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Winter Feels Good in the Forest!

Plans are underway for the seventh annual National Winter Trails Day event at the Rapid River National Ski Trail on Saturday, January 21st from noon until 4:00 p.m.  Winter doesn’t have to be a time of year when you feel like you are trapped inside.  National Winter Trails Day is designed to encourage people of all ages to get outdoors and enjoy winter! 

National Winter Trails Day event at the Rapid River National Ski Trail

 Thanks to a long-standing partnership between Brampton Bike and Ski, Entrees Etc., numerous ski trail volunteers, and the Hiawatha National Forest, cross country skis and snowshoes will be available free of charge for the public to use from noon until 4:00 p.m. on January 21st.   Mike Williams of Brampton Bike and Ski will provide cross country skis, boots and poles as well as snowshoes for children and adults.

Volunteers who groom the ski trail during the winter will be on hand to outfit everyone with the proper gear and to teach the fundamentals of both skiing and snowshoeing.  To ensure that adequate equipment and instructors are on hand, please pre-register for the event by calling Brampton Bike and Ski no later than 4:00 p.m. on Friday, January 20th at 906-428-2135.  In addition, Mary Malnor of Entrees Etc. will be on-hand with hot drinks, steaming soup, and a blazing bonfire, so everyone is guaranteed to stay toasty!

Group of Skiiers at the National Winter Trails Day at the Rapid River Ski Trail near Escanaba, MI

This local event is one of 100 events across the country and one of only two events in the Upper Peninsula.

The Rapid River National Ski Trail is located 6 miles north of Rapid River on US Highway 41. For more information, call the Hiawatha National Forest at 906-474-6442.

Leigh’s Garden Winery: A “Fruitful” Endeavor in the U.P.’s “Banana Belt”

A Taste of Bay de Noc Red, a sweet-wine produced by Leigh's Garden Winery at the Escanaba, MI winery.

A Taste of Bay de Noc Red, a sweet-wine produced by Leigh’s Garden Winery at the Escanaba, MI winery.

Who would have thought that Delta County could be a great place to produce international award-winning wines? Leigh Schmidt did. Well, at least he had a hunch that the area could be. In 2009, he opened Leigh’s Garden Winery in downtown Escanaba and each year has proven more fruitful than the last.

Leigh learned a bit about wine-making as a home-winemaker several years before retirement and planted his first cold climate grape vines in his backyard at his Escanaba home. Wanting to find vines that would survive in a climate like the U.P., he stumbled across the Minnesota Grape Grower Association and after several years of learning about the cold climate grapes being hybridized by the University of Minnesota, he planted a small vineyard in south Bark River on property leased in 2006.

After three years of caring and pruning and growing the grapes, his colleagues at the Minnesota Grape Growers Association pressured him to get started with the wine-making. By this time he was retired and could spend time in this “hobby”, not expecting half of what it has become today. Encouraged by community support and a fool-hardy stupidity, he invested in an historic building downtown which featured a bar as part of the tasting room and an empty cellar which became the winery production location. He established contact with two growers who were also growing Univ. of Minnesota hybrids and would supply him with quality grapes. He decided to take a leap of faith and made the move forward, not knowing the reception the winery would get, nor if it would endure through the very tight years of 2008 and beyond.

As word about the locally-made wines spread by word of mouth and some very limited advertisement, Leigh grew from 400 gallons the first year to 1,100 gallons in 2014. Leigh’s Garden Winery is now able to provide wine on a yearly basis to our local customers and the many tourists they see annually.They have also become a sort of information center about Escanaba’s downtown area, which he refers to as Old Escanaba. “We do our best to not only serve customers a taste of wine, but also project the friendly side of Escanaba.” says Leigh.

Leigh's Garden Winery offers Award Winning Wines in their Escanaba, MI Tasting Room.

Leigh’s Garden Winery offers Award Winning Wines in their Escanaba, MI Tasting Room.

In 2014, Leigh entered 5 of his wines in an international competition at the Cold Climate Grape Competition held in Minneapolis, MN and brought home 5 medals; three bronze, one silver and one gold.

Leigh and his staff offer approximately 15 varieties at the start of their season, which is April annually. They carry wines that are sweet, semi-sweet, and dry in both red and white varieties, trying to provide for the variety in taste of customers. They also feature some associated products and souvenirs, but let’s face it, people go to the winery for wine. When visiting the winery guests (21 years of age & older) receive two complimentary tastes of wine, or they can purchase a Leigh’s Garden Winery souvenir glass with 6 tastes. They offer this because they think customers should be able to taste a wine before they purchase it. Leigh is always quick to remind customers that his wines are made in very limited quantities and sell out in short periods of time, or over the course of the year.

Their home at 904 Ludington Street has been upgraded with some minor changes during winter months making the setting more appealing, relaxing and enjoyable to customers. The building they are housed in went up in 1881 and has some features related to the era. The bar, was added to the building in 1972, when Marlys Thone purchased it from King’s Bar once located a bit further up Ludington Street.

