The Keweenaw’s visitor economy plays a vital role in our region’s quality of life and future prosperity. To keep local leaders and stakeholders current on issues impacting the industry, Visit Keweenaw created this monthly newsletter to share information on topics such as economic trends, destination and community investments, and other pertinent news.
We hope you find this a valuable resource to stay up to date on the Keweenaw’s visitor economy and encourage you to share it with parties you think would benefit from the information. As always, we look forward to sharing what makes the Keweenaw a special community to both live in and visit.
Summer’s not quite over in the Keweenaw. Hitch up your boat and get away for a weekend, or longer.
The Keweenaw is about to experience an uptick in tourism as fall color season approaches. People from the Midwest will migrate north to see our stunning waterfalls, drive routes like Brockway Mountain Drive and enjoy cooler temperatures on Lake Superior. If you’ve been outside or on trails lately, you may have noticed some leaves have already begun to change.
Fall colors will delight any who find themselves in the Keweenaw this fall. Enjoy scenic drives north for stunning views.
“A lot of people are surprised to find out that fall leaf-color season is one of the busiest times of year for the Keweenaw’s visitor economy,” said Visit Keweenaw Executive Director Brad Barnett. “Last year, folks coming to the area spent approximately $35 million during their visits. Traveling from downstate and across the Midwest, travelers come to the Keweenaw seeking outside adventure and an opportunity to connect with friends and family. Not surprisingly, many are alumni of Michigan Tech eager to walk down memory lane and revisit favorite hangouts like the Ambassador, the KBC and other local, longstanding businesses.”
Peak colors in the Keweenaw typically hit hardest the last few weeks of September, and the first week or two of October. Check out our fall color blogs to plan for the ultimate color tour of the Keweenaw.
On Aug. 10, Attorney General Dana Nessel and her team visited with environmental and business leaders in the Keweenaw. Visit Keweenaw’s staff was able to communicate the importance of sites like Houghton-Douglass Falls and the historic allure of the copper towns like Gay and Lac La Belle. Representatives from WUPPDR, The Nature Conservancy, KORC, Keweenaw Land Trust and many other organizations participated.
Michigan AG Nessel on the Bete Grise Preserve. | Photo courtesy of Michigan Attorney General
Visit Keweenaw staff helped lead a tour of Houghton-Douglass Falls, showing Nessel the potential for future recreation and conservation development at the site. Being Michigan’s tallest waterfall – it draws a lot of visitors annually but lacks in road signage, parking and trail features.
These types of visits allow lawmakers to hear from Keweenaw constituents and see what issues face their communities.
Seeking out some of the U.P.’s best wonders – National Geographic spent time this summer in the Keweenaw. Photographer Michael George traveled through Gay to Copper Harbor and stayed at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge before heading to Isle Royale. His crew was able to see the northern lights, mountain bike and capture amazing imagery. You can watch the video and read the article online from their trip.
National Geographic’s interest in the Keweenaw is great recognition for our destination. The content was a partnership with Pure Michigan, who worked with Visit Keweenaw to coordinate the adventure with National Geographic.
Pasty Fest 2023 filled 5th Street in Calumet throughout all four hours of the event. With a bright sun and plenty of pasties to eat, attendees satisfied their hunger and enjoyed a beautiful day in downtown Calumet. Together, vendors report selling a total of over 3,500 pasties.
The introduction of Pasty Fest Art Prize and the Pasty Fest Olympics were well-received and brought excited participants. Opening ceremonies kicked off with performances by the Michigan Tech Pep Band, the CLK Schools Band and Kivajat Finnish Dancers.
Main Street Calumet Executive Director Leah Polzien says this year’s Pasty Fest raised over $10,000 for Main Street.
“We were so happy with this year’s event,” said Polzien. “The weather cooperated, and we had an excellent turnout. It was wonderful to see everyone enjoying the pasties, the competitions and downtown Calumet in general.”
State Representative Greg Markkanen joined Polzien on stage for opening ceremonies. Markkanen spoke to the culture of pasties and his appreciation for Calumet. Polzien presented Markkanen with a “Keweenaw Pasty Trail Certificate” – allowing him to officially claim legendary pasty trail status.
“Cousin Jack” greets fans in the crowd during Pasty Fest.
More events, games and a new layout drew lots of media attention – popping up across Midwest outlets like the Detroit Free Press and even as south as KPRC Houston and WPLG Maimi. Word of mouth can influence people and when it comes to showcasing the unique charm and vibrant culture of our Keweenaw communities – it increases the odds of attracting tourism.
This year’s media coverage highlighted the growing popularity of the event and showed the role it can play in attracting visitors from across the nation.
Main Street Calumet and Visit Keweenaw thank all who attended, vended, competed or volunteered at Pasty Fest 2023. The crew hopes everyone left full and satisfied with cherished memories of a weekend filled with pasty perfection and camaraderie. Pasty Fest continues to be a treasured tradition in the hearts of Keweenaw locals and visitors alike. If you missed out on the fun, make sure you look for next year’s Pasty Fest.
The Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts, Michigan Tech Visual and Performing Arts Department and Visit Keweenaw recently announced the launch of “Pay As You’re Able Ticketing” for the Rozsa’s upcoming season.
