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Out, See, Go: My picks for colorful hikes and drives

By Chris Engle, contributor

One thing that’s always amazed me about Gaylord is how I can drive 10 minutes in almost any direction and go from city to country to wilderness in that short window of time.

Sometimes it’s even less.

Here’s a great example: The Alpine Soccer Complex is a huge expanse of manicured turf on Ohio Avenue, one of Gaylord’s busiest side streets. It hosts huge tournaments and regular scrimmages and is a stone’s throw from our hospital and St. Mary Cathedral, the heart of the Catholic diocese for Northern Michigan.

But drive north past the complex and Ohio Avenue abruptly turns into Morgan Road. Soccer fields and residential streets give way to farmland and groves of trees. City water towers become silos and barns.

It’s also the back way to Vanderbilt and the Pigeon River Country State Forest which I learned when my friend’s dad, who coincidentally lives just off Ohio Avenue, took this way on one of my first fishing trips to the Pigeon. Now I have a bit of a special attachment to this route.

Which brings me to my next point: This is the time of year when we’re all scrambling to fit in a colorful drive or hike on a weekend or after work. Thankfully, with Gaylord’s proximity to some great back roads and foot trails, we don’t have to drive an hour just to get somewhere to drive some more.

So here’s my list of great hikes and drives, ranked in order from closest and easiest to farthest and hardest, keeping in mind they’re all within a stone’s throw of Gaylord.

Five Lakes Natural Area

Location: Five Lakes Road, off Murner Road or North Townline Road, 10-15 minutes from Gaylord.

Specifications: 1.1 miles of gentle, narrow trails.

Of all the area around Five Lakes, this nature area is the only public access. It is owned by Gaylord Community Schools and maintained by the Otsego Conservation District as a public place to view wildlife and native plants.

A long dock extends into one of the lakes to offer glimpses of frogs and fish and a beautiful panoramic view of the lake.

More about the nature area can be found here.

Pine Baron Pathway

Location: At the end of Lone Pine Road, off Old Alba Road, 10 minutes from Gaylord.

Specs: Clover-shaped network of trail loops, each about 2 miles long. Two-track trail with gentle inclines is good for walking and biking. Off-road baby stroller friendly.

This is my favorite local hiking trail year round but the best part about this pathway in fall is all the colorful mushrooms.

The hiking/skiing pathway is maintained by the Department of Natural Resources and is as much a logging area as it is a recreational area. Massive stumps line the pathway in some spots as a monument to the historic use of the place. It’s still actively cut each year which generates new growth for upland birds and new stumps for the dozens of mushroom varieties which grow there.

Sturgeon River Preserve

Location: Whitmarsh Road, off Old 27 North, where the road crosses the river.15-20 minutes from Gaylord

Specs: Two short trail loops on 40 acres. The trail is steepest at its entrance.

This is the newest member to the family of hiking trails in the Gaylord area. It was purchased in 2011 from a private landowner and donated to Gaylord-based HeadWaters Land Conservancy with the intent to make it into a public preserve.

Volunteers have been working to build the trails which meander through hilly and rugged country near the river. The trail purposefully steered clear of the fast-flowing Sturgeon River to avoid problems with erosion and damage to aquatic habitat, but the river can be viewed from the roadway and a short stretch of the trial.

A sign at the entrance pays homage to the late “Rusty” Gates, owner of Gates AuSable Lodge and founder of Anglers of the AuSable who was also known to venture north and fish the Sturgeon River.

Just driving here is pretty in itself because of the rolling hills and thick forests of maple trees.

Deadman’s Hill Overlook and Jordan River Pathway

Location: At the end of Deadman’s Hill Road, off US-131, about 4 miles south of M-32 in Elmira. 20-25 minutes from Gaylord.

Specs: 100-yard walk up gentle incline to overlook area. There is also a 3-mile trail loop over steep terrain into and out of the valley, an 18-mile loop for 2-day hikes, and a 1-hour scenic drive through the valley. Outhouse available at overlook.

The overlook is one of the most popular sightseeing destinations in the area because of its unmatched view looking west over the 18,000 acre Jordan River Valley. Even so, there’s plenty of room for everyone to take pictures and soak in the sights.

The trail runs south along the ridge offering a few different vantage points to those who want an easy out-and-back hike of about a mile or so. The 3-mile loop requires commitment, with good shoes, a bottle of water and at least a few hours before sunset. It gets dark fast in the valley.

If you want to see the entire valley by car, Jordan River Road meanders through the whole thing. Get on the dirt road off US-131 just south of Elmira and take it deep into the valley. Good tires and smart driving is helpful in some sandy spots at the beginning.

