The Mystique of Manistique


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End of May to late September
• Farmers Market, Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. at Little Bear West Arena

Mid-June to mid-September
• Music in Manistique, Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m. in Central Park

• Pioneer Day

• Independence Day Celebration: Downtown parade and fireworks over the harbor
• Sault Tribe Traditional Powwow and Summer Gathering
• Schoolcraft County Fair
• Folkfest: Music, art fair and children’s activities
• Trout & Salmon Derby

• Heritage Day: Fayette Historic State Park
• Hops on the Harbor Brewfest

• Fall Fest: Fayette Historic State Park

Manistique Must-Sees

• Kitch-iti-kipi: The Big Spring is a 200-foot pond that reflects the surrounding forest in its crystal-clear, emerald green water. “The Ojibwa called it the Mirror of Heaven, and people really get that when they see that reflection,” Alan Barr says. A viewing well in a self-propelled raft allows a look at giant trout and bubbling water that gushes at a rate of 10,000 gallons per minute from fissures in the limestone 40 feet below. Blue-Mystique guides a paddle trip from Indian Lake to the entrance of Kitch-iti-kipi.

• Fayette Historic Townsite: An iron smelting center from 1867 to 1891, Fayette (in nearby Garden) is now a state park that preserves industrial and town buildings for a glimpse of life in the remote location on the Garden Peninsula. Boaters can tie up for the day or overnight at picture-perfect Snail Shell Harbor. Nearby, The Dock Grill & Bar welcomes boaters on Garden Bay.

• Manistique East Breakwater Light: The brilliant red, 35-foot-tall lighthouse at the harbor entrance was built in 1916 and is now privately owned. “People are taking pictures of the lighthouse all the time,” says Debbie Hase of Trader Bob’s. “It’s a real symbol of Manistique.”

• Manistique Boardwalk: The two-mile boardwalk along the Lake Michigan shoreline is a favorite escape for The Mustard Seed’s Sniders. “We were just there the other day and the clouds were so beautiful — it felt like you could just reach out and grab them,” Bristol says.

• Schoolcraft County Historical Park: The 137-foot-tall, circa 1922 octagonal Manistique Water Tower anchors the Schoolcraft County Historical Park, which includes a log cabin, house museum and vintage fire truck.

• Seul Choix Point Lighthouse: Pronounced sis-shwa, Seul Choix Pointe was named “the only choice” by French voyageurs who found refuge there during a storm. The 78-foot-tall tower is a working lighthouse that visitors can climb.

• 202 Inland Lakes: Alan Barr says of the bounty of inland lakes: “There’s this massive playground for people who want to go off and not see another soul and have the lake to themselves, or who want to go waterskiing and sailing. And we have truly world-class fishing.”

• Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum: The museum in Naubinway displays more than 185 “old and odd” sleds and artifacts. Local volunteers shuttle boaters from Naubinway’s Garfield Township Marina.


The Mystique of Manistique

By Kath Usitalo
Looking for a welcoming Lake Michigan destination that’s got sandy beaches, an up-to-date marina, plenty to see, do, shop, eat and sip within a short walk of the dock — plus natural and historical wonders to explore? There’s an app for that.
When a Taiwanese family of six showed up at the Manistique visitor information center in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Alan Barr was both blown away and gratified to know that his team’s decision to create a Discover Manistique mobile app was a good one. Barr, CEO and executive director of Schoolcraft Tourism & Commerce, says that months earlier the visitors had downloaded the app in their search for a beautiful place to visit in the United States, and they chose this region of the U.P. 

After touring the area for a week, the international travelers — the couple, their two children and one set of grandparents — returned to the visitor center to report that they had thoroughly enjoyed their stay. When the visiting father asked about the magnitude of the Great Lake, Barr told him that if he stood on the beach and looked south, he could wave at people in Chicago, 300 miles away. The family was in awe; they had flown in to Chicago and could relate to the distance. 

“People don’t realize the size of the Great Lakes,” Barr says. “Their depth, the size of the waves, that they have tides — they are really seas. Using the word ‘lake’ does them a disservice.” 

Water everywhere

The city of Manistique is located on the Manistique River where it meets Lake Michigan and forms a naturally open harbor of refuge that, thanks to the constantly flowing 71-mile-long waterway, never freezes. The river, with its headwaters near Lake Superior, was an important resource for Native Americans for centuries before the first Europeans arrived and launched the fur trade in the 1600s. The logging and fishing industries followed in the 1800s. By 1871, the settlement was named after the Monistique River, the Ojibwa word for vermilion, the color of the tannin-tinted water. However, it was registered in error as Manistique and the spelling stuck. 

With all of the timber harvesting going around it, Manistique was a busy lumber port and home of a substantial paper mill, which is now a plant that manufactures recycled paper. The deepwater harbor of refuge is still an active commercial fishing port and base for a tank barge that hauls fuel to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. 

