Take time Feb. 18 to fish with your kids

Out, See, Go by Chris Engle, contributor

Darkness fell across Otsego Lake and the wind picked up, pounding on the fabric walls of my shanty like the cold breath of the big, bad wolf. I unzipped the door and stepped out to shovel more snow against the walls to secure the shelter in its place on the ice. By the light of my headlamp, I walked the 50 feet to check the bait on my two tipups nearly buried in windswept snow.

The lines were still baited, their minnows circling in the black water. Walleye had been hunting here the night before but, so far this evening, they were all but absent.

As I marched back to my shanty through slush and blowing snow, a thought passed through my mind: “What the heck am I even doing out here?” With the fish not biting, a frozen lake in a snowstorm is not a pleasant place to be, even with shelter.

Just then, the flap door of one of a dozen nearby shanties zipped open, spilling light and warmth into the night. Out stepped two kids, bundled against the elements to check their own tipups while dad watched their lines inside.

“Suck it up,” I told myself.

My daughter joined me on a couple fishing trips last week at her request. The timing couldn’t have been better – with the “January thaw” in full swing, temps were in the 40s and the ice surface was clear of snow, making walking easy for her little feet even though she prefers when I tow her in the sled.

Paige peeks through the window of her shanty for a picture.

Paige peeks through the window of her shanty for a picture.

A fisherwoman I’d met the day before was back again and welcomed us out. She pointed us to some holes a short distance away that had been vacated by another fisherman.

“He was getting a lot of action over there,” she said. “He caught some nice perch too.”

Paige and I set up on those holes and in just a few minutes a flag went up on one of our tipups. There was a fat perch on the other end of the line and Paige jumped around, happy to have a fish to play with in her gloved hands.

“See?!” The woman shouted from her bucket seat 50 yards away. “I told you they were there!”

Over the next hour Paige and I put five perch on the ice, a meal’s worth for our small family. Using my ice scooper, she carried each fish to a pile, stacking them carefully on top of each other like steamed corn cobs on a platter. Naturally they flipped and flopped and she chased them around with her scooper, laughing and scolding the fish.

Paige and I with a nice perch caught on Otsego Lake in January.

The trip ended when she stepped in a slush pocket and got a wet foot. We packed up our gear and fish and headed back to shore, Paige lying on her back in the sled and staring at the sky.

Our outing a day later was a lot slower and Paige blazed through her snacks while she watched her motionless fishing rod. That trip was a lesson in patience and she passed the time by belting out a Taylor Swift song on repeat, her words slurred through a mouthful of Goldfish crackers.

This week is bound to be a typical one for February, with highs in the teens and lows in the single digits. I’ll leave it to Paige whether she wants to go fishing after school but, with a new set of waterproof boots rated to -25*, she’s apt to be up for it. It will likely be me who will need some coaxing.

Even if you don’t have any gear or a fishing license, you can still have an ice-fishing experience with your kids right here in Gaylord.

Saturday, Feb. 18 marks the annual Youth Ice Fishing Derby at Otsego Lake State Park. Hosted by the Northland Sportsmen’s Club of Gaylord, the event provides poles, holes, bait and tackle to kids and parents. The event is held during Michigan’s Winter Free Fishing Weekend so all license fees are waived, and the park will waive passport fees for that morning.

Good luck and have fun!

Chris Engle lives with his family in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

What to know before fishing our frozen lakes

Out, See, Go, by Chris Engle, contributor

I had been planning to spend this month’s blog sharing some fishing and ice-safety advice before last weekend’s tragic news of the death of two local fishermen. Regrettably, in light of these terrible events, I feel I should open with a refresher in ice safety.

Over the weekend, thin ice claimed the lives of two anglers on nearby lakes. The first was 61-year-old Wayne Ballenger who fell through on Big Bear Lake east of Gaylord. His fate was discovered by two friends who’d gone to the lake to see if the ice was safe, only to find the lone man’s fishing bucket on the lake and his snow-covered vehicle parked on shore. They called 9-1-1 and rescuers had to wear protective rubber suits to retrieve the man’s body from the frigid water.