You’ll have at least three or four good spots to get out and see the river, including the first spot where the river practically pours out from the base of the hill. That is the origin of the river which eventually ends 25 miles away in East Jordan.

Before you leave the valley make sure to stop at the Jordan River National Fish Hatchery which is free and open to the public. The raceway houses are open for viewing some of the 2 million lake trout reared there annually.

That should be enough to get you started. If all else fails get yourself a good map, a tank of gas and a bag of snacks, and go find your own favorite spot.

– Chris Engle is a stay-at-home dad, an avid outdoorsman and outdoor columnist for the Gaylord Herald Times. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

The Ryder Cup is due for a major overhaul and Phil Mickelson is the man to do it!

By GolfPRGuy

After a few days of digesting yet another Ryder Cup loss for the U.S. it is very apparent that the time for major change has come, and Phil Mickelson just might be the person to make it happen.

I was one of the Tom Watson supporters when he was first announced as captain two years ago, and felt he would bring firm leadership and figure out a model to take the cup back home. But after a series of mishaps beginning with picking Webb Simpson, then not putting the rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed back out on Friday afternoon after they whipped a set of Euros in best-ball and finally climaxing when he benched one of the teams best players, its leader, and one of the greatest players in history for the entire day on Saturday, I quickly realized that Watson was way out of his league and not ready for the Ryder Cup in the 21st century.

The bottom line – I’m not sure even if Watson had made the proper decisions that the U.S. could have beaten this European team, which was a combined 110-under-par for the three days compared to just 78-under for the U.S. team. It could have been closer though.

The question remains: What does the PGA of America do moving forward to developing the model to compete with the Europeans? Phil Mickelson made it clear that Paul Azinger’s Pod formula was a successful model to get the job done, which he expressed in the post round news conference by basically tossing his captain under the bus. While I did not agree with the platform Phil used to express his displeasure, he wasn’t wrong. I also can’t say Watson did not deserve Phil’s criticism after he benched him on Saturday. I know Phil is aging, but would Phil Jackson sit Koby Bryant or Michael Jordan out for the first half of an NBA finals game because they might be tired or their shot was off? I think not.

The days of the PGA of America selecting a captain as an honorary entitled position is long over. We need a consistent and successful model moving forward. The U.S. is never going to win every Ryder Cup. The Europeans are great players, but so are we and winning the Ryder Cup more than twice since 1999 needs to change.

I think the formula moving forward is simple, and I think Phil might have been putting himself out there to take over the reigns. The PGA of America needs to have a meeting with Phil, Paul Azinger and Tiger Woods and make Phil the captain for the next five Ryder Cups, along with having Paul Azinger as the co-captain in 2016 and Tiger Woods a vice-captain. Phil and Paul could further develop the pod system that can be carried on for the next twenty years and also implement that Pod system for the Walker Cup and the Junior Ryder Cup.

Tiger Woods would serve as a Vice-Captain, who would still be playing. But he could take the reigns in 2026 after Bethpage and other Vice Captains could include Fred Couples, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley and David Toms. They are all players who can relate to the current players.

Phil could still play in the Ryder Cup, possibly through 2020 at Whistling Straits, but his presence, along with Azinger’s pod system, would develop a Ryder Cup culture for the U.S. that is much needed when competing against the Europeans. Adding in Tiger Woods to that captaincy team for the next ten years and then having him transition into the captain position for another five Ryder Cups beyond that would put the Ryder Cup in great hands and certainly bring the cup back to the U.S. on a more consistent basis.

Out, See, Go: My top-ten favorite outdoor smells

By Chris Engle, contributor

Top-10 lists are kind of silly. Not because of the point they’re trying to make – that these 10 things are better than anything else – but because the order of the rankings is so subjective.

A good example is the “all-time greatest rock songs” list. No matter who’s doing the ranking, be it VH1, Rolling Stone, etc., the top 10 always includes Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” and Lynrd Skynrd’s “Free Bird” in some particular order.

By now you’ve probably ranked these songs according to your own tastes and maybe even discounted one or two.

I don’t blame you – as a 90s kid I automatically put Nirvana closer to the top. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is not the greatest rock song of all time in my opinion but it had a huge impact on my generation and generations since. That’s what earns its place.

My dad taught me that songs or bands can’t be judged solely on whether they were a hit at the time, but by the influence they had on the musicians who followed. Nirvana certainly had that ripple effect.

So, with that in mind, here are my top 10 favorite outdoor smells. Some aren’t that great on their own but made the list because of the memories I associate with them. Nostalgia plays a huge role in deciding what constitutes a“favorite” anything, especially smells.

