This will be our fourth year in a row coming to the UP, and our third participating in the big Marquette Downtown Farmers and Artisans Market. Since August is peak market season, in previous years we usually had to wait until late in the week to receive confirmation a vendor space was available. We avoided that this year with a rare bit of long term planning, having submitted our vendor application at the same time as all the full season vendors back in early May. Market manager Myra was confident we would be able to fit into the seven Saturdays we requested, the first being August 3.
We had a few days to spare before then, so we left Deb and Steve’s house in Lansing and made one final Lower Michigan stop at Otsego Lake County Park, which positioned us but a short drive from the Mackinac Bridge which connects Lower and Upper Michigan. The first thing to note here is that Otsego Lake County Park should not to be confused with Otsego Lake State Park (the other side of the lake and more expensive) or Otsego Lake Township Park (no campground.)
Staying in this park enhanced our conviction that county parks are the hidden gems of parks. We prefer publicly owned facilities because they are much more likely to be “in nature” rather than looking like a suburb or cleared field with concrete pads as so many private “resorts” do. On the public side, national park campgrounds tend to be run by concessionaires that jack the prices and shrink the spots so you are cheek-by-jowl with your neighbors (I’m looking hard at you, Fishing Bridge Campground in Yellowstone National Park.) State parks are generally fantastic but they are well known to all the locals and easily researched by tourists, so the good ones can be difficult to reserve during peak times.
County parks, now that’s where it’s at: usually very similar to state parks in that they have big sites full of nature, and usually more readily available and cheaper than the state park options. In this case, we paid an even $30 per night for our power and water site. The state park across the way looks like it has the same cost, but adds a reservation fee ($8) and requires a Michigan State Park passport for both the motorhome and the tow vehicle, a double hit about which I have previously complained.
We enjoyed two quite days in our forested site near the lake, though Rosemarie was in full market preparation mode, particularly with her Cricut machine. We left late morning of the third day and made the 2 1/2 hour run up to Seney Township Campground, crossing the Mackinac Bridge which divides Lake Michigan to the west from Lake Huron to the east about half way into the drive.
We could have pushed on another half hour to Grand Marais, but we decided on a two day stop in Seney because it would shorten our early Saturday morning car drive to Marquette for the market from two hours to ninety minutes, and the return trip as well, of course. Additionally, the tiny park (15 electric only sites plus a tent area) has a nice river running right beside the campground, is first come first serve (which we prefer) and costs only $15 a night!
It worked out perfectly. We were able to sleep past dawn (which is when the cat starts trying to wake us up for breakfast anyway) and made the traffic free 90 minute drive early enough such that we were able to meet up with Myra and get set up with time to spare. She assigned us what turned out to be a fantastic spot next to the one of the very popular baked bread vendors, so we had a constant flow of people. On good weather days this market has consistently high turn out with shoppers eager to buy from before the official start time until the final minutes or beyond. It is easily our best weekly market, beating out every other one we have done across multiple states and provinces, and sometimes even tops our special event totals.
It’s not just a great market for vending: we also look forward to shopping their every single visit. I am a regular for the mushroom guys (that’s right, there’s two of them) not just because I love fresh farmed shiitake, oyster and lions main fungus, but also for wild foraged finds: chicken of the wood, lobster, and chantelle that, like the famous morel mushroom, can’t be farmed. Rose hits the kombucha booth every visit; they bring three flavors to choose from that change up week by week.
The various bread vendors provide breakfast or lunch (usually a delicious cheese and jalapeno pinwheel for me, and hot large pretzel with mustard for Rose.) And finally, Rose will, on occasion, make a modest selection from one of the several fresh cut flower vendors to decorate our home. Oh right: there are so many produce vendors selling the very freshest fruit and veggie options: heirloom tomatoes and giant garlic, micro greens, bok choi and leafy lettuce, wild blue berries fresh picked and carefully cleaned of stems. Not enough for you? How about: every week there is live music and usually a gourmet food truck.
Giddy from our success, we made the drive back to Seney with a stop in Munising, intending to visit the local Moose Lodge. We arrived some 15 minutes before it was to open, so we sat in the parking lot while I used the time to reactivate my membership which had expired a couple of weeks back. We snagged a delicious and filling taco from the food truck across the street, and then I happened to take a closer look at the Moose’s main parking lot sign: yes, they would open at 3 pm, but only on Tuesday through Friday. It was closed Saturday through Monday; in the score of lodges we have visited, never have we seen one that closes on the weekend. A bit flummoxed, we headed across the street to the Barge Inn for a drink before continuing on to Seney.
We made preps to leave the next morning, bound for Grand Marais’ Woodland County Park, but Seney had one more surprise for us: the mine sweeping score to end all mine sweeping scores. “Mine sweeping” is the term we were introduced to earlier this year that describes the campground activity of checking empty sites for left over firewood. A lot of campers buy or otherwise acquire more than they need, and don’t feel like hauling it back to their abode at the end of their stay. Perhaps they live in an apartment, or don’t have a fireplace or fire pit. Who knows? It is common enough that I have not purchased wood in a long time, because I am willing to mine sweep.
Anyway, the tent group beside us that had already departed left behind a big stack of wood. Most of it pine, but with some hardwood mixed in, with a nice size spectrum from big kindling to full sized split logs, and nearly all of it very dry. This was ideal since I had burned or abandoned all of ours in preparation for crossing the US Canada border. I scooped up every bit I could fit in our limited storage area, and put the rest in Loki’s passenger seat and floor board. Once I restacked it, it looked to be about a tenth of a cord, roughly 4′ by 2′ by 1 1/2′ of stacked wood, easily $40 worth if you compare to buying $5 bundles of it near campgrounds. Score!