The second happened that same day when 69-year-old Terry Weber fell through a rural lake in Montmorency County not far from Big Bear Lake. Weber, who owned Advance Tackle and Michigan Stinger lures – popular trolling spoons I’ve used to fish for salmon – was also an experienced, veteran fisherman who made a fatal mistake by trusting first ice too soon.

Tracks lead 10 feet out onto Little Bradford Lake in Waters Dec. 20, evidence that someone had come either to fish or check the ice and didn't like what they saw. Photo by Chris Engle

Tracks lead 10 feet out onto Little Bradford Lake in Waters Dec. 20, evidence that someone had come either to fish or check the ice and didn’t like what they saw. Photo by Chris Engle

I have made the same mistake. Fifteen years ago, during a first-ice trip with my dad, I broke through 100 feet from shore and fell until my outstretched arms caught the edge of the hole. Luckily I was able to scramble out with the help of my dad. As we carefully but quickly made our way back to shore, dad’s foot went through into shallow water and, as he fell forward, his fist punched through too.

It was a hard lesson we both needed and neither of us have forgotten it. Even so, I’m still tempted every December to fish when the ice is still young and questionable. Fishermen dying is a tragic reminder that comes too often and we got the one-two punch this year.

Here are some recommendations for preparing to fish first ice, last ice, or any time in winter, as well as how to survive a fall into the lake.

Don’t go alone. This is especially important early and late in the season when ice conditions are most untrustworthy. If you’re like me and insist on going solo, tell someone where you’ll be fishing and when you’ll be back. Check in every so often with a text message or phone call. Seriously, your loved ones will thank you.

Check local conditions. Call your bait shops. Check public-access points for foot and sled traffic. See if anyone else has been out. Being first isn’t always best.

Prepare for the worst. Wear a life vest. Drape a short length of rope over your shoulders with an old screwdriver tied to each end. These can be used as ice picks should you fall in.

Crafted after I fell through the ice 15 years ago, this set of ice picks are worn over my shoulders early and late in the season. Photo by Chris Engle

Crafted after I fell through the ice 15 years ago, this set of ice picks are worn over my shoulders early and late in the season. Photo by Chris Engle

Keep your head. If you go through, turn back toward shore and try to climb onto the ice. This ice supported you on the way out, so it’s your best chance at getting back. Try not to panic. Get your legs horizontal with the ice and attempt to kick your way out.

Roll to safety. Once you’re out of the lake, don’t stand up. Distribute your weight by rolling, if possible, to shore. If there’s too much snow to roll, crawl on all fours until you are safe. Forget about your gear.

Get to shelter. Now that’ you’re freezing cold, soaking wet and in shock, you are far from out of danger. Hypothermia can still get you, so go to the nearest home, pound on the door, and ask to come inside. Drink warm fluids and wear a blanket. (I ask that lakeshore residents welcome anglers in distress into their homes.)
If a house isn’t an option, get to your vehicle and turn on the heat.
In either case, it is critical you remove all wet clothing. Being bare and dry is far better for survival than wearing cold, wet clothes. No one will care that you’re naked in this life-or-death situation. Call 9-1-1 if your cell phone is working.

I truly hope no one else will have to rely on this advice this year. Two deaths in one weekend is too many for one season.

I’ll be checking back in in January with some fishing advice. If all goes well, we should have relatively safe ice by then.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.

Chris Engle is an avid outdoorsman, outdoor columnist and stay-at-home dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day!

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We used to make fun of Uncle Bob’s ugly sweater.  But now, we want to borrow it.  The ugly Christmas sweater knows no bounds.  As if the ugly sweater wasn’t ugly enough already, we have found new ways to embellish and add to its hideousness.

The ugly sweater is now 3D with lights, tinsel and even stuffed animals, hanging and blinking in all its glory.  December 16th is national Ugly Sweater Day.  We want to challenge you to head out and scour second hand stores, businesses, grandma’s closet and anywhere else you can find that one-of-a-kind sweater causing others around you to gasp…enviously at the ugliness thereof, silently wishing that they could have found one uglier than yours.  Be creative, nothing is off limits, cat and horse sweaters can be transformed into a meaningful Christmas sweater you can be proud of.