Speaking of smells, “Teen Spirit” was a contrived brand of deodorant fed to teenagers with cheesy commercials in the 90s. Coincidentally, there were also a lot of sweaty teens in Nirvana’s music video for the song.

Alright, on to the smells:

#10: Campfire

This is an easy choice since about any great camping memory can be triggered by the scent of a campfire. The smell reminds me of roasted hot dogs and good times with friends and family. A campfire brings light and comfort on cool nights and companionship when you’re camping alone.

#9: Fresh-cut cedar

Every September my dad and I rebuilt our duck blind with fresh cedar boughs. The combination of fall air and cedar takes me right back to those early mornings waiting for the silhouettes of ducks to fly in. There’s a reason people put cedar in their closets and in keepsake chests: It smells awesome.

#8: Hot pine needles and sand

When sand gets superheated by the sun it roasts any dead pine needles on top, making the air heavy with the smell of pine. This is a common phenomenon at many state forest campgrounds in Otsego County and the surrounding area and it smells really, really good.

#7: Burnt gunpowder

File this one in the “unpleasant on its own” category. A jar of this scent would probably not be a hot seller but it pairs great with wet grass, fall woods or anywhere else a hunter chases game. It’s the smell of adrenaline in the field. All senses are on alert when this aroma hangs in the air.

#6: Thunderstorm

If there’s anything better than the sound of a good thunderstorm it’s the smell afterward. A regular rainstorm smells great but its hot cousin smells better. A thunderstorm leaves the scent of ozone in its wake which says:“The storm is over, time to go play!”

#5: Tent nylon

A dry tent unrolling at a campsite marks the beginning of a great camping trip. A musty tent still damp from the previous outing marks a not-so-great beginning but it will dry out eventually. Maybe.

#4: First snowstorm

If there’s anything that can relieve the sadness and despair that comes with seeing winter’s first snowflakes (sorry, I prefer the other three seasons), it’s the smell of that snow. The dampness of fall is wiped away and the air takes on a crispness like a freshly opened bag of potato chips, and everyone can agree the first chip tastes best.

#3: Bacon

What’s a camping breakfast without the sweet aroma of bacon frying on a Coleman stove? Also, bacon is totally hot right now and I have no choice but to pander to the pork-wagon. I draw the line at bacon-flavored toothpaste though. Is bacon really that great?

#2: Outboard motor exhaust

This is another one for the “unpleasant” category for most people but I absolutely lust over this smell. It signals the start to a day of fishing and I drink the first cloud of it in like a hot cup of coffee. It is stronger than caffeine but that might just be the oxygen deprivation talking.

#1: Spring rain

The number-one slot is a tough one to fill but a spring rain just has so much working in its favor. A good April shower signals the end of a six-month winter and means that May and June, my favorite months, are just around the corner. The birds are singing, things magically turn from brown to green, and I finally get to wear a t-shirt outside. Man, that feels good!

There you have it. I’d love to hear what you think I left out, what I got wrong, and what I got right. Show me your teen spirit.

Chris Engle is a stay-at-home dad, an avid outdoorsman and outdoor columnist for the Gaylord Herald Times. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

When I Become USGA President I am Changing the Rules of Golf

GolfPRGuy

Over the past 100 years the United State Golf Association (USGA) has claimed to be the guardian of golf and with that to be looking out for the best interest of the players and making sure the rules of the game are enforced.

While I can respect some of what the USGA has done, I believe the organization has actually hindered the modern game and needs to be shaken up and re-organized. Perhaps similar to what is happening to the NCAA right now with college sports.

For example, if the USGA leaders were protecting the game why did they not create rules that set a limit as to how long a golf course could be (say 6,800 yards versus unlimited length)?

Why did they not put the limit on the ball back in the 1980’s when the research was starting to show it could be made to go unfathomable distances? Why do they keep making rules so difficult for the average player to understand?

When I become the next USGA president these are some of the things that I am going to do to protect the game for the next 100 years!

The first thing I am going to do is accept that the USGA is not the only governing body in the game any longer. We may oversee the amateur game, but when our rules cross over into the professional tours and all of the money that is involved in today’s sports world, it is time to work together with other groups in setting the rules. I am going to cross party lines and ask the PGA Tour, PGA of America, R & A, and the Masters Committee to work together and create a ruling body of golf that creates and oversees the rules of the game.