Pay As You’re Able Ticketing helps get rid of financial barriers and allows more access to performing arts. Guests will pay what they can afford for tickets. The model shows a range of pricing options based on peoples’ circumstances.
“We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a night out to see a great show, regardless of their financial situation,” said Mary Jennings, Rozsa director. “With feedback from our audience over the last year, we’ve designed Pay As You’re Able with the goal that no one has to miss a show because they can’t afford tickets.”
See a show soon at the Rozsa. | Photo courtesy of MTU Rozsa
Visit Keweenaw believes live performances add to the value of a destination, like the Keweenaw. The unique ticketing method makes shows less intimidating financially to visitors, area residents and first timers to the Rozsa. Performances make for memorable souvenirs and allows people to engage with the arts at affordable rates.
"It’s amazing the Rozsa Center is launching its ‘Pay As You’re Able’ program to make world-class cultural and entertainment opportunities accessible for all," said Visit Keweenaw Executive Director Brad Barnett. "It really demonstrates their leadership in making the arts more inclusive and continues to showcase their commitment to our community and visitors."
Tickets moved so fast for an announced Charlie Berens show at the Rozsa, that a second, later showing has been added for 10 p.m. on Nov. 10.
"We are absolutely thrilled that Charlie was open to a second show," said Mary Jennings, Director of the Rozsa. "We knew so many more people in our community wanted a chance to see Charlie and we are grateful to the community partners who jumped in to make sure that we are able to offer this second show!”
Visit Keweenaw, Iron Fish Distillery and Copper Queen Whiskey, Braveworks, Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Houghton and Late Night Programming partnered to make the second show happen.
Tickets already appear to be sold out for the second show online.
In late July, an accessible kayak launch was installed on the Sturgeon River at the US-41 bridge across it. Just before the bridge if you’re coming from Houghton, you’ll find an access road to the launch across from DP construction. Keith Meyers, vice-chair of the Chassell Township Planning Commission says there was huge demand for river trails.
You can easily get in and out of your kayak with this accessible launch. Use side bars to push yourself into the water with control.
Visit Keweenaw helped pay for interpretive signage and a $20,000 recreation grant from Copper Shores Community Health Foundation assisted with the project and installation.
Visit Keweenaw helped pay for interpretive signage at the kayak launch in Chassell through Destination Development Awards.
Now, people can put in at the Sturgeon River, and enjoy a paddle. Meyers is also president of the Chassell Historical Organization and has been heavily involved in the whole process of the Chassell Historic Trail.
You can make a loop from Chassell’s Centennial Park and walk the path of a former lumber mill, learning about its history as you go. Check out the Keweenaw Time Traveler maps and interpretations to take a step into the past.
Houghton gained a mural on a parking structure across from the Vault Hotel. The refreshing piece, called “Midsummer”, gives a taste of all things summer in the Keweenaw.
Houghton’s new mural “Midsummer.”
The city of Houghton paid for the mural with funding from the Vault Hotel and a $4,000 Destination Development Award from Visit Keweenaw. The Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts coordinated the artist application and review process.
Destination Development Awards are used to make investments in community infrastructure to improve a destination’s ability to attract visitors and enhance their experiences. Visit Keweenaw encourages local projects like “Midsummer” to bring color and life to the Keweenaw. Houghton’s mural will greet visitors and residents for years to come as they make their way into the area. Across from the Vault Hotel, pedestrians and drivers will enjoy this cheerful display.
Partnering with the UP Superior Alliance for Independent Living, members of the Accessible Keweenaw Initiative (AKI) completed 15 site assessments to identify opportunities to reduce mobility barriers. Site assessments included popular attractions like Brockway Mountain Drive, McLain and Fort Wilkins State Park, the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, Ray Kestner Park, and several others.
Assessing McLain State Park for mobility barriers.
“We’re really excited to be a part of this initiative and help bring in expertise to address accessibility challenges in the Keweenaw,” shared Brad Barnett, Executive Director of Visit Keweenaw. “It’s been incredible to see how enthusiastic community members are about tackling the topic of accessibility.”
AKI is funded through support from the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation providing a grant from their Community Impact Fund and the Herman "Winks" Gundlach Fund held at the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation.
Visit Keweenaw works with travel writers and destination promoting outlets to reach visitors through each season. As a destination authority, Visit Keweenaw will often coordinate parts of the person’s travel to the area and can help plan experiences.
John “Gonzo” Gonzalez adventured north to take on the Keweenaw Pasty Trail. Gonzo’s content featured pasties from Slim’s, Roy’s, Amy J’s and the Mohawk Superette. It will be shared on Pure Michigan channels as well as Gonzo and co-host Amy Sherman’s outlet Behind the Mitten.
In late July, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Pure Michigan collaborated to feature Chicken Tramper Gear in a campaign. Visit Keweenaw hosted photographers Drew Mason and Kyle Gilmore on a photoshoot of Hungarian Falls. Visit Keweenaw coordinated models for the shoot and lead the hike into the falls.