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My daughter stands at the summit of the Aspen Park log pile. Photo by Chris Engle

So What’s with all Gaylord’s White Stuff?

THE SKINNY ON GAYLORD’S SNOW FROM JIM KEYSOR OF THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

snow-elevation-graphicThere are myriad ways our region stands out, though our most well known attribute may just be the heaping helping of white stuff we receive each winter. And we mean lots of snow— the fluffiest, most amazing kind of snow you can hope for, whether you’re in the mood for snowmobiling, skiing or snowshoeing. Even simply strolling the shops downtown takes on an entirely winter wonderland and magical feel with snowflakes softly falling all around.
Just how much are we talking? You can count on the sky unloading up to 180 wonderful white inches. Thank you, Mother Nature. Of course, we must give props to our super-central, tip-of-the-mitt geographic position that ensures a plethora of lake-effect snow.

“In a typical winter, probably 70 percent of the snow that Gaylord receives would be lake-effect snow,” notes Jim Keysor, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service here in Gaylord. In other words, two Great Lakes—Superior and Michigan—play integral roles in boosting the snowfall in our area. How so exactly? “The process of lake-effect snowfall, and
rainfall, is the process of cold air moving across an unfrozen body of water … and we normally
have a wind direction that blows from north and northwest that brings the air across the Lakes
into our area,” Keysor explains.

Mostly, this is air coming across Lake Michigan. But this weather phenomenon—
meteorologists calls it “fetch”—also occurs on Lake Superior to the north and typically affects
the Gaylord area several times a winter.

“A lot of our big-snow events involve both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The air actually
begins to pick up moisture in Lake Superior, and those are our biggest events,” Keysor notes.

“We can also thank our elevation—Gaylord sits at one of the highest points of northern Lower
Michigan—for the awesome amounts of powder-like snowfall.”

Keysor describes it like this: imagine air full of moisture coming inland and hitting a hill
or higher elevation area. At that point, snowfall and rainfall are intense, as though the
atmosphere is wringing out a sponge.

Better yet for all you snow-lovers: the white stuff just keeps coming, all season long. This is
due in part to our prevailing northwest winds.

“It’s very unusual here to go for any length of time where we don’t have snow cover,” says
Keysor, who has worked as a meteorologist in cities all around the country. “That makes
Gaylord unique in that regard.”

Elk gather around a trough in Gaylord's city elk enclosure. Photo courtesy Pam Duczkowski, Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau

How to have your own elk encounter

Out See Go, by Chris Engle, contributor

My first run-in with a wild elk became a close call with an entire herd.

I was snowmobiling with family through Montmorency County about 40 or 50 miles east of Gaylord when the lead sled came to a sudden halt. My uncle shut off his machine and lifted his helmet. I pulled up alongside him and did the same.

He silently aimed his finger at a shadow lurking at the edge of the trail barely 20 yards ahead and whispered excitedly.

“Elk!” he said. “Two of them!”

Sure enough, the shadow moved into view, followed by another. Two cow elk stood broadside to us, pausing just long enough to see if we were a threat. In a few steps they were gone, disappeared into the thick aspen grove like ghosts.

But it was far from over. Twenty more cows and calves trailed behind, trotting across our path without a glance or hesitation. I swear we could feel their heavy hooves punching through the compacted snow of the groomed trail. Without a doubt, these were huge animals.

When the last one vanished into the aspens, we turned to each other and exchanged grins and nervous laughter.

Then one more animal appeared.

Before us was a massive bull, its antlers reaching up like arms of bone. It towered well above the cows and stood in the middle of the trail staring straight at us. We were in a showdown and I, a teenager on a meager Polaris 340, was certainly the underdog against the half-ton, testosterone-fueled beast.

After staring us down for an eternity of 10 or 15 seconds, the bull turned and headed off into the grove behind his harem of cows. Stunned by what just happened, my uncles and I finally started breathing again.

I remember firing up our machines and continuing down the trail as that bull watched us from a hillside.

