Michigan DNR Acquires 280 acres in the Manistee River Watershed

The Manistee River that flows through the 280-acre parcel
of land that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources
recently acquired with the generous support of a
grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant Makes Purchase Possible

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is excited to announce the purchase of 280 acres of land within the Manistee River watershed. The parcel is completely surrounded by state-owned land located within the Cadillac Forest Management Unit in northeastern Wexford County, 16 miles north of Cadillac.

The natural features of this site include approximately 1,000 feet of Manistee River frontage, 1,000 feet of frontage on a tributary to Fife Lake Creek, a 90-acre bog complex, deer wintering yard and range, and wooded uplands that provide a diversity of wildlife habitat.

“This is one of those land acquisitions that just make sense,” says Mark Tonello, a fisheries management biologist with the DNR. “The Manistee River in this area is stunningly beautiful, not to mention the fishing is fantastic. There are trophy-sized brown trout just waiting to be caught.”

Hunting, fishing, trapping, swimming, boating, camping, berry picking, mushroom hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and bird watching are among the many recreational opportunities offered by this property. A broad range of both fish and game species can be found on the property and within the Manistee River corridor that flows through this area. The Fisheries Division of the DNR and the Walton Junction Sportsman’s Club stock this section of the river with brown trout. Additionally, anglers catch rainbow trout, walleye, northern pike and smallmouth bass.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund recognized that this acquisition will contribute to the Department’s goals of consolidating State ownership, limiting land fragmentation, securing fishery and wildlife habitat, and enhancing forest management and public recreation opportunities.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Cottage & Lakefront Living Show coming Feb. 23-26 to Novi, MI

The fifth annual Cottage & Lakefront Living Show returns to the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi Thursday, Feb. 23 and runs through Sunday, Feb. 26 with a plethora of exhibits, experts and special features for cottage, lakefront property and vacation homeowners or those looking to buy, build or rent.

“Rustic, artistic furniture and log, timber frame and cedar homes will be on display,” said Mike Wilbraham, show producer of ShowSpan, Inc. “Information on architects, homebuilders, realtors, lakeshore maintenance and outdoor recreational equipment will be available.”

The Log and Timber Frame Showcase will include how a cabin is put together, floor plans, profiles, roof options, log species, cedar siding, full logs, post and beam and do-it-yourself or contractor built home packages. Builders, contractors and architects will be available for scheduled private consultations through the show’s website. Seminars on planning and building timber frame homes and buying and selling waterfront property will take place during the show.

Sharing and keeping the cottage in the family for use currently and for future generations, environmentally sensitive lake practices, birds of prey, nature photography, hobbies and other ways to enjoy your cottage more will be explained by the Cottage Living Stage experts.

Michigan artists at the Cottage Fine Art Show will present wildlife photography, Great Lakes and Michigan inland lakes steel silhouettes, Petoskey stone art, jewelry and custom woodcarvings for sale. Decorative accessories, Michigan lakes aerial photography and food items from fudge to cherry products will be available for purchase at the Lakefront Marketplace.

Handcrafted building techniques of a stand up paddleboard will be demonstrated and displayed by DreamCatcher BoatWorks of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Sand Pirate Janet Schrader of Fairy Godmother Services in Lakeside, MI. will share the secrets of sand as she builds a giant medieval sandcastle, teaching how to make towers, doors, windows and stairs and hosting a sandcastle contest. The Beach, a giant sandbox complete with sand and carving tools for creative building by children and adults, will allow you to join the fun and turn a pile of sand into a sand sculpture. Children will have the opportunity to climb on inflatables and a portable climbing tower at the Cran-Hill Family Zone. Fishing will be available at the Live Trout Pond that is fully stocked by Michigan B.A.S.S. Federation Clubs.

Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership will provide informal advice and educational materials from Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Lake & Stream Association and other agencies, organizations, contractors and landscape professionals on shoreline construction projects and natural shoreline landscaping that benefit lake ecosystems and protect Michigan’s inland lakes.

Cottage Living Center will provide the opportunity to relax and work on a community puzzle, put a pin in an oversized Michigan map to show where cottages are located or read a book selected from the 2012 Essential Cottage Reading List provided by Horizon Books of Traverse City. Patrons are able to post a cottage for sale or rent on our Community Cottage Available Board.

The Water & Woods Photo Contest Display will allow you to vote for the best photo that depicts cottage and lakefront living traditions.

Ideas to increase your outdoor living space are incorporated in the landscape displays that include wooden cabins, fireplaces, cooking options, patios, decks and gardening products. Other exhibits include log, timber frame and cedar homes, cottage rental, architects, cottage furnishings, lakefront homebuilders and realtors, lakeshore maintenance, boats and docks, outdoor recreational equipment, non-profit environmental organizations, government agencies, financing and other products and services. Experts throughout the show will provide tips, advice and knowledge on purchasing, planning, maintaining, financing and landscaping for spring, summer and year-round cottages and lakefront living.

Suburban Collection Showplace (formerly Rock Financial Showplace) is located at 46100 Grand River Ave. between Novi and Beck Road in Novi. Show hours are from 2 – 9:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10; $4 for children 6-14 and children 5 and under admitted free. Discount coupons for $2 off Thursday or Friday adult admission are available at show’s website and participating Wendy’s restaurants. Free crossover admission from the Cottage & Lakefront Living Show to Outdoorama. On site parking is available for a fee. Social networkers can follow the show on Twitter http://twitter.com/novicottageshow or become a fan on Facebook http://NoviCottageShow.com/Facebook. For more information, visit www.NoviCottageShow.com or call (800) 328-6550.

