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.
In this Newsletter:
Visit Keweenaw worked with Pure Michigan and National Geographic on two projects this summer. Earlier in the year, National Geographic traveled with a team to take on Isle Royale, and this September, Pure Michigan was in Copper Harbor filming mountain bike content. These partnerships can bring incredible value and create content and information that drive tourism to the area. Pure Michigan and National Geographic both channel massive audiences which lead to great exposure for the Keweenaw.
Pure Michigan brought a large crew to capture stunning mountain bike moments on Brockway Mountain.
Fall is the busiest stretch of the year for Keweenaw businesses, attractions and lodging. That’s partly a result of the stunning natural beauty of the area that turns full circle each year. It’s also because of efforts to showcase recreation options and scenic views to tourists or travelers looking for the ultimate autumn color tour. The Keweenaw’s offerings are unmatched by other Midwest destinations.
Brands like Pure Michigan and National Geographic come up, create incredible content and then share to their audiences. With continued interest on both ends, these partnerships can lead to long term growth of a destination, and help sustain its tourist economy. National Geographic’s content launched in the middle of summer, getting people excited for adventure. Now that fall is here, there couldn’t be a better time to get outside.
Visit Keweenaw continues to work with destination supporting entities like Pure Michigan and National Geographic. It also coordinates visits with travel writers and social media influencers to reach wider audiences year-round.
774 mountain bike enthusiasts participated in the 30th Annual Copper Harbor Trails Fest. Copper Harbor Trails Club Executive Director Nathan Miller says it was the largest turnout in event history. Over Labor Day weekend, riders were able to enjoy the beauty of Copper Harbor and its trail systems while supporting Keweenaw businesses. Trails Fest brings a large number of travelers and is a great end-of-summer boost for the area.
Every enduro sold out this year at Copper Harbor Trails Fest. | Photo Credit: Chris Schmidt
Enduros at Ride the Keweenaw and Copper Harbor Trails Fest are part of the Lake Superior Gravity Series. The series of shoreside rides rotates between Marquette, Duluth and the Keweenaw and scores riders based on their performance at each event. The partnership between the trails clubs allows for thrilling courses with a larger attendance and can help drive participation.
Both the Downhill and Enduro events filled to the maximum this year.
Visit Keweenaw aims to break the world record for most people wearing plaid in a photo at the Houghton High School Football Field on Oct. 6 @ 12:45 p.m. Visit Keweenaw ordered 2,000 Keweenaw Plaidurday Celebration wristbands for attendees and plans to beat a Canadian record of 1,359 set in 2019. Staff will be counting participants and organizing them into a photo-friendly layout. All are invited and welcome. The Michigan Tech Pep Band will perform on the field.
Attendees will be given a free raffle ticket to win two tickets to see Charlie Berens at the MTU Rozsa on Nov. 10 @ 10:00 p.m. Visit Keweenaw is partnering with the city of Houghton and Houghton High School to make the Plaidurday event successful.
Brockit inc. will be taking the photo and Guinness World Records has been notified. Join in on the world record breaking attempt in Houghton Oct. 6 @ 12:45 p.m.
New businesses appear to be popping up in Calumet in recent years. Frozen Farms owners opened The Copper Scoop, East Fork Pasty Co. is keeping customers satisfied and lined up each day it’s open and Keweenaw National Historical Park tours are in high demand. Residents can enjoy a plethora of offerings, and tourism is helping fuel the growth.
Copper Island Clay Works opened on Fifth Street in 2021 in the old Rowe Furniture building while its permanent location was being renovated at 201 Fifth Street. It got its keys in January 2023 and held a soft opening. Owner, operator and artist William Thompson says the evidence is undeniable that tourism helps fill streets and keeps businesses operating in the village.
“My experience operating in Calumet has been great,” said Thompson. “I have formed relationships with other local businesses, as well as local art collectors and of course, had many tourists visiting and buying local art. As a Copper Country native and Calumet High School Graduate, it has been quite exciting to witness and take part in this recent rebirth of our small town.”
Thompson says he plans to hold an official grand opening by spring/summer of 2024.
“Copper Island Clay Works is my ceramic art studio and a fine art gallery featuring fine art created by local fine artists. It is operating out of one of the most historic structures in Calumet, built in 1868,” added Thompson.
In fact, Calumet was voted Michigan’s best “Main Street Shopping District” by Cheapism in 2022.