This new five-person committee will re-write the rules of golf to make the game simpler and more fun for everyone to play. When new rules are presented this committee will discuss the positives and negatives, and then vote on adopting the rule with a majority vote. There will be no more one organization making rules decisions that can negatively affect the livelihood or careers of golfers, not to mention making the game easier for everyday players.

Some of the rules that I will push to have eliminated once this committee is formed will be:

For all professional golf events we will eliminate the use of a scorecard and only rely on electronic scoring. In today’s world with the technology available at a PGA Tour event, a major championship or any other professional event everyone knows every score hole-by-hole. That someone can still get disqualified for signing a wrong scorecard and potentially lose thousands of dollars is, well, ridiculous.

For amateur events, if someone signs for a wrong score there will be no more disqualification or penalty stroke. It will simply be corrected.

If a ball comes to rest in a divot then the player will be entitled to free relief. The fact that a player can get relief from a man made obstruction, but not divots that man has been making all day is not right. Had this rule been in place in the 1998 US Open at Olympic Club, the great Payne Stewart might have three U.S. Opens.

Out-of-bounds will be eliminated from the game and the stroke and distance penalty will go away. This is one of the biggest problems with slow play and just because we have to put white stakes out to protect someone’s yard doesn’t mean we have to make the game tougher. I would suggest either allowing a free drop from the stakes, or play everything as a lateral hazard. I will let the committee argue this one!

All hazards will be only one color and players will have the option to drop two club lengths from the point of entry, or go back as far as you want keeping in line the point of entry and the hole, or replay the shot from within one-club length from your previous shot. No one should be confused over color and options anymore, especially Tiger Woods.

I will push for the new rules committee to begin rolling back the yardage on golf courses. The longest a golf course can play in any tournament format will be 6,800 yards and the future handicapping system will only be recognized from 6,800 yards or less. This will hopefully eliminate back tees. If owners across the country all eliminated their back tees tomorrow, pace of play would improve significantly overnight.

This might mean we see significantly lower scores in golf tournaments, but that is ok. Shooting 15-, 20-, or 25-under-par, in my mind, will be good for the game and show the game as being easier and hopefully get more people to try the game. Besides, when was the last time you watched something really difficult on TV and wanted to go try it.

I could probably come up with several more ideas to make the game easier and more fun with new rules, but for now this should keep the new committee busy for the near future.Gaylord Country Club

A memo to all golfers this spring: Enjoy the game regardless of course conditions!

GolfPRGuy

Finally, after one of the longest and coldest winters in history, golf courses in northern Michigan are now open and have apparently battled the elements and avoided the tough conditions many courses in the southern part of the State are enduring.

Many courses have opened later than normal and may take extra time to get their fairways and greens in shape following one of the most brutal winters ever. Golfers heading out to their local courses or making that special golf trip this spring should be prepared to accept course conditions that might not be as perfect as in previous years.

Do not be upset with your local golf courses about the conditioning. It is not their fault. Point the finger at Mother Nature. The upper Midwest experienced some of the worst ice storms and frost levels in more than 100 years. Courses are scrambling and working hard now to get their facilities up to par, but it will take time.

Be happy about getting out and playing this wonderful game. Take time to appreciate all of the good things golf brings to us. One of the problems that the American golfer always has is often called the “Augusta National Effect,” as in expecting every course to match the lush, green landscape they see on television each spring when watching the Masters Tournament. Superintendents, who work in a different climate area and can’t possibly maintain a budget or staff to match Augusta National, deal with very high expectations when it comes to course conditions. It’s ludicrous.

Public and private golfers should take note of the history of golf’s origins overseas in Scotland. Golf is not a game of perfect conditions. Courses overseas are often brown, imperfect and have slower green speeds. Yet, the golfers love to play there, and Americans spend great amounts of money to travel there and play. So why then do we expect so much from our courses and conditioning here? If our courses were brown in a few spots and firm with slower greens, the game can still be enjoyed. It would also be easier and take less time, but that is a story for another day.

For now I suggest to golfers and course operators: Let’s start the season by rolling the ball. Yes, this former PGA golf professional said it. Let’s play “winter rules” through the green this spring, enjoy the game and not be upset about the conditions.

In this era of trying to make the game more enjoyable, easier and make it play faster, this spring would be the perfect time for “winter rules.” This would allow golfers some positive relief and allow them to enjoy the game more.

Be patient golfers. Your superintendents are the best in agronomy and they will get your course back to its prime condition. It will just take some time!