Enjoy February Weekend Winter Events Along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Benzie County, Michigan

Michigan's Benzie County Wintertime Activities include Winter Skiing, Snowshoeing, Snowboarding, Ice Fishing, Snowmobiling and Beauty along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Wintertime outdoor activities and innovative events in Benzie County inspire visitors to come to this Northern Michigan region along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore recently dubbed the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by viewers of ABC’s “Good Morning America”. Benzie County, Michigan which is known as “the best place in Michigan for outdoor sports and recreation” will hold four wintertime events each weekend in February 2012 that celebrate its wintertime beauty.

February 2012 events include the Women’s Winter Tour at Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa on the first weekend of February, Winterfest in the quaint village of Beulah on the second weekend, Shiver by the River a Snow Cross snowmobile event in Lake Michigan port cities, Frankfort and Elberta, on the third weekend, and Taste the Local Difference Winter Celebration, a winter food event, on February 25th at Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa.

Women’s Winter Tour Weekend 
Crystal Mountain, Thompsonville 
Feb. 4 & 5
This ultimate weekend celebration is all about women, winter and chocolate. It will return to Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa for a sixth year. The Women’s Winter Tour is held on Super Bowl Sunday when the ladies of the Women's Winter Tour snowshoe & cross-country ski along Crystal's wooded trails. This year’s theme is Picnic in the Park, an outdoor event under a tent with food and fabulous fun in the middle of winter!

Winterfest in Benzie County  
In the Villages of Beulah and Benzonia 
Saturday, Feb. 11
Make your way to Benzie County for Winterfest, a day packed with fun, food, and other unique winter activities such as a chili cook-off, an ice fishing contest, an annual fish toss competition, horse drawn wagon rides, frozen turkey bowling, a Winterfest Parade, Outhouse races, and a majestic winter fireworks display over Crystal Lake, which is one of the largest lakes in Michigan.

4th Annual Shiver By The River  
In the City and Village of Frankfort and Elberta 
Saturday, Feb. 18 – Sunday, Feb. 19
Snow Cross snowmobile races in downtown Frankfort highlight the winter weekend event Shiver by The River. More than 100 riders will compete in a series of Snow Cross snowmobile races on an obstacle track built in the city’s Open Space Park. The event includes a Kid’s Snow World featuring Sledding, Activities and Games, "Bowling on Main Street", a Winter Parade and numerous warming stations to go inside to get warm. Located right along Main Street in downtown Frankfort, there are also a number of great restaurants to enjoy. Activities will also take place in the quaint village of Elberta, two minutes away.

Taste the Local Difference Winter Celebration  
Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa, Thompsonville 
Saturday, Feb. 25
This event will include offerings of the best in fresh foods grown all winter through greenhouses, hoophouses, fresh cheeses such as goat and mozzarella, and organically-raised meats like chicken, lamb, pork, smoked fish, goat and even emu. Just because it’s not summer doesn’t mean the produce and fresh foods still aren’t being produced in Benzie County. Come and see for yourself these year round producers and taste local chefs’ tastiest takes on local winter delicacies.

“We celebrate wintertime with so many fun events that highlight our beautiful location and climate," said Mary Carroll, President of Benzie County Visitors Bureau Snowshoeing, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling are always available here in winter, as is ice fishing on Crystal Lake and other lakes, rivers and streams that are abundant. We’re eager to show visitors the Benzie County uniqueness in these events that are healthy, natural and active.”

Benzie County is the perfect winter escape for those who like winter sports and outdoor adventure. There is excellent downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding at the award winning ski resort, Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa. At Crystal Mountain visitors can experience dog sled excursions, ice skating and hockey, and paintball competitions as well as fine and casual dining.

For those who seek a chance to see Northern Michigan’s beautiful winter scenery there is ice fishing on Benzie County lakes such as Crystal Lake with shanty rentals and tackle stores in Beulah. There is also snowshoeing along Lake Michigan on the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, as well as, snowmobile rentals at Crystal Adventures located in Thompsonville to traverse 135 miles of natural groomed trails, a system that weaves between numerous towns complemented by restaurants and taverns.

Award-winning wineries are also within close proximity to Benzie County on the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula less than one hour away.

For more information on Benzie County lodging, restaurants, outdoor recreation and events contact Benzie County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-882-5801 or see www.visitbenzie.com

Outdoorama coming to Suburban Financial Showplace Feb. 23-26

All roads lead to Novi for OUTDOORAMA, Michigan’s top family event for fun and conservation education
February 23-26 show features Big Buck Night, Wildlife Encounters

 Thousands of outdoor enthusiasts can’t wait for the year’s shortest month when the annual Outdoorama sport show, sponsored by RAM Trucks, comes to town. Feb. 23-26 are the dates for the 39th annual edition of Michigan’s most popular outdoors event at Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Avenue in Novi.

Many of the state’s more than one million anglers and hunters will pack the house for great deals on boats and sporting gear, for conservation education that includes nearly 100 free seminars, and for family entertainment and features.

Returning to crowd fanfare are favorite attractions like “Big Buck Night,” “Wildlife Encounters” and “Ultimate Air Dogs” with Milt Wilcox hosting daily demonstrations and weekend competition.