“The motto of Calumet in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is "respecting our past, building our future" — evident in the friendly Sixth Street downtown hub. In summer, Pasty Fest celebrates the Cornish food devoured by miners a century ago. In winter, Christmas in Calumet typically features caroling and horse-drawn carriage rides. No matter what time of year, there's dining and shopping in this town of about 650 people.”
Good things are happening in the village of Calumet.
Keweenaw Coffee Works Owner Valerie Baciak has held her spot on Fifth Street for 10 years. She says she thinks its great to see more small business owners take the leap and open their doors.
“I really think a lot of what’s happening is focusing around food and beverage,” said Baciak. “It’s really great to see people coming into the community and being creative. We’ve got Kitschy Spirit with the record store, and Copper Island Clay Works is high-end. We have the great farmer’s market that’s really exploded over the past few years.”
Baciak knows the impact of tourism on Calumet businesses. During the summer, you’ll find a steady stream of travelers in town. Calumet explodes into life during the CopperDog 150 and Pasty Fest, where you can expect to find people wandering from the Keweenaw National Historical Park Visitor Center to the Calumet community gardens. These visitors and residents can spend more time in Calumet at businesses than they could five to ten years ago.
“There’s more occupied buildings with people really wanting to have a small business and I think the small businesspeople are leading the charge and revitalizing this town,” concluded Baciak.
Main Street Calumet Executive Director Leah Polzien says she’s also seen the effects of tourism fueling a charge in Calumet. Polzien works to promote, develop and preserve the village. Working with Visit Keweenaw Main Street was able to grow Pasty Fest in 2023, tripling its historic fundraising amounts. Marketing the event heavily outside the area drew many to the Keweenaw to see Calumet during Pasty Fest.
“Calumet is a very small town full of history, great architecture and great people,” said Polzien. “It’s great to see the wider world recognizing the unique experience our downtown provides and we’re excited to watch it grow!”
Polzien says Calumet is a welcoming place for all types of businesses to establish.
“Our downtown district provides a range of products and services from outdoor gear to fantastic gifts to artisan meat and coffee,” said Polzien. “We have a great mix of multi-generational businesses and newcomers who make shopping in downtown Calumet a unique experience.”
Like the small business charge Polzien and Baciak reference, the Keweenaw’s last historical economic “boom” was copper mining. A desire to learn more and see the history firsthand leads many to the Keweenaw National Historical Park Headquarters in Calumet.
"Tourism has been a part of the local economy since the 1850s,” said Jo Holt, KNHP Historian. “When steamboats carried travelers on sightseeing trips across Lake Superior and to the Keweenaw, where they hiked and explored the woods, and even visited copper mines. It's exciting to see that tradition continue, with more people coming and discovering a growing downtown and learning the history of places like Calumet."
In Calumet, a renaissance is underway, fueled by strong tourism and lead by entrepreneurship of new businesses. From the Copper Scoop to East Fork Pasty Co., and from the stories of the KNHP to the eclectic charm of Kitschy Spirit, a remarkable resurgence is underway. The fusion of tradition and innovation combined with tourism and local pride will continue to shine a light on the Keweenaw’s gem, Calumet.
Destination Development Awards are presented annually by Visit Keweenaw. The awards help other nonprofits or local governments make improvements like fixing trails, installing signage and restoring historical structures. A prime spot this summer for development and increased tourism is the Painesdale Mine & Shaft.
Using funding from a Visit Keweenaw destination development award and other sources, Painesdale installed interpretive signs for self-guidance on the cement pad left from the demolition of an old chlorination building. A new bench was installed for visitors to enjoy the great views on the property and areas of vegetation were cleared to improve sights around the shaft house. Painesdale is unique and does not offer underground tours but takes you above ground into higher levels of the shafthouse.
Stop by the Painesdale Mine & Shaft and learn more about the site’s history through new interpretive signage. | Photo Credit: Painesdale Mine & Shaft Inc.
“The upper levels have been very well received and everyone is impressed when they make it up there,” said Michael Prast, President of Painesdale Mine & Shaft Inc. “It provides something different even for those who have done mine tours in the past.”
Prast has a background in engineering and helped map out reconstruction of flooring and support structures in the upper levels – allowing for safe tours.
“We have had an increased number of visitors compared to last year and a couple extra larger groups requesting private tours,” continued Prast. “Which include a rock and mineral club from downstate, large family groups with ties to the mine, middle school classes, college students, etc.”