Customers enjoying a taste of wine at Leigh's Garden Winery

Customers enjoying a taste of wine at Leigh’s Garden Winery.

Leigh’s favorite part of what he does is the people that come through the door, locals and tourists. “They come in not knowing what to expect or having a preconceived notion of small mid-west wineries, and we just knock that out of their heads with our wines, our service and our friendliness. But you can find this all through downtown, friendly owners who work their shops, attend to and appreciate their customers, engage you in conversation, and are involved in their community. I know this sounds like an advertisement, but it is such a great place to do business, that once someone finds us, they come back.”

When Leigh isn’t busy serving customers his wines, he keeps busy tending the wines in the cellar or the vines in the vineyard, picking the grapes in season, and spending time with family and friends. Leigh has lived in Escanaba for over 40 years after moving here from Cleveland, Ohio and marrying “a local girl” as he says. Connie Bichler and Leigh met at NMU, and her first job as an elementary teacher for the Escanaba Area Schools brought them back to her hometown, Escanaba. He took a job with the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD. They raised two children, Emily and Soren in Escanaba and retired together about 11 years ago. Leigh says his connection to the Escanaba area grew stronger with each year as he learned to appreciate the people, the slower pace of life that was so different than a large city and the joy of nature here.

Leigh Schmidt, The Wine Maker in the Vineyard

Leigh Schmidt, The Wine Maker in the Vineyard

To learn more about Leigh’s Garden Winery, stop into the tasting room and chat with Leigh yourself. If you aren’t able to do get to the winery in-person, head over to their Facebook page where updates about winery happenings are posted on the regular.

– Written by Escanaba resident Carrie Bartel.

The Most Haunted Places in the Escanaba Area

The Escanaba area has been part of Michigan for nearly two centuries, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to tons of history. Some of that history is just what you learned in school: names, dates, and a whole lot of hard work. But other bits defy explanation — and may just hint that something supernatural lurks in our fair corner of the world.

We’ll let you be the judge of that, of course. Before you head our way, read up on four locations that have seen their fair share of spooky happenings.

The Nahma Inn

The Nahma Inn, located in beautiful Nahma, Michigan, is a great place to stay on your way to or from Escanaba. Not much about this historic building has changed since its opening, though there are a few modern conveniences here — not to mention a great restaurant — for guests’ comfort. And the surroundings are truly beautiful, so you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t see a ghost during your time here.

That said, the Nahma Inn is notorious for strange, spooky happenings that could be related to one former resident in particular: Nell Fleming, known simply as “Miss Nell.” She was married to Charlie Good, a prominent lumberman who helped jumpstart Delta County’s economy. Trouble is, Charlie left one day and never returned. Nell sat at the window of her room in the Nahma Inn, waiting for him to come back, until the day she died — and possibly after. Even today, guests report hearing strange footsteps and seeing a ghostly, long-haired apparition in aptly named “Nell’s Room.”

Seul Choix Lighthouse

Standing proudly on Seul Choix Point, this lighthouse has served as a beacon for Lake Michigan sailors for more than a century. Even if it weren’t rumored to be haunted, it would be a landmark in its own right. But the real attraction here is the supposed spirit of Captain Joseph Townsend, a former keeper who died here in the depths of a particularly brutal winter. On account of deep snow cover and rock-hard ground, his family and associates couldn’t bury him for months — so they stored his body in the lighthouse’s basement until the spring thaw.

To this day, Captain Townsend is said to haunt the deeper recesses of the lighthouse, trailing a heavy stench of cigar smoke — he was an avid consumer of high-end cigars — and announcing his presence with slow, steady footsteps. A few visitors claim to have caught a glimpse of his ghostly apparition too.

House of Ludington

Located near the end of Ludington Street in downtown Escanaba, the House of Ludington is a great place to grab a drink, eat dinner or stay the night. It’s also a popular haunt for ghost hunters — and the spirits they seek. In fact, the place made headlines about a decade ago when a guest captured a grainy nighttime video of an apparition in the hotel’s basement. It’s not exactly clear who or what the video captured, but there are plenty of theories — a previous owner, a disgruntled former guest, or an old employee who can’t seem to leave the place where he or she earned a livelihood. If the thought of encountering a restless spirit at the House of Ludington makes you uncomfortable, we’d recommend staying out of the basement!

The Escanaba Marina

Most of the time, the only people haunting the marina near Ludington Park are fishermen looking for a taste of Little Bay de Noc’s bounty. But more than a few passers-by swear they’ve seen something else at the marina: a gaggle of ghostly shapes, sometimes marked by glowing red eyes, hanging at the end of the pier in the dead of night. We suppose they could be mistaking a family of raccoons for something more sinister, but we’ll let you be the judge of that!