Although hunting and fishing are the show’s roots, Outdoorama has long appealed to legions of conservationists, those lovers of nature who also hike and camp, boat and canoe, and who pursue bird watching, wildlife photography and mushroom hunting.

“Outdoorama is all about celebrating Michigan’s outdoors heritage while keeping in mind our responsibilities toward the environment,” said Adam Starr, show manager. “That’s why the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which started the show nearly 40 years ago, still plays a major role.”

Adding to the show’s broad appeal is the 5th Annual Cottage & Lakefront Living Show, which runs concurrently at Suburban Collection Showplace. Patrons to either event receive free crossover admission. “We’ve kept the admission fee low again this year,” Starr said. “It’s only $10 for adults and $4 for children 6 to 14. Kids 5 and under get in free.”

Scores of lodges, outfitters, guides and charter boat captains from Alaska to Africa have reserved space in the show. Great values on fishing boats, duck hunting boats, pontoons and pleasure boats will be on display along with docks, lifts and other accessories. Many specialty vendors with hunting equipment, fishing gear, and camping supplies will offer broad selection and great value.

Besides Ultimate Air Dogs, family fun activities include a Trout Pond with live rainbows, pellet shooting range, free Casting Kids Contest, a video fishing simulator, and the Sportsman’s Grill with fried fish all four days of the show. Premier Animal Attractions is bringing a live baby tiger, a kangaroo and other exotic creatures.

Dozens of sport clubs and organizations, many of which are MUCC affiliates, will staff booths with volunteers to hand out literature and explain club programs.

National hunting and fishing authority, Joe Thomas, leads a stellar cast of Hunting Academy seminar leaders that include turkey-hunting ace Seth McCullough and whitetail-hunting experts Tom Nelson, Mark Martin and Fred Abbas. Specialty speakers include Doc Morrow on creating food plots for deer.

Walleye pros Mark Romanack and Lance Valentine headline the Fishing Academy of veteran speakers that includes Mark Martin and muskie-fishing guide Don Miller.

Tim Fox from Shooting the Breeze Hunt Club, will demonstrate basic bird dog training tips. Traditional skills expert Jim Miller offers demonstrations on building birch bark canoes, making fire with a wooden stick, and tanning hides the Native American way.

Team Morel, featuring wild mushroom expert Theresa Maybrier from Missouri, will be on hand all four days of the show to share techniques for hunting, preserving and preparing the delectable fungi.

The Huron Valley Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will host a calling contest on Saturday. Experts from Country Smoke House in Almont will demonstrate how to field dress and butcher a deer.

Terry McBurney from Ada will head up a major display of collectible gear for outdoor sport. Patrons can bring their artifacts to the show for a free appraisal. There are even vintage boats and collectible outboard motors, thanks to expert Dick VanRaalte from Grand Haven’s Starboard Marine Restorations.

The first 500 attendees on Thursday and Friday receive a free, collectible Dardevle spoon from Eppinger Manufacturing Co. in Dearborn.

The show that celebrates Michigan’s great outdoors is February 23 to 26. Bring the kids and grandchildren. Show hours are Thursday and Friday, 2 to 9:30; Saturday, 10 to 9; and Sunday, 10 to 5. For more information, go to http://www.Outdoorama.com or call 800-328-6550.

You can also follow late-breaking news and developments at www.facebook.com/Outdoorama and at www.twitter.com/Outdoorama

Detroit Camper & RV Show a cure for cabin fever

46th annual Detroit Camper & RV Show rolls into Suburban Collection Showplace Feb. 8-12

Author's Note: This is the article I wrote that was published last weekend in many of the newspapers I work for, including The Oakland Press, The News-Herald (Downriver area), The Dearborn Press & Guide, The Macomb Daily and several other sister newspapers in southeast Michigan. Included with the article was an offer for free RV show tickets to first 25 emails sent to my email address. As of this writing, I have had nearly 200 emails seeking the free tickets.

There’s no better cure for cabin fever than the 46th annual Detroit Camper & RV Show, which rolls into the Suburban Collection Showplace from Feb. 8 to Feb. 12.

The popular show will feature more than 250 types of new recreation vehicles, from truck campers all the way up to the most luxurious of motor homes. Also on display will be folding campers, travel trailers, fifth-wheel travel trailers and toy haulers.

Bill Sheffer, president of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds, which is sponsoring the show, said he wouldn’t be surprised if attendance for the 46th annual Detroit Camper & RV Show surpasses last year’s event.

“If the response is anything like what took place last week at the Florida RV Super Show held in Tampa, we could see higher attendance,” he said. “Preliminary reports from show management at the Florida show reported over 54,000 people attended over the five-day show.

Norm Wells, general manager of National RV Direct in Belleville, said his dealership will be bringing 30 RVs to the show.
“We’ll have a lot of completely new and innovative products,” Wells said. “We’ll have an extended length Airstream Touring Coach, plus a Sunset Trail fifth-wheel with a front slide.”

Wells added that a combination of pleasant weather, outstanding products and a return of consumer confidence has meant the RV industry is enjoying a resurgence.

“RVs are so much more affordable now, and the competitive market has meant manufacturers have really gone above and beyond with making their RVs extremely nice,” Wells said. “People coming to the show will truly be amazed.”

In addition to the RVs, dozens of booths featuring parts and accessories, campground information, onsite RV financing and RV rentals make this the complete RV show experience.