A small elk herd as seen from a DNR spotter plane during my flight with biologists counting the animals in 2014. Photo courtesy Gaylord Herald Times' archives

A small elk herd as seen from a DNR spotter plane during my flight with biologists counting the animals in 2014. Photo courtesy Gaylord Herald Times’ archives

It would be 15 years before I saw another wild elk, despite frequent hikes through the Pigeon River Country State Forest and countless drives through Atlanta, Michigan’s official elk capital.

By no measure are elk the most elusive of animals. Moving in herds and grazing in agricultural clearings, you can’t miss elk when they’re near.

It’s their scarcity that makes them an uncommon sight – fewer than 1,000 animals live across an area covering a few hundred square miles of Northern Michigan. Compare that to whitetail deer which number well over a million across the state. That’s what makes seeing them such a treat for most people who encounter them, whether they meant to or not.

Elk bedded under a tree at the edge of a field in the winter of 2014. Photo courtesy Gaylord Herald Times' archives

Elk bedded under a tree at the edge of a field in the winter of 2014. Photo courtesy Gaylord Herald Times’ archives

To help people in search of elk, the Department of Natural Resources published an online elk-viewing guide with waypoints marked across a map of the Pigeon River Country State Forest, a 110,000-acre tract of public wilderness dead center in the core elk range.

Closest to Gaylord are viewing locations along Sturgeon Valley Road east of Vanderbilt, and Tin Shanty Road northeast of Sparr. There are 13 locations mapped.

Though the DNR says the months of September and October are best for viewing elk, winter months work too since the foliage is gone off the trees and the large, relatively dark bodies of elk stand out against snowy backdrops and agricultural clearings.

Many of the viewing areas are wildlife food plots maintained by the DNR as grazing areas for elk, deer and turkeys, and serve to help keep elk on public land and off private farms where they can cause serious damage to crops.

On that note, the DNR uses hunting as the primary method of keeping the elk population within the 500-900 range. Beyond that number, the herd pushes out into farmland and starts to cause problems, so between 200 and 300 elk are legally harvested by hunters annually — many of whom use guides to help locate the animals during the short fall hunting seasons.

Elk tourism has a strong foothold in the local economy here. When I reported on it for the Gaylord Herald Times in 2013, the manager of the Pigeon River Country State Forest estimated hundreds of visitors come to the forest each year solely to see elk. A log book in the forest headquarters had dozens of entries by folks from all across Michigan, the Midwest, and even British Columbia.

There’s an annual Elk Festival in Atlanta every September and the Chamber of Commerce there focuses much of it’s promotional budget on spreading the word about the herd.

Local farmers and hunters become guides-for-hire come hunting season, when elk hunters lucky enough to draw a license in the lottery seek scouts to improve the odds of filling their kill tags.

Of course, one doesn’t need to be a hunter to seek out or appreciate the majestic sight of a 900-pound elk. One doesn’t even need to venture out of Gaylord’s city limits.

A bull rests inside the city of Gaylord's elk enclosure, where some three dozen animals reside. Photo courtesy Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau

A bull rests inside the city of Gaylord’s elk enclosure, where some three dozen animals reside. Photo courtesy Beccy Quigley

At the end of Grandview Boulevard, east of Gobbler’s Restaurant, is a viewing area for the city’s own elk herd. A few dozen animals live in the sprawling enclosure and often wander near the fences to feed. If you want a really up-close look at these animals, this is the place.

If an adventure into the wild elk’s range of the Pigeon River Country State Forest is more your style, keep in mind most roads there are seasonal – meaning they are not plowed in winter – and there’s a chance of getting stuck. Cell phone reception is hit and miss so don’t count on AAA to bail you out.

Bring a map and GPS, food, water, warm clothes, blankets, a shovel, tow strap, plenty of gas, and emergency supplies along for the journey. Know your vehicle’s limits. A few people get lost or stranded in the Pigeon River Forest every year – don’t be one of them!

Alright, I’m starting to sound like your dad. Go have fun.

Chris Engle is an avid outdoorsman, outdoor columnist and contributor for the Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

Locals Vote Best Chili in Gaylord

 

It’s fall and there is nothing better than a warm hearty bowl of chili.  Chili, with beans or without, spicy or mild, from white chicken, beef or venison; a bowl of chili is just as unique as the individual who eats it.  Eat it alone or pour it over fries and bowl-of-chilibaked potatoes.  Add garnishes like fritos, cheese and/or sour cream and serve it with a side of corn bread.

