in Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

For many, summer in Michigan is meant for beachcombing, boating, biking, golfing and enjoying the great outdoors of Pure Michigan. It’s also a prime season for exploring the area’s flea markets, antique shops and yard sales.

One of my favorite places for treasure hunting is the Allegan Antiques Market, held the last Sunday of each month (April through September) at the Allegan County Fairgrounds. Touted as one of the largest markets in the Midwest, more than 400 vendors (both inside and out) spread around the fairgrounds selling everything from large scale furniture to glassware to postcards.

Over the years, I’ve established quite a routine when it comes to this event. Sometimes my visits are short and sweet, but often I find myself getting lost in the variety of booths for three or four hours. Despite repeated requests from family and friends to join in the adventure, it’s something I (selfishly) prefer to do solo. I like going at my own pace, without worrying about a guest who is bored 10 minutes into the day, and getting lost in the nostalgia of it all.

While I rarely have something specific I’m looking for, I always seem to find “just the right thing” to add to my collection. Items featuring Michigan receive top attention of course – especially travel brochures and magazines, food and agriculture focused pieces, unique license plates and slightly-rusted signs. I’m also drawn to cottage- and beach-themed décor, garden art and things that are red (the primary accent color in my home).

This past April, a couple treasures found their way into my heart (and ultimately into my bag). A wooden dachshund with “Frankenmuth Beer” in faded paint was a steal at just $5 (even with its chipped tail – which to me, adds to its character). I also scored 5 juice-size glasses adorned with red roosters – perfect for sampling my favorite made-in-Michigan spirits – for $7.

Over the years, my visits to Allegan have yielded some of my most treasured finds. A 5-foot red bench now serves as a coffee table in my living room; a red and black hinged checkerboard hangs on the diagonal on the dining room wall (next to my family’s original Michigan-made Carrom board); an eight-sided jar holds a collection of marbles purchased at my grandmother’s estate auction; a red wooden stool stands proudly in my kitchen.

I’ve also amassed a large number of postcards – highlighting travel destinations around the state of Michigan, from the early 1900s. Despite their small size, these can be quite expensive. Typically, I limit myself to $5 per card, but I’ve been known to drop $25 for a rare find. 

Another highlight of the market is the opportunity to indulge on fair fare – and even here, habits are hard to break. Midway through my shopping, I stop for a steak sandwich with onions (and A1 sauce), fries and a Dr. Pepper. Then, before heading back to my car – it’s a stop at the elephant ear booth for dessert to go.

The Allegan Antiques Market runs on the last Sunday of each month (April through September) from 8am to 4pm at the Allegan County Fairgrounds. Admission is $4 per person; parking is free.

Tips for shopping at the Allegan Antiques Market

  • Wear comfortable shoes, there is lot of walking both on paved pathways and grass (where roots, acorns and other items gather).
  • Bring a tote or wheeled-bag to carry your treasures.
  • Bring cash. There is no ATM and most vendors are not able to process credit cards.
  • Don’t be afraid to barter on price – many vendors are willing to negotiate (especially later in the season).
  • Make sure you have room in your car – in case you find something “big” to haul home.

Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan inherited her love of history, collecting and antiques from her father (a local historian and genealogist) and grandparents. She lives in Plainwell, just blocks from the family home where she was raised.