The 2012 edition of RV & Campsite magazine also will be available. This free guide to camping and RV dealers in Michigan now includes coupons.

Admission is $9 for adults 13 and older; and $8 for seniors. Children 12 and younger attend free. Coupons for discounted admission are at marvac.org, Big Boy restaurants, southeastern Michigan Napa Auto Parts locations and in area newspapers. Onsite parking is available for a fee.

The RV show annually draws tens of thousands of people. Some attendees are current RV owners just out to kick some tires, while others are ready to upgrade or buy their first RV. The Detroit Camper & RV Show is a perfect venue for buyers because they can compare many makes and models all under one roof.

Once they’ve made their purchase, they will discover what more than 307,000 Michigan RV owners enjoy … the RV lifestyle.

RVing is an affordable, family-friendly way to vacation. Despite high gas prices, studies show that RVing is still more affordable than other types of vacations, especially when adding airfare, hotel and restaurant costs into the mix.

And, since RVs have all the comforts of home — including beds, bathrooms and fully-equipped kitchens — RVing is an extremely pleasant experience. Plus, RVs have all the “extras” — like TVs, stereos, air conditioning and even computer stations and gaming systems.

Once RVers reach their destinations, Michigan’s state parks and private campgrounds are loaded with amenities to make their vacations all the more enjoyable. Some feature Wi-Fi connections, restaurants and other conveniences.

Tips for first-time RV buyers
Deciding to buy an recreational vehicle is an exciting moment. Remembering a few simple guidelines can prepare you for the purchase process.
  • If you are considering a towable RV — such as a folding camper, travel trailer or fifth wheel — know precisely how much your two vehicle can safely tow. The user manual and online tow rating guides will provide you with your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity.
  • When applying for an RV loan, be sure your credit history is where it should be. A credit score of at least 700 will allow for the best financing. RVs are considered luxury purchases, so lenders are especially cautious.
  • Before investing in an RV, look around for the best deal. Keep in mind that purchasing an RV isn’t as simple as purchasing an automobile. You may need to spend at least a couple of hours at the dealer before you drive away with your RV.
  • Once you purchase your RV and sign the appropriate papers, you’ll likely experience a walk-through orientation. Many beginners are surprised at how lengthy these orientations can be. Try not to get overwhelmed with the abundance of information being passed onto you. You may want to consider bringing a notebook or another set of eyes and ears with you, so you don’t miss anything.

'Taste the Passion' with the Wineries of Leelanau Peninsula

Share the love of Leelanau (and Leelanau wine) at the "Taste the Passion" wine tour, held Feb. 4 & 5. This special weekend celebrates wine, chocolate and love at the wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail in Northern Michigan.

Your ticket allows you to chart your own course, enjoying food and wine pairings at 17 wineries along with a optional winter and Valentine-themed activities at many of the wineries.

"Taste the Passion is definitely our most intimate event," says winemaker Larry Mawby. "Our tasting rooms are cozy places in wintertime, and with less people on the trail, it's a great opportunity to talk directly with winemakers and vineyard owners. To top it all off, Leelanau County is a winter paradise, offering everything from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, to enjoying great meals at our restaurants, and evenings by the fireplace. This is a perfect chance to score a Valentine's Day touchdown!"

Tickets are just $30, and quantities are limited. Secure yours as soon as possible, as most of our trail events do sell out. There are also lodging packages that include tickets!

Taste the Passion Food Pairings & Special Activities
Bel Lago will serve a Decadent Dark Chocolate Brownie topped with a Rich Balaton Cherry sauce and will be pairing it with their new release 2010 bottling of Bel Lago Red Wine, a barrel aged cabernet franc and merlot blend. Their cellar is filled to the rafters (almost) with barrels, so no basketball in the barrel room this year. But they will have all the makings for you to create you own Valentines!

Black Star Farms presents a molten chocolate cake with vanilla bean infused crème anglaise and pistachio cranberry white chocolate bark paired with their Sirius Cherry dessert wine. If someone has a marriage license, Black Star Tasting Room manager Chris Lopez will marry you!

Brengman Brothers will pair Runaway Hen Syrah and a bittersweet chocolate truffle with Parmesan cheese, coarse sea salt, and bacon. Weather permitting, Brengman Brothers will offer cross-country ski trails in their vineyard!

Chateau de Leelanau is serving up Cherry Chipotle Mole Chicken Wings paired with their Riesling Harvest Select.

Chateau Fontaine offers Greek-inspired Chocolate Chili Dogs, topped with Cheddar Cheese and optional onions paired with their Big Paw Red.

Cherry Republic will be serving a chocolate coffee cake truffle with their Shook Dessert Wine. All you “swish and spitters” can have a go at their cherry pit spitting contest with a chocolate gift basket for the winner!

Ciccone Winery features Italian Bruschetta – a slice of grilled Italian bread, rubbed with garlic, sprinkled with salt and pepper, drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh diced tomatoes paired bringing out the flavor from their 2009 Cabernet Franc. For added fun, they will also feature cork fishing & a wine bottle ring toss!

Forty-Five North will have red wine marinated figs wrapped in bacon with mascarpone cheese and drizzled with a red wine chocolate sauce paired with 45 Red, a blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, & Merlot. They will also have their 1-3 mile groomed trail loops open for skiing.