Father’s Day at Wings Over Gaylord

Tiffany Larson

I have to admit, trying to come up with a great idea on somewhere to take my husband for his first Father’s day was haunting me for weeks. Our son was born in December, and in just a few short months we had transformed from a young couple with no children, to a mother and a father. I wanted to be able to give my husband a great day to celebrate all we had accomplished, but between late night feedings and sleep deprivation my creative side was clearly lacking. When I had pretty much given up on making father’s day special, a co-worker mentioned the Airshow that happens in Gaylord every Father’s Day weekend.

I logged online and found out all the information I could on Wings over Gaylord. This is an awesome airshow that features a ton of unique aircrafts including a B-25, a Super Decathlon, and a 942 Consolidated Vultee SNV-1 Valiant. Let me first say, I have no idea what any of these things are, but I can tell you that my husband was ecstatic about all of them! I decided that the best way to celebrate father’s day was to make it a family event, so I purchased tickets for myself and my husband, my in-laws, and my parents so that we could all go together. At only $10.00 a ticket (for a two day show), I could not have found a better deal!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We headed down around 10:00am on Saturday even though the aerial performances did not start until 1:00PM. Parking was very organized, simple, and free! It was a little bit of a walk from parking to the runway, but nothing major. We had a lot of fun just walking around, there were plenty of things to see- and even some inflatable bounce houses for the kids to play on. Not my child of course- he was only a few months old and sleeping very soundly in his stroller. We brought our own chairs and set them up right on the side of the runway and watched the aerial show until 4:00PM when the show ended for the day. It was amazing to be able to see all of the planes up close!

Overall, it was an incredible weekend, and my husband said that it was the best Father’s day gift he could have received.  We are very much looking forward to this year’s airshow. I think we are making it a Father’s Day family tradition. This year I am even more excited because I plan on surprising my husband with a helicopter ride that they do right at the show!  I would highly recommend Wings Over Gaylord to anyone, for a $10.00 ticket you can enjoy two days’ worth of unique entertainment for the whole family.

For golf junkies, nothing can top a visit to the annual PGA Merchandise Show

Treetops2013Jones_0662

For more than 20 years at the end of January, I have made the annual pilgrimage south to the PGA Show in Orlando, Fla.  For someone who resides in the middle of the polar vortex, tired of shoveling snow and annually suffers from cabin fever, the PGA Show is the first sign that golf season is not too far away.

If you are an avid golfer or equipment junkie like me, this is a trip to the equipment Mecca, and it is clearly the “Super Bowl” for golf industry professionals, PGA professionals and owners. If you ever get the opportunity to attend, perhaps with your PGA professional, do your best to make it happen. Offer to drive, even.

The show takes place in the Orlando Convention Center, which is the Superdome of convention centers. It covers more than one million square feet, which also includes over 45 hitting bays and demo areas where clubs and balls can be tested, tried and dreamed about. This happens to be my favorite part of the show.

Whether its trying the new TaylorMade driver, PING irons, Nike putters or a new brand of golf ball, the demo area allows you to try any custom combination of clubs in the business. This is where I figure out “what new piece of equipment am I getting this season.”

Another exciting part of the show is walking the hundreds of aisles, which stretch 1.5 miles from one end to the other. You can check out the more than 1,000 companies showcasing everything from clubs, balls, shoes, gadgets and anything else you can imagine that is golf related. Below are some of my favorite things from this years show:

TaylorMade SLDR Driver – The latest driver by the top manufacturer is as good as advertised. For those looking for a few more yards, the SLDR has one of the lowest spin rates in its class, which equals longer drives.

Titleist and TaylorMade Irons – For you hard-core equipment geeks and good players, I am always excited to see what Titleist and TaylorMade introduces with new irons. The new Titleist AP2 irons and Tour Preferred CB irons by TaylorMade both feature great looks and feel.

Adams Idea Adams golf had the buzz at the show with its new game-improvement irons. This hybrid set of irons with its sole slots enhances the ball speed and launch angle on shots. Overall it is one of the easiest irons to hit on the market.

Sun Mountain Combo Cart – Walking is once again becoming very popular in the game, and one of the coolest pull-cart bag combinations is the Sun Mountain Combo Cart. This light-weight pull/push cart features slots for 14 clubs, big wheels for easy maneuvering, and my favorite, a seat built into the side.

The Golf Bike – This gets my “hot” list award for 2014. Designed by former cycling professionals, The Golf Bike combines fun, fitness, and speed of play into the game. A traditional looking bike with a golf cart built into it and wider tires makes it very simple to get around the course in just around one hour for nine holes.

SwingSmart – This was the coolest technology at the PGA Show. The SwingSmart golf analyzer allows you to connect a sensor to your golf club and then provides you with key stats and a 3D swing analysis through your iPhone/iPad and Android devises.