Tapping into springtime

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor

Songbirds whistled in the crowns of maple trees yesterday to the tune of cordless drills cutting holes into the trunks below.

The morning’s labor marked the beginning of spring for Ivan Witt (pictured above), a maple-syrup maker who draws his raw material – thousands of gallons of crystal-clear sap – from hundreds of trees on a hilly, 10-acre lease north of Gaylord.

Within the forest is a sprawling network of tubes and hoses that spider through the trees like frozen lightning bolts. Each tree within reach of the web will be tapped for its subtly sweet sap. Some trees will get two or three holes, depending on their size, with each one connected to the sap superhighway.

A plastic spile is hammered into a small hole in a maple tree, allowing sap to flow through into a tube and, eventually, to a collection tank. Photo by Chris Engle

A plastic spile is hammered into a small hole in a maple tree, allowing sap to flow through into a tube and, eventually, to a collection tank. Photo by Chris Engle

In between my writing projects last fall and winter, Witt hired me to shore up this infrastructure in the “sugar bush” as he calls it. Much of the weathered tubing needed to be replaced and stowed high enough above the snow pack to keep from being iced in when tapping time came.

Smaller, more traditional maple-syrup operations rely on buckets to catch sap as it drips from spigots on the trees. It’s a lot of work hauling gallons of sap out of the bush this way and, since a bucket can go from empty to full in a single day, this method forces you to work fast to keep from losing sap. Witt’s operation is too big to work this way.

A sap-cicle forms at the end of a broken maple branch where sap has dripped out and frozen. They're a sweet treat when you can reach them. Photo by Chris Engle

A sap-cicle forms at the end of a broken maple branch where sap has dripped out and frozen. They’re a sweet treat when you can reach them. Photo by Chris Engle

Instead, his system relies almost entirely on gravity.

This time of year, as below-freezing nights give way to above-freezing days, trees start pumping stores of sugar from their roots to their bud-lined branches. It’s this sugar that will power the buds as they burst with new leaves and flowers.

Each tap in a tree steals a tiny fraction of that sugar and sends it into the tube. As the sap flows downhill it’s joined by sap from other trees, merging into the network like cars on a freeway onramp. The tubes get bigger and busier as they continue downhill, sometimes skirting the ground or passing over valleys along the way, but all the time maintaining a downward angle.

At the very end is a giant collection tank and the sap empties in like a water slide into a pool. A pump provides an occasional vacuum boost to keep things moving.

A small section of the network of tubing used to link trees together and collect their sap using gravity. Photo by Chris Engle

A small section of the network of tubing used to link trees together and collect their sap using gravity. Photo by Chris Engle

None of this happens without first putting holes in the trees.

Equipped with a power drill and a fresh, sharp 5/16-inch bit, I made my way through the bush with a handful of other guys, stopping at each tree and drilling the requisite holes. Each tap has to go in just right, avoiding circular scars from previous taps and angling the hose for the proper downward angle. Putting taps in the warmer, south-facing side of the tree means sap will flow longer each day.

In a few days, when the collection tank is full, Witt will roll in with his pickup truck and an onboard tank to haul away sap to the sugar shack, the business end of the whole operation. It’s there that the water will be boiled off by the intense heat of a wood-fueled fire, leaving behind the golden-brown delicacy we know and love as maple syrup.

I spent a couple hours tapping trees that morning and got a text from Witt later that evening.

“We finished! Hallelujah!” he said about the tedious task of tapping hundreds of trees. “Do you want syrup in payment or cash?”

That’s an easy answer.

Next up: See what it takes for Witt to turn 12 gallons of sap into a single quart of succulent maple syrup. Chris Engle is an outdoorsman, freelance writer and house dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

‘Tie One On’ to beat winter blues

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor

***Please note: Due to poor road conditions, the ‘Tie One On’ event scheduled for the evening of March 2, has been canceled. The next event is still on for March 16.

Any indication that spring is near has literally gone out the window – I’m looking out one right now and the few patches of bare ground out there have disappeared under a blanket of heavy snow. The lion of March’s slogan, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” is tearing through Northern Michigan today.

Thankfully, a cure for the winter blues is coming up again on Thursday, March 2. It’s the next round of “Tie One On,” a free fly tying workshop hosted by the local Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. It takes place at 6 p.m. at BJ’s Restaurant & Catering on North Center Ave., just past Otsego Memorial Hospital.

Sofia Messinis, of Gaylord, wraps thread around a fly. "I have a kit at home but I haven't tied in a while," she said. Photo by Chris Engle

Sofia Messinis, of Gaylord, wraps thread around a fly. “I have a kit at home but I haven’t tied in a while,” she said. Photo by Chris Engle

The workshop is usually attended by a mix of young and old anglers learning new fly patterns or practicing old ones. The skill level is mixed too – tying equipment is provided to those who don’t have it, and fellow tyers are eager and willing to help those who need a hand. Nonmembers are welcome, and food and drink is available for purchase in an open and inviting atmosphere.

Alex Cerveniak sits at his tying station with a completed fly. He aims a camera at his vise as he works and projects the feed on a screen so others can follow his steps. Photo by Chris Engle

Alex Cerveniak sits at his tying station with a completed fly. He aims a camera at his vise as he works and projects the feed on a screen so others can follow his steps. Photo by Chris Engle

At the workshop two weeks ago, Gaylord’s Alex Cerveniak, president of the TU chapter and owner of Northern Michigan Fly Fishing, used a camera and projector to demonstrate how to tie a rubber-legged stonefly. A live video feed of his fingers and tools at work was projected on the big screen for all others to follow. The pattern was fairly simple, taking only a few minutes to complete, and covered several of the basic techniques needed on any given fly.