Gills Pier will be serving Double Fudge Delight Cupcakes and Frosting with Toasted Coconut Sprinkles, paired with their Whitewater, a semi-sweet white wine made with Vignole grapes. They will also give away a VIP Tasting for 8 people – register to win on Saturday or Sunday – a $200 value!

Good Harbor offers Chicken Jalapeno Soup paired with their Pinot Grigio.

L. Mawby will give you one piece each of chocolate/bacon and maple/bacon fudge from 45 Parallel Candy World along with their sparkling JADORE.

Leelanau Cellars will serve a Chocolate Fondue with angel food cake and fresh fruit to dip, paired with our Vintage Port.

Silver Leaf entices you with chocolate almond & cherry clusters, paired with two-time gold medal awarded, “Chafia Cherry” wine featuring their new label. They will be offering cross country skiing or snow shoeing on their 2-mile trail during Taste the Passion weekend.The trail starts in the vineyard, winds through the woods & cherry orchard and crosses Tyler Creek. The trail is marked with red ribbons and maps are available. (No equipment provided)

Tandem is serving crepes with chocolate cream cheese filling topped with a Bardenhagen Farms strawberry sauce and paired with cider, of course!

Verterra is serving Vol au Vent Baked French Brie with Verterra Jam (preserves made from wine grapes) and Granny Smith matchstick apples paired with their award-winning Pinot Gris.

The LPVA was formed in 2000 with a goal to help spread the word about all the wonderful things the Leelanau Peninsula has to offer including a growing number of award-winning wineries, excellent restaurants and a rich agricultural history. Today, it is the largest and strongest of the four organized wine trails in Michigan which promote the state's nearly $790 million grape/wine industry.

For more information, contact the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association at http://lpwines.com/ or call 231-421-1172.

Blues Traveler to headline Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival

Grammy-winning band Blues Traveler will kick off the 2012
Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival with a
Feb. 10 performance at the city's historic opera house.
Now in its third year, the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival seems to have found the perfect home at last: on the snow-covered Historic Lawn of the city’s 19th century mental asylum, the Grand Traverse Commons.

The festival, billed as a “winter wonderland of craft beer, live music and local food,” will be held Feb. 11, featuring beverages from over 50 microbreweries, meaderies, cideries and wineries, a “silent disco,” and nearly a dozen live bands. (In a silent disco, dancers are issued wireless headphones through which music is broadcast via an FM transmitter – nobody else has to listen.)

The various events will be held in a small city of heated tents: three main heated music and microbrewery tents, a silent disco tent with a full roster of DJs, a snow fort-building competition among local businesses -- and for the first time, a polka-themed tent hosted by local comedian Marti Johnson.

Performing for the event will be several acclaimed musical and entertainment acts including Funktion, beatbox champion Heatbox, The Crane Wives, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, Dragon Wagon, Rootstand, Laith Al-Saadi, DJ DomiNate, DJ Wulf Pak (and his popular laser show), the non-profit Grand Traverse Pipes & Drums and local fire dancers.

The polka tent, a promotional partnership with the Cedar Polka Fest held nearby during the first week in July, will feature popular polka bands (including Squeezebox and The Kielbasa Kings) with dancing, authentic food and special activities celebrating polka culture.

Already well-known as a food and wine destination, Traverse City is also making fans in the burgeoning microbrew community; Draft magazine just named it one of Americas’ three newest Emerging Beer Towns (along with St. Louis and Oklahoma City).The Grand Traverse Commons lawn has long been the home of Traverse City’s Summer Microbrew & Music Festival, which is held there each August, but the winter event has been more nomadic – the first one was held on a local golf course, and last year’s was in downtown Traverse City.

Festival promoter Sam Porter said the move to the Commons made good sense, but he regretted that downtown businesses won’t reap as much of an economic benefit from this year’s festival. To take some of the sting out of the move, his company -- Porterhouse Productions -- will host a pre-festival concert Friday night in Traverse City’s historic downtown opera house, featuring Grammy-winning band Blues Traveler.

Renowned for their high-energy live shows, Blues Traveler is behind such massive pop hits as “Run-Around,” “Hook” and “You, Me and Everything.” Their album “Four” reached triple-platinum status, and “Run-Around” was the longest-charting single in Billboard history. The Feb. 10 concert marks the band’s second return to Traverse City after their sold-out appearance at Porterhouse’s Paella in the Park festival in 2010.

“Our hope is that we’ll have a great sold-out show with Blues Traveler the night before the festival, with concertgoers eating, drinking and shopping downtown before and after the concert,” said Porter. His company is also planning several “after-parties” on Friday and Saturday nights at downtown establishments (including Union Street Station and the Loading Dock) to further connect festival attendees with the downtown district.

The festival will offer free shuttle service to attendees between the Commons, downtown, the Old Town parking deck, and participating hotels.

General admission tickets for the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival on February 11 are $30 in advance or $35 at the door and include all festival entertainment, musical acts, shuttle service and five (5) 7-oz pours. Additional pours will be available for purchase on-site for $1 each. Tickets can be purchased online at www.porterhouseproductions.com or at Oryana, Blue Tractor and Left Foot Charley in Traverse City.

Attendees are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets in advance, as the festival has sold out in past years. Ticket buyers must be at least 21 years old. Attendees are encouraged to carpool, use the shuttle service or walk, sled or snowshoe to the event. Festival proceeds will benefit the non-profit Bay Area Recycling for Charities.