We have cook-offs, contests, and tail gates to boast our favorite recipes….and in true fashion we asked our readers where their favorite place is to warm their palate on a “chili” autumn day.

The votes are in.  Although a couple of you felt your house was the best place for chili; we doubt you want people showing up on your doorstep.  So, for a tasty bowl…drum roll please… Louie Louie’s BBQ!  Stop in to this deli located on Gaylord’s west side.  Choose from Spicy smoked pork or white chicken chili….mmm mmm good.

For your own version of spicy smoked pork Chili try this 5 Star recipe:

http://www.food.com/recipe/spicy-pork-chili-203800

 

Johannesburg Lake, the gem of the Louis M. Groen Nature Preserve in Otsego County, is seen in early fall. Photo by Chris Engle

A man, a fish sandwich, and his gift to us

Out See Go by Chris Engle, contributor

Let’s start this story way back in 1962.

That spring, with the season of Lent on the horizon, two businessmen were betting that sales of their hamburgers were about to take a hit. Catholics shun meat on Fridays during those 40 days before Easter and there were a lot of Catholics in Ohio who ate at their restaurants.

As the story goes, the two men got creative and made a gentleman’s wager: Whoever sold more of their “burgers” before Easter would earn their new item a place on the menu.

Ray Kroc, obviously a smart businessman since he’s the guy who founded McDonald’s in the first place, hedged his bets with a sandwich that swapped 100-percent beef for a ring of pure pineapple. He called it the “Hula Burger.”

His franchisee and foe in the bet put his money on a Good Friday standby protein: fish. A slab of breaded, deep-fried fish found its way under a blanket of cheese and tartar sauce tucked between two steamed, golden buns.

The reason you never heard of the Hula Burger is because it was trampled by Lou Groen’s “Filet-O-Fish” sandwich. And because I’m writing this on a Friday and was raised by a Catholic mother, I’ve got a good craving going for one right now.

Groen would go on to own many McDonald’s restaurants, along with the company that makes Stop Sticks, those things cops stretch across the highway to puncture a perp’s tires during high-speed chases.

He’d also come into a massive tract of forest and lakes north of Johannesburg and vacationed there regularly with his dear wife, Edna.

 

Johannesburg Lake, as viewed from a popular resting spot for visitors to the Louis M. Groen Nature Preserve. Photo by Chris Engle

Johannesburg Lake, as viewed from a popular resting spot for visitors to the Louis M. Groen Nature Preserve. Photo by Chris Engle

In 2009 Groen, wanting to share his wealth with the good people of Otsego County, approached our local officials about donating this property as a public park. There were a lot of strings attached with the deal – restrictions on use, development and the like – and a lot of meetings were held to sort it all out. “Lou” Groen, then nearly 90, came to each meeting with a sack of piping-hot Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, so many and so often that county officials were tiring of eating them but did anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Much of the 800-acre property is mixed hardwood forest. Photo by Chris Engle

Much of the 800-acre property is mixed hardwood forest. Photo by Chris Engle

 

When all was said and done, 800 acres of forests, trails and lakes became the Louis M. Groen Nature Preserve, a monumental gift to Otsego County and Northern Michigan. Lou died two years later and his wife, Edna, whom I had the pleasure to meet during the dedication in 2009, went shortly thereafter.

That basically catches us up to now and the preserve welcomes guests on foot, bike and horseback to explore its woods and trails. After years of putting it off, I finally went Sept. 30 with my daughter in tow – she rode her half-wheeler as I pulled her behind my mountain bike. Here are my takeaways from the visit.

One of several pieces of rust along "Antique Alley" where old cars and farming equipment have been put to rest. Photo by Chris Engle

One of several pieces of rust along “Antique Alley” where old cars and farming equipment have been put to rest. Photo by Chris Engle

See it in chunks

Unless you’re a triathlete, there’s really no way of covering the entire preserve in one trip. For starters, it’s 800 acres. Secondly, there are 23 miles of trails to see – that’s almost marathon distance – and much of it runs through hills. Take your time and don’t over-exert yourself.