In early August, Stephanie Pearson from Travel + Leisure took a week-long visit to Isle Royale National Park and the Keweenaw Peninsula. Isle Royale Seaplanes, Rock Harbor Lodge and Visit Keweenaw handled Pearson’s lodging, transport and charter fishing tour on Isle Royale. While on the mainland, Visit Keweenaw hosted her in Houghton and Copper Harbor and set up a guided mountain bike tour.
Keweenaw Brewfest made its awaited return this year. Drawing beer lovers from near and far, the Rotary Club of Houghton says it’s happy with how the event turned out. A warm day brought out waves of people across the Keweenaw. Attendees were able to take in a beautiful day along the Houghton Waterfront.
“The weather was hot, but the brews were cold,” said Patricia Leopold, with Rotary Club of Houghton. “Over 1,300 people turned out for the return of Brewfest on Saturday, Aug. 19. Some of the most popular beers were tapped out early, but there was a huge variety of new beers and old recipes for Brewfesters to try. Almost a hundred volunteers were on hand to ensure the event ran smoothly and customers were satisfied. The Rotary Club of Houghton is grateful to our sponsors and everyone who made Brewfest a success.”
The Brewfest team looks forward to seeing everyone again for next year’s event. This was the 11th Keweenaw Brewfest. Keep in touch with Rotary Club of Houghton on Facebook.
Fort Wilkins recently celebrated its 100th year as a Michigan State Park. Each year, it welcomes campers to enjoy beautiful summer days in Copper Harbor. For history lovers, the story at Fort Wilkins began in 1844.
Fort Wilkins State Park is a magnificent place to spend your summers and has endless history to explore and experience.
Michigan History Center Historian Barry James says “Fort Wilkins was intended to keep law and order during Michigan’s copper rush. The fort complex includes 19 buildings, 12 of them original structures from the 1840s. Today, the fort serves as an excellent example of a mid-19th-century military post.”
James explains the fort housed troops from 1844-46 and again from 1867-1870. To learn more about the history of Fort Wilkins, see this article by James.
If you’re planning on camping in Copper Harbor, consider Fort Wilkins for your next stay.
“Tour Da Yoop, Eh!” bicyclists summited Brockway Mountain Drive around noon on Tuesday, Aug. 1. The peak was the half-way point of a 10-day, 1200-mile ride around the U.P.
Tour Da Yoop, Eh cyclists reach the peak of Brockway.
Riders climbed grades as high as 11%, pushing their limits. The thrilling adventure serves as a fundraiser for a childhood cancer program and takes riders to beautiful destinations like the Keweenaw.
If you’re interested in joining next year – visit Tour Da Yoop’s website for more information.
The Michigan Nature Association (MNA) and nature enthusiasts from the public celebrated the Estivant Pines’ 50th anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 17. In the afternoon, a dedication and ribbon cutting were held to celebrate 50 years with the MNA and recent trail improvements. New culverts, boardwalks and graveling were installed to improve deterioration from use over time.
The Estivant Pines is a beautiful sanctuary full of wildlife, plants and mature white pine trees.
Fans of the Estivant Pines were able to take a GeoHeritage Walk with Erika Vye, Michigan Tech Geoscience Research Scientist and go through a self-guided scavenger hunt.
Enjoy the newly improved Estivant Pines on your next trail outing.
Open Skies Project hosted its first event on Saturday, Aug. 12. If you’re not familiar, Open Skies Project is the group of Michigan Tech alumni that is restoring and giving tours of the abandoned Calumet Air Force Station. Sitting atop Mount Horace Greely, the highest natural point in the Keweenaw, Open Skies welcomed in the public for a Perseid Meteor Shower viewing.
Dr. Robert Nemiroff, a Michigan Tech Astrophysicist led the viewing party after dusk, sharing his expertise.
You can see Mount Bohemia from Mount Horace Greely on top of an old radar station tower. For those who don’t fear heights, it’s an optional final part of the tour.
“As the Open Skies Project nears the two year anniversary of the purchase of the former Calumet Air Force Station,” said Zachary Garner, with Open Skies. “We are proud that the culmination of clean up efforts during that time has allowed us to expand public availability of this unique and historic site. We were honored by the opportunity to host Gratiot Lake Conservancy and Dr. Robert Nemiroff from MTU.”
The 30th Annual Copper Harbor Trails Fest, an exciting annual event hosted by the Copper Harbor Trails Club, takes place Sept. 1-3 in Copper Harbor. Outdoor enthusiasts of all ages will find a variety of races, music, beer and good times.
The course changes each year to take riders down new trails, ensuring a fresh and challenging experience on intermediate to advanced level singletrack. The Super Short XC is brand new this year. Both the short and long distances will showcase stunning scenery, significant climbs and diverse trail types in Copper Harbor.
A rider from Trails Fest 2022 lives life on the edge in Copper Harbor. | Photo courtesy of Chris Schmidt
If you’re not racing, consider volunteering to help the event run smoothly. You’ll get a free entry to the music, a swag item and free food/drink tickets for your efforts. See the website for more information on every aspect of Trails Fest 2023. Visit Keweenaw invites riders from near and far to adventure north this September and enjoy Copper Harbor’s top-tier trail system.
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