Reserved seating tickets for the Blues Traveler concert at the City Opera House on February 10 range from $29-$45 and go on sale on Monday, January 16. Tickets can be purchased at the City Opera House box office, by phone at 231-941-8082 or online at www.cityoperahouse.org.

For information about other goings-on in Traverse City, and for assistance with lodging and dining options, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-TRAVERSE or on line at www.traversecity.com

Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center hosts “Michigan Birds” photo contest, now through April 27

The Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon is holding a “Michigan Birds” photo contest. Submit a favorite photo from last year or take a trek through the woods, fields or wetlands this winter or spring and try your hand at capturing the beauty of a native Michigan bird. The deadline for submission is at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 27.

From bird feeders to lakeshores, there are many places to find photo-worthy subjects. Some examples include cardinals, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches, bald eagles, ospreys, wild turkeys, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, sandhill cranes and barred owls. Michigan has a very large, diverse group of birds. During any season, birds can be seen in every corner of the state in all types of habitats. Some common non-native species that will not be accepted into the contest include mute swans and all types of domestic or exotic fowl such as farm-raised chickens or geese.

Entries are limited to two photos per person. Photos must be securely matted without a frame or glass, with a minimum size of 8 x 10 inches and maximum size of 11 x 16 inches. An entry fee of $3 per photo must accompany each submission. Please include photographer’s name, address, email, phone number, name of the bird and location where the photo was taken on the back. This contest is intended for amateurs only; the works of published photographers will not be considered.

An impartial team of volunteers with knowledge of photography will judge the photos. Winners will be announced May 5. Three winners will be chosen. First, second and third place winners will receive gift cards of $100, $50 and $25 respectively. The contest is sponsored by the Gillette Nature Association in conjunction with the association's annual Spring Blooms in the Dunes event held May 5 and a weeklong observance of International Migratory Bird Day, in cooperation with Ottawa County Parks, which will include programs and hikes scheduled for May 5-12. For more information on these events and other programs and hikes scheduled to highlight birds of Michigan, go to www.gillettenature.org or www.miottawa.org/parks.

Photos may be submitted by mail or delivered to: Gillette Nature Association, 6585 Lake Harbor Road, Muskegon, MI 49441. Winning photos will be on display at the Gillette Visitor Center through June 20. Entries may be picked up on or after June 20; those not picked up within two months will become property of Gillette Nature Association.

Questions may be directed to Elizabeth Brockwell-Tillman, park interpreter, at 231-798-3573. The Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center is one of 10 visitor centers managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Visit www.michigan.gov/dnrvisitorcenters for more information.

Visit Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center Weekends in January and February for Snowshoe Walks, Fly Tying, Ice Fishing and More

The Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center, located near Kalamazoo, is offering fun, family friendly weekend events for FREE this January and February.

Snowshoe Walks, Saturday, Jan. 28 and Feb. 11, 18 and 25 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 
Enjoy the season with a snowshoe walk on our nature trails, weather permitting. Learn how to use snowshoes and then take a walk to test new skills while learning about winter ecology. Pre-registration is required for those borrowing snowshoes. 90 minutes.

Winter Fishing Days: Ice Fishing 101 Saturday, Jan. 28 and Feb. 18 at 11 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. 
Youth ages 5 to16 will learn the basics of ice fishing and get a chance to try their new skills out on the ice! Program includes both an inside and outside portion. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. 60 minutes.

Beginner’s Fly Tying: Meet the Woolybugger! Saturday, Feb. 11 at 11 a.m.
Learn the basics of tying flies. All practice materials will be provided. Class size is limited for each session. Pre-registration is required. Program is recommended for those 8 years of age and up. Two hours.

Winter Birdwalk and Great Backyard Bird Count, Saturday, Feb. 18 at 10 a.m. 
Join the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo to discover the many birds that stay in Michigan throughout the winter. We will be taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count by keeping track of what we see and submitting the information to a national database. 90 minutes.

Hatchery Tours, Jan., Feb., and March Saturday; 10 and 11 a.m., 1, 2 and 3 p.m.; Sunday; 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. Tours last approximately 30 minutes.

New winter hours of operation: The Visitor Center will be open weekends in January, February and March on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

Unless otherwise noted, programs are open to all ages and skill levels. The walks are not strenuous and are approximately one mile or less. Be sure to dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes.

For detailed information on what there is to see and do at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center, visit www.michigan.gov/wolflakevc or call 269-668-2876. The Center is located at 34270 County Road 652 in Mattawan.

Michigan DNR Seeks Input to Improve Hunting and Fishing Digests

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking input from hunters and anglers on ways to improve its annual hunting digests and fishing guide. Feedback gathered from focus groups and surveys conducted over the next several months will aid the DNR’s efforts to make these publications more useful to customers.

“We want our customers to clearly understand the information and regulations before they head out into Michigan's woods and waters,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “This project is about presenting the regulations so hunters and anglers can enjoy harvesting game and fish with less confusion and with confidence that they’re following the law.”

The DNR will conduct focus groups with avid and novice hunters and anglers in late February and March. “We’ll be talking in-depth with our customers about what they find helpful and problematic about the current guides and their suggestions for potential improvements, with the end goal of generating some ideas for new publications that work best for hunters and anglers,” Stokes added.

Once the focus groups are complete, the DNR will conduct a survey based on the groups’ feedback. Stokes explained that input from the survey – which will be sent to thousands of people who have purchased a hunting or fishing license in the past and members of conservation organizations – will help inform decisions about revamping the guides.