Be willing to explore

One major thing that sets Groen apart from any other trail system I’ve ever explored is the almost limitless choice of route.

While maps there suggest four main trail routes – paths A, B, C or D – there are plenty of “shortcuts” to create your own route. Each path is marked with color-coded posts and each trail intersection is clearly labeled with numbers and wayfinding arrows. Even so, there are dozens of numbered intersections and waypoints which create endless possibilities for new routes. I actually found it a little overwhelming on this first visit and was checking my map often.

Dozens of interpretive signs can be found along the trail, each sharing some information about plants, animals or other features of the property. Photo by Chris Engle

Dozens of interpretive signs can be found along the trail, each sharing some information about plants, animals or other features of the property. Photo by Chris Engle

Layer, hydrate and wear good shoes

There are, at the moment, no paved trails at Groen. The pathways are a network of two-track roads of dirt or wood chips.

If you’re exploring on foot, you’ll want a pair of low-rise hiking boots or running shoes with aggressive tread.

Mountain bikes are a must – street tires won’t be able to handle the soft dirt and wood chips very well. If you’re pushing a stroller, it better be the big-wheeled kind. Leave the rollerblades at home.dsc_0984

I think the best way to see Groen would be on horseback and equestrian riders are permitted one or two days a week. Bikes are not allowed on horse days so make sure to check the weekly schedule. A fall color hike is planned for Oct. 15 from 10 a.m. to noon. Maps of the Nature Preserve >>>

There are restrooms and a drinking fountain at the logging camp which is about a 20 to 30 minute walk from the entrance. You’ll definitely want to bring a water bottle on warm days or if you plan on exerting yourself at all, so plan accordingly. Same goes for clothing – dress in layers so you don’t get too warm.

The ruins of an old logging camp can still be seen with about a 20- or 30-minute walk from the parking area. Photo by Chris Engle

The ruins of an old logging camp can still be seen with about a 20- or 30-minute walk from the parking area. Photo by Chris Engle

That said, I would really love to someday see a paved trail circuit out there. It would not detract from the natural setting and would encourage more people to come see it.

The preserve is located about a mile north of M-32 off Gingell Road, just west of Johannesburg. With fall color season just around the corner, this place should definitely be on your list. And if you work up an appetite, a sack of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches should do the trick.

Chris Engle is an avid outdoorsman and freelance writer in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

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Fall’s mystery mushrooms

Out See Go, by Chris Engle, contributor

By the time I pulled into a faraway spot in the Gaylord Meijer parking lot and unbuckled my seat belt, another couple was already investigating the odd-looking fungi growing at the base of a small tree.

“You guys came to see the mushrooms too, eh?” I asked the husband and wife as they knelt beside the patch of landscaping mulch surrounding the tree trunk. There are dozens of these ornamental trees lining the outskirts of the grocery-store parking lot but only two were graced with stinkhorns this week.

One of the stinkhorns found growing at the base of a tree in a grocery store parking lot. Photo by Chris Engle

One of the stinkhorns found growing at the base of a tree in a grocery store parking lot. Photo by Chris Engle

“Stinkhorn” is one of those less-than-creative names in nature where two of its most obvious features — its smell and shape — were slapped together in a rushed taxological effort to name the thing. Another prime example is Africa’s white-bellied go-away bird, named for its (you guessed it) white belly and a call that kind of sounds like it’s saying “go away, go away!” Whoever named the poor creature really phoned it in that day.

This being my first time seeing a stinkhorn mushroom, I quickly dove in nose first to capture some of its rumored stench in my nostrils. Like a dog sniffing out his preferred potty spot I searched out its scent, with the best-case scenario of actually catching a good whiff of whatever awful aroma it exudes. But stink it did not.

I picked up a broken piece of a fallen-over stinkhorn and held it to my nose. It smelled like rain — it had been raining pretty good those last few days — with a hint of morel mushroom mixed in. Its texture was like a soggy sponge which could be explained by all the pores in its soft, white flesh.