Manistique’s emergence as a tourist destination is relatively recent and important to the local economy. It has sparked new businesses and public and private investment in the community, including the city’s new rave-worthy Manistique Lakeshore Campground. With 50 RV and six tent sites on Lake Michigan, the campground is just west of the breakwater facing the bright red lighthouse that marks the harbor entry. 

The city has also invested in the municipal marina. Dredging of the harbor and constructing a new harbormaster building, showers, laundry and slips necessitated limiting access to the marina through the 2019 season. When it reopens in May of 2020 it will be, Barr says, “just the nicest little marina on upper Lake Michigan. It not only creates the best experience for boaters, but also helps them to stay a little longer, which makes it better for everyone.” 
More than 200 inland lakes — from the 8,400-acre Indian Lake to several in the 25-acre range — dot Schoolcraft County within a short drive of Manistique. 

The coast less traveled

Barr believes interest in the area is growing because people are searching for new experiences. 

“Many of these people are well traveled, they’ve been everywhere and are looking for something they haven’t seen,” he says. “We’ve got amazing places ripe for discovery.” 

Laurie Johnson of Mackinaw Trail Winery & Brewery has noticed an uptick in the number of visitors who are on their first trip to the Upper Peninsula. She manages the Manistique on the Harbor Tasting Room of the first winery in the U.P., which was founded by Ralph and Laurie Stabile in 2004. Housed in an old fishery building next to the marina, the cozy tasting room expands its capacity with outdoor seating where there’s live music every summertime Saturday evening. 

“Being on the water, the view is amazing,” Johnson says as she pours wine, beer and hard cider to a steady stream of new and returning guests. One regular who’s sipping white wine is Elizabeth Douglas, owner of Blue-Mystique across the river at Traders Point. The cluster of businesses at Traders Point also includes the Upper Crust Deli, where the riverside deck seating is in demand, the bread and cookies are freshly baked and three soups are made daily. Steps away, sisters Debbie Hase and Kathy Skok sell nautical-themed home décor items, apparel, jewelry, accessories and gifts, and scoop Jilbert’s ice cream, a U.P. favorite. 

Douglas’ Blue-Mystique caters to “aquaholics,” defined on a T-shirt sold at her shop as having “an uncontrollable desire to be on or in the water splishing, splashing, and paddling away life’s problems.” Blue-Mystique rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, and offers evening, full moon and guided paddles. She also rents bicycles and hosts art classes for kids and adults. Although she lives in Wisconsin, she set up her business in the U.P. to fill a void that she saw on what she refers to as “the coast less traveled.” 

“I just love Manistique,” Douglas says. “It’s a great harbor community. From here [at Traders Point] it’s an easy walk to a nice, historic downtown where there are shops, you can get a good shot of Irish whiskey, or a beer at one of the pubs. It’s relaxed. There are no crowds. I call it the undiscovered coast.” 

The Cedar Street scene

Just a few blocks north of the marina, independent shops and restaurants line Cedar Street, the main vein of the Manistique business district. Kathy Jerde and Cindy King owned The Mustard Seed gift shop for more than 25 years before opening Bostique just a few doors away. The name, a combination of bohemian and Manistique, is reflected in the boho and contemporary merchandise and the store decor, Jerde explains. 

“It’s unconventional Manistique,” she says. “We have an urban, industrial look. It’s unexpected and eclectic.” 

The Mustard Seed was bought last year by Bristol and Jim Snider. Bristol has ties to Manistique — her grandfather worked in the forestry business and she fell in love with the area on family vacations. Their store carries the work of local artists, including beaver chew furniture by Leonad Fieber and ceramics from LaTulip Pottery, plus home goods, jewelry, apparel, baby items and books. Bristol is constantly reminded that they made the right move to Manistique when customers share how impressed they are with the beauty of the area. 

“You have people who are shocked by how gorgeous it is,” she says. 

It’s easy to spend a couple of hours browsing the other shops and grabbing a meal or a beverage along Cedar Street. Lake Effect Community Arts is a local artists’ co-op; Wheaty’s Pub is a known for its variety of wings; Tap21 pours — you guessed it — 21 different beers from its gorgeous back bar; and Cedar Street Café & Espresso Bar is a favorite breakfast and lunch spot. 
At the south end of Cedar Street, two murals greet visitors, each interpreting one word chosen by the local community that defines its vision for the future. The murals are part of artist Mia Tavonatti’s Power of Words project. Kathy Jerde thinks the chosen words, “Imagine” and “Discover,” are appropriate. 

“People who never got west of the [Mackinac] Bridge are discovering the area and realizing how beautiful it is,” Jerde says. “Manistique is evolving. We’re all trying to imagine its future.”

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