Improved digests and guides will be distributed in 2013.

Anyone who has ever hunted, trapped, or fished in Michigan is invited to complete a brief survey now through Feb. 3, 2012. The data received from this preliminary survey will help identify discussion topics for the focus groups.

To complete the Hunting and Trapping Digest survey, visit: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MichiganHuntTrapDigest

To complete the Fishing Guide survey, visit: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MichiganFishingGuide

Snowmobiling over frozen lakes, rivers

The Michigan DNR does not recommend operating on the frozen surface of water; however, the department recognizes that it is a popular activity. If an ice crossing is unavoidable there are several safety concerns operators need to be aware of in the event they fall into the freezing water. 

Once a person is suddenly immersed in freezing water, their respiratory system will automatically and instantly have an uncontrollable inhaling gasp reflex because of the cold shock.

If initially under the water, individuals will inhale water into their lungs. It is critical to get your head above the surface and first get your breathing under control which will take at least one minute. If you do not control your breathing the chances of drowning sooner are exponentially increased.

Once you have your breathing under control, get to the edge of the solid ice you were at before you fell in because you know that ice held your weight at one point. Secure your arms on top of the edge of good ice. Use your arms to lift your body up and kick your feet hard in a swimming motion while leaning over the good ice. Get your upper body up onto the solid ice and roll away from the open water. Using self-rescue ice spikes, which typically consist of two plastic cylinders with spikes on one end connected with a line, can greatly assist in pulling yourself out of the water onto safe ice.

Once you are out, do not stand up immediately or you will have an increased risk of falling through thin ice again. Once far enough away from the open water, begin to crawl away and eventually walk.

If you’re unable to get yourself out of the water ensure your arms, and as much of your upper body, are out as far as possible. Reach out as far as you can onto the ice and do not move your arms. This will hopefully freeze your clothes to the ice and keep you from falling farther back in and increase the chances of being rescued. You will lose effective movement in roughly 10 minutes, but you can remain conscious for up to two hours. You should yell or signal for help.

Do not remove any protective gear such as a helmet or jacket. Your appropriate protective gear (riding clothes, suit and helmet) will offer some degree of floatation and provide insulating qualities. Helmets, while not marketed as a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), are partially constructed of foam liners and offer about the same amount of buoyancy as a PFD. Wearing a helmet will also help retain body heat around your brain which would otherwise be lost quicker, hastening unconsciousness, if not wearing a helmet.

There are free safety videos available online to illustrate what to expect and how to react in cold water immersion scenarios. These videos made be viewed at: http://www.yukonman.com/cold_water.asp.

VIDEO: Rescuing Roxie, from Rescue Dog to RVing Companion

Enjoy this video from Mark and Dawn Polk, of RV Education 101 fame, as they welcome a new member to their RVing family.

New RV Product: Collapsible, Eco-Friendly Silicone Bakeware & Food Storage

Eco-Friendly Fridgex Cooking and Storing Pieces Save Time and Space in the Kitchen

RVing chefs who constantly struggle to find space to accommodate their baking dishes and storage containers will rejoice with the introduction of the new eco-friendly Fridgex line from Ceramcor. This collection of silicone bakeware / food storage pieces provides the same oven to table versatility, stick-resistance surfacing and chemical-free fabrication its manufacturer, Ceramcor, is famous for, but with some added bonuses. All of the Fridgex sets are foldable, nestable and collapsible so they tuck away nicely into confined spaces. Plus, the line comes in vibrant hues like lime green and cherry red to liven up kitchen décor.

Made from all-natural, derived-from-the-earth silicone, the Fridgex product line is inert and non-reactive. It is also non-toxic to both humans and the environment as well as recyclable. As a result, eco-conscious chefs can feel good about both owning and using it. The foldable and nestable / stackable Fridgex makes for easy storage while providing consumers with the same functionality of heavier, bulkier bakeware and storage pieces. The collection is conventional oven and microwave safe up to 430° F, yet because it cools down quickly, it moves to the table and refrigerator and freezer with ease. It is also easy to clean by hand or in the dishwasher and will not chip, break, rust or stain.

For added peace of mind, Fridgex carries the FDA’s stamp of approval for both baking and storing food. What’s more, Fridgex’s non-stick surface is both BPA and PVC free, and it does not retain any food odors over time. All of this adds up to not only a better cooking experience but also a better eating experience.

The Fridgex collection includes a 6-piece round storage set ($49.99), 6-piece rectangular storage set ($37.99), 8-piece 7oz mini storage set ($24.99) and a 4-piece Tomato and Onion set ($24.99).

For more information on and/or to purchase the Fridgex by Ceramcor line of silicone bakeware and food storage pieces, please visit http://www.Ceramcor.com.

Attention Snowbirds: Warm up at an Encore RV Resort during Arizona's Cactus League Spring Training Season

Author's note: Most RVing Snowbirds I know from the Great Lakes usually head to Florida to escape the winter back home. Florida is home to 15 major League Baseball teams who play in the Grapefruit League during Spring Training, including my favorite team, the Detroit Tigers. But for those who go to Arizona, here's some great info on some RV parks there.

Each spring, 15 professional baseball teams arrive in Arizona for the Cactus League spring training season to prep for the upcoming MLB season. Beginning March 2, 2012, baseball fans visiting spring training from around the U.S. can benefit from nearby Encore RV Resorts for accommodations.