The couple noted the mushroom sort of resembled a morel or, at best, a false morel, but the similarities ended there.

There’s no possible way a picker would confuse a stinkhorn for a morel. For starters, this is fall and morels emerge only in the spring (typically April to June). And while this variety shares a similar color palate with morels, most other stinkhorns are vibrant red or orange — colors usually reserved for inedible or toxic mushrooms.

A kraken-like stinkhorn, its tentacles uncurling from the soil. Photo courtesy kuriositas.com.

A kraken-like stinkhorn, its tentacles uncurling from the soil. Photo courtesy kuriositas.com.

A colorful and geometric variety of stinkhorn mushroom. Photo courtesy nybg.org.

A colorful and geometric variety of stinkhorn mushroom. Photo courtesy nybg.org.

A quick Internet search revealed other people who found stinkhorns growing in their mulch too. It seems the spores reside in the mulch (kept moist inside its factory packaging), grow into a fungus in the landscaped area and, when conditions are right, emerge as a mushroom to produce more spores.

Michigan State University Extension says Michigan’s two native species — stinky dog stinkhorn and elegant stinkhorn — use their foul smell to attract insects which then spread its spores across the landscape. Other plants like the rainforest “corpse flower” use the same strategy.

If you really want to see some mushrooms this time of year, you won’t have to go nosing around a grocery-chain car lot to do so. Check out one of my spots instead.

The first is Pine Baron Pathway down the dead-end Lone Pine Road (off Old Alba Road). The clover-shaped network of trails is host to all kinds of colorful fall mushrooms, my favorite being the red, yellow or orange varieties of amanitas. Also known as the “fly agaric,” these are the traditional fairytale toadstools from the storybooks. Don’t eat them unless you want to chase imaginary gnomes through the woods for the next 12 to 36 hours and risk dying in the process.

The second is HeadWaters Land Conservancy’s awesome Sturgeon River Preserve north of Gaylord on Whitmarsh Road (off Old 27). It’s here I find wispy white ghost flowers, lots of amanitas and all kinds of shelf mushrooms growing across the 40 acres of cedar and upland forests.

Happy hunting! Remember, some of the best fall colors are found looking down.

Chris Engle is an avid outdoorsman and stay-at-home dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

Have You Herd?

Jack Elk 1

Gaylord has it’s very own elk herd.  The Elk Park has over 70 elk, sika and fallow deer contained on 108 acres.  September is one of the best months to observe.  The male bulls are trying to establish dominance for mating with the female cows.  They are very active and make loud vocalizations known as “Bugling.” Their antlers are impressive and can weigh up to 40 pounds.  Some of these bulls weigh over 800 pounds and stand roughly 6’ tall.  The West end of the Elk Park is located at 116 Grandview Blvd. or take a walk on the paved trail in Aspen Park and view the South end.

The DNR also has a list of over 11 elk viewing locations.  Most viewing locations can be accessed by seasonal roads; however, some may require a short hike.  The Pigeon River State Forest is just a short drive from Gaylord.   This 105,000 acre forest is home to the Midwest’s only free ranging elk herd.

For More Information Visit>>>

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National Dog Day, Friday, August 26th

We are celebrating National Dog Day.

Here’s  to “man’s best friend,” from prehistoric Dino to Space age Astro, loveable Lassie, the always hungry Scooby Doo, the gifted Mr. Peabody or the modern day “Max” from the movie Pets. petsThey love us unconditionally and are always there to greet us with the enthusiasm of a Christmas morning.

Here are some recommendations to shower your pup with the tail wagging appreciation and adoration they deserve.  If you’re in the city head over to the “dog park” located at 540 S. Illinois.  For a “woodsie” setting, grab a leash and head over to Aspen Park.   Or, hit one of our many hiking trails and paths.  Afterward cool off with a dip at Otsego Lake State Park in the designated “dog swim area.”  Whether you are here for the day or staying overnight, Gaylord has many dog friendly accommodations.

So today, fill that kong with peanut butter, throw the tennis ball, buy them a new Frisbee, chew toy, or just take them for a ride, 4/55 (four windows down 55 miles an hour)!

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