Prior to Cerveniak’s demonstration, Gates AuSable Lodge owner and fly-fishing celebrity Josh Greenberg gave a presentation about fishing the AuSable and Manistee rivers in wintertime. Each workshop hosts a speaker and unique fly tying demostration – on Thursday it’s Russ Maddon, fly innovator and guide with Hawkins Outfitters, followed by demonstrations on tying a glo bug and San Juan worm. See the entire series schedule here.

All the flies you tie there are free to take home and, if spring ever comes, you can even try to catch something on them!

Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited is hosting their annual banquet at Ellison Place in Gaylord April 22. Tickets and more information are available here.

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

An Afternoon To Myself

By: SocialJM

My group had plans to hit the trails, so I decided to slip away to Downtown Gaylord in search of an outfit for a friend’s wedding.

Seams Like New

First stop was to fuel up at Seams Like New, an eclectic coffee shop and consignment store.   I ordered a Berry White Latte and relaxed, swaying gently in the hanging chairs.   Other seating options were historical theater seats and old time school desks.  Then I spent some time browsing the art from many local artisans.  The entire back of the store is packed with upscale resale fashions.

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That latte gave me the boost I needed.  Next stop Woolybuggers, this store is huge!  They have beautiful Women’s clothing & accessories, home décor and a selection of mostly Michigan made food products.  The huge selection of dog breed socks caught my eye.  I am now the proud owner of a Springer Spaniel pair.  Found a gift for the wedding here, too!

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Locals told me women love Lilly Rose Boutique for the latest fashions at a great price; I now see why!  Find in season clothing, shoes and accessories here.  Clothes I can wear to work, parties and at home.  They post pictures of new items on social media, and will ship in the USA and Canada, too!

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Sportswear for young men & women can be found at Solli’s Causal Wear.  Now I’m not considered a young woman, but I found plenty that was appropriate for me!  They carry the very popular Sanuk shoes too, known for their comfort.

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I couldn’t leave Downtown Gaylord without visiting Hogan’s Jewelers.  Hogan’s has been a downtown staple for over 50 years.  Their customer service is first class.  I found the perfect earrings to accent my new outfit and a watch for husband!

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A fine day for an ice fishing derby

Out See Go by Chris Engle, contributor

Historically held on one of the worst weather weekends of the year, Saturday’s Youth Ice Fishing Derby instead came with sunshine and a sweet southerly breeze that carried with it 70 young anglers and their families ready to fish Otsego Lake.

Feb. 18, 2017 cast aside any notion of what fishing on a frozen lake is like — numb fingers, cold feet and blistering winds — and swapped them with smiling faces on frolicking children who built snowmen and ate snacks as they “fished.”

The sun shines over the ice out from Otsego Lake State Park Feb. 18 during the annual youth ice fishing derby. Photo by Chris Engle

The sun shines over the ice out from Otsego Lake State Park Feb. 18 during the annual youth ice fishing derby. Photo by Chris Engle

Maybe it was the distraction of snowball fights and cheese puffs but only eight fish, all perch, were caught during that morning’s contest.

It’s not the catch so much as the turnout that makes organizers of the annual tradition happy.

“That’s more kids than we’ve had in a long time,” said Walt Owen.

Bridgette Zeilinger, 9, of Gaylord, and her perch. Photo by Chris Engle

Bridgette Zeilinger, 9, of Gaylord, and her perch. Photo by Chris Engle

Abraham Zeilinger, 2 1/2, of Gaylord, proudly holds his catch. Photo by Chris Engle

Abraham Zeilinger, 2 1/2, of Gaylord, proudly holds his catch. Photo by Chris Engle

That figure is way up from last year, when only four kids turned up to fish in wind chills topping -20. Temperatures this year were almost 70 degrees warmer.

The contest, hosted by the Northland Sportsmen’s Club of Gaylord, is held every February at Otsego Lake State Park. It coincides with Michigan’s Free Fishing Weekend, when all fishing license fees are waived, and the park waives passport fees for the day to allow anyone to take part.

Afterward, a hot dog lunch was held at the clubhouse and awards were given to the day’s top anglers. Winners were as follows:

In the 0-5 age group
Abraham Zeilinger, first fish and the only one to catch more than one — he caught two
Christian Goldsmith, 8 1/2-inch perch
Charlie Zeilinger, 8 1/4-inch perch
Maverick Coburn, 7 1/2-inch perch

In the 6-10 age group
Bridgette Zeilinger, first fish, an 8-inch perch
Ethan Cottrell, 8 1/2-inch perch
Caleb Ferguson, 6 1/2-inch perch

Aiden Sullivan, 4, of Pinckney, waits for a bite while his dad, Joe, chills on the ice.

Aiden Sullivan, 4, of Pinckney, waits for a bite while his dad, Joe, chills on the ice.

Maverick Coburn, 4, of Gaylord, holds up his catch. Photo by Chris Engle

Maverick Coburn, 4, of Gaylord, holds up his catch. Photo by Chris Engle

The Checks family -- Mason, Desi, Connor and Frank (l-r). Photo by Chris Engle

The Checks family — Mason, Desi, Connor and Frank (l-r). Photo by Chris Engle

Sponsors included Jay’s Sporting Goods, Eagle 101.5, Northern Sports Sales & Service, Jack Anderson, Michigan DNR, Gaylord Herald Times, Weekly Choice, and club members who donated their time and equipment.

I’d like to share a personal thank you to everyone who helps in this effort every year, from the cooks who make breakfast for the volunteers and lunch for the awards, to those doling out bait and hot cocoa to little hands. They are heroes in my eyes, helping perpetuate one of Michigan’s greatest outdoor traditions.

For more about the Northland Sportsmen’s Club, visit northlandsportsmensclub.org.

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

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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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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.”

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