While the area offers an assortment of activities, spring training is atop Arizona visitor’s must-see lists this time of year. Whether attending games or team practices, fans experience an atmosphere with fewer barriers between spectators and players with daily games scheduled at centrally located stadiums. For more information on the Cactus League and the spring training schedule visit www.CactusLeague.com.

RV travelers who want the best in resort-style amenities can choose from 19 different Encore RV Resorts locations across Arizona. Each location offers unique amenities and activities, such as swimming pools, spas, fitness centers, lounges, sports courts, organized activities, Wi-Fi access and more. With Encore RV Resorts’ many locations across Arizona, finding a base for spring training is simple.

To book a visit to any of these premier Encore RV Resorts in the Arizona area, call (866) 730-0637.

About Encore and Thousand Trails
Encore and Thousand Trails feature 172 RV Resorts across North America. Owned and operated by Equity LifeStyle Properties, Inc. (NYSE: ELS), Encore, Thousand Trails, and its affiliates offer RV and outdoor recreation enthusiasts opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in top vacation destinations, complemented with resort style amenities.

Rockford, Illinois Teen Angler catches of state-record Walleye

Nick Tassoni (left) with his father David and Nick’s state-record walleye

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Division of Fisheries salutes 15 year old Nick Tassoni of Rockford for catching a new state-record walleye. The fish was caught on Jan. 7, 2012 on the Pecatonica River between Rockton and Harrison in Winnebago County. Nick Tassoni caught the fish while fishing the river with his father, David Tassoni.

IDNR Division of Fisheries Regional Administrator Dan Sallee reports the fish weighed in at 14 pounds, 12 ounces and was 31 inches in length with a girth of 20.25 inches. Nick Tassoni’s fish topped the previous state-record walleye, a 14 pounder caught on the Kankakee River in 1961.

Nick Tassoni, a freshman at Rockford Auburn High School, reported catching the fish with a Rapala Minnow Rap lure on Berkley Trilene Big Game 10 lb. line, using a Falcon Carolina Lizzard Dragger rod and Ambassadeur 5000 reel.

“We congratulate Nick Tassoni on catching a beautiful fish and commend this young man and his father for being alert to the fact that they had a big one that might be a record-setter,” said Sallee. “Nick’s fish easily erased a more than 50-year-old state record for walleye, and this catch speaks to the fun families can have while fishing in Illinois.”

For more information on catching fish, state-record fish and fishing opportunities in Illinois, go to the IDNR website at www.dnr.illinois.gov/fishing or check out www.ifishillinois.org.

Illinois DNR reminds snowmobile operators to practice safety this winter

Additional opportunities to take safety courses in 2012

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is reminding snowmobile operators and riders to take extra caution this year when the snow begins to fall in Illinois. Every year throughout the state, people are seriously injured or lose their lives on snowmobiles. Many of these accidents could have been prevented had proper precautions been taken and common sense been used.

In most instances, being alert, knowing the trail, and traveling at a reasonable rate of speed for trail conditions can prevent most accidents. In North America, more than 50 percent of snowmobile fatalities involve intoxicated operators.

Last season (2010-2011) in Illinois, 47 reported snowmobile accidents resulted in 1 fatality.

“Snowmobiling is a fun activity for thousands of people in Illinois each year, but that fun can be quickly eclipsed if safety isn’t the top priority,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller. “If you are planning to snowmobile this season but haven’t yet taken a safety course, there are new opportunities to do so in 2012.”

Starting in 2012, two new online snowmobile safety courses will be available the public to become familiar with safe sledding practices or to refresh themselves on staying safe. Individuals will be able to earn legal safety certification through either www.snowmobilecourse.com or www.snowmobile-ed.com. Both companies charge a fee of $29.50 to complete their course.

While IDNR encourages everyone to take a snowmobile safety class before their first ride of the season, state law requires that persons at least 12 years of age and less than 16 years must have in possession a valid Snowmobile Safety Education Certificate of Competency issued by IDNR in order to operate a snowmobile alone.

The IDNR continues to offer free traditional classroom safety classes though most have taken place for this season.

Current snowmobile safety education courses require students attend an eight-hour class where certified instructors teach basic safety principles, maintenance, operation, winter survival, regulations and a proper attitude of respect for the student's fellow person and the environment.

Basic safety tips for safe snowmobiling:
  • Know your equipment and make sure that equipment is in proper working order.
  • Wear sensible, protective clothing designed for snowmobiling like a full-size helmet, goggles, or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice chips, and flying debris.
  • Avoid wearing long scarves. They may get caught in moving parts of the snowmobile.
  • Know the terrain you are going to ride. If unfamiliar to you, ask someone who has traveled over it before. Be aware of trails or portions of trails that may be closed.
  • Drowning is one cause of snowmobile fatalities. When not familiar with the thickness of the ice or water currents, avoid these areas.
  • Know the weather forecast and especially the ice and snow conditions in the area.
  • Always use the buddy system. Never ride alone or unaccompanied.
  • Travel at a reasonable rate of speed for your visibility conditions.
*Reminder to riders and hikers: A minimum of 4 inches of snow cover must be present for snowmobile use on state-managed property. Please call ahead to site offices to get the latest snow conditions and trail closures at individual sites. Ignoring these closures can result in a minimum $75 fine and possible arrest. For a list of site offices please visit the IDNR website at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/