Prast says proper, interpretive signage has already paid off.
“The sign has been in for only a couple weeks now, but it has seen a lot of traffic from people using the ORV trail,” said Prast. “They pull up and at least read the sign to get a little history lesson before moving on. A couple groups have come up to the upper level to take a tour when they see our open sign. With our tour times limited, the sign certainly adds a nice element to people that come by the site on off times so they can still learn about our organization and about the site they are looking at.”
Prast adds that there are new trails open around the site, encouraging people observe the multiple historic structures. In addition to expanding the upper-level tours, the Painesdale Mine will continue expanding on signage to aid in afterhours learning.
“The colors are changing and after a two-week lull after Labor Day, the color rushers seem to be coming up,” concluded Prast.
Visit Keweenaw is on a quest to uncover resident thoughts on tourism. While Visit Keweenaw markets the area as a travel destination, it understands that residents play a role in its long-term sustainability. The public is invited to fill out this survey. The insight is critical to help find a balance between promoting tourism and preserving the unique character and land that is the Keweenaw.
The survey will gather thoughts, opinions and suggestions about tourism in the Keweenaw. Visit Keweenaw wants to understand how residents perceive tourism and how they believe it impacts the community. Input will help guide decisions to ensure tourism benefits visitors as well as residents. A lucky survey taker will win $100 in Keweenaw Cash.
Pasty Fest 2023 was a huge success. After a closer look at event data: the economic impact of Pasty Fest is clear. The two busiest times of year in Calumet are the CopperDog 150, and Pasty Fest. Thousands filled the historic village’s streets enjoying the Keweenaw and all things pasty.
Pasty Fest 2023 brought an Olympic opening, with flaming trumpets, Finnish dancers and the CLK and MTU Pep Bands. | Photo Credit: 2nd Sandbar Productions
“The Copper Scoop ice cream store did very well,” said Nathan McParlan, an owner of Frozen Farms Co. and the Copper Scoop. “It did twice as much business as our highest day previously. In fact, I made a bunch of thimbleberry ice cream, and we sold out during Pasty Fest. It was going very fast.”
Keweenaw Coffee Works also always plans for a successful day on Pasty Fest. The shop announced a special menu ahead of the festival – driving sales. Main Street Calumet says over 3,500 pasties were sold through the afternoon from vendors. People love good food and when the weather gets that hot, they need something to cool down.
“The heat played a part in that,” said McParlan. “Ice cream is portable, it goes well with the festival. You can walk around and eat ice cream and look at things. We also did gyro sandwiches during the farmer’s market that morning and those did well.”
Merchandise sales were in hot demand this year, driving fundraising efforts and putting Pasty Fest on display for all. Between merchandise, sponsorships and pasty sales Main Street Calumet tripled its historic fundraising goal. Visit Keweenaw joined the Pasty Fest crew this year, helping plan, execute and tear down the event from start to finish. Deploying an aggressive media marketing plan, Visit Keweenaw helped generate immense interest on social media and saw articles run on news stations as far as Texas and Florida.
Using data from the media monitoring tool Critical Mention, Visit Keweenaw can estimate online, radio and television coverage or mentions of Pasty Fest were able to reach nearly 6.5 million people. That interest began to go up as early as June, as people look forward to their favorite summer activities. Coverage continued from June, peaking in the days surrounding the event and after with results and photos.
With the reach and quality of media circling Pasty Fest online, Critical Mention values the publicity at about $130,000. Investing effort into events like Pasty Fest proves the capacity to grow Calumet’s offerings and continue bringing in new customers for business owners.
On Sept. 14, Visit Keweenaw staff and Keweenaw Young Professionals volunteers hosted a Hospitality Appreciation Celebration. Tom Katalin was hired for the evening to play some relaxing tunes on the Portage Canal at the Ray Kestner Waterfront Park. From 4-7 p.m., a summer of success was celebrated by everyone who works hard to promote and showcase the Keweenaw. ATV Club members, business owners and other members in the recreation/tourism industry were able to enjoy a grill-out on a beautiful evening.
Visit Keweenaw thanks all the wonderful leaders and employees who make the Keweenaw a special place to visit and live.
Visit Keweenaw hopes everyone had a great time at its hospitality picnic and has received positive feedback from multiple attendees. We look forward to seeing you again soon!