Winter camping — in the cold and snow — more popular every year

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — On any given weekend this winter, a half dozen hearty souls will venture into the backcountry of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising, pitch a tent and go camping. They are joining an increasing number of winter campers at state, national and private campgrounds around Michigan. Some go off the grid in small backpacking tents while others brave the elements in fully equipped RVs plugged into the internet and cable TV. Winter camping has “taken a while to gain some traction,” said Jason Fleming, chief of resource protection and promotion for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Recreation Division. “Overall, I’d say it’s something that is slowly expanding.”
More than a dozen state parks offer some type of winter camping, according to the DNR.

Winter brings new opportunities for recreation in Michigan

By BECKY WILDT
Capital News Service
LANSING — The long Michigan winters don’t stop outdoor groups from getting children outdoors and learning new skills
Ski Girls Rock at Mount Brighton is a program where female ski instructors teach girls to improve technique while inspiring confidence and team building. The program was designed for intermediate skiers by Lindsey Vonn, the 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion for alpine skiing. “Skiing and snowboarding are life-long sports,” said Pat Schutte, the public relations representative, “Our goal is to make sure people are enjoying themselves while they’re out on the slopes so that they, too, get bit by the snow sports passion bug and can’t wait to get outside and enjoy our beautiful Michigan winters.”
For some of the colder days, the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor runs winter camps for campers to learn about animals. The weeklong Winter Camp Paws teaches campers about environmental education, conservation and animal welfare. “Our mission at our humane society is to promote the loving responsible care of all animals in our community,” said Amelia Rodgers, education camp programmer.

Road agencies see savings if winter proves mild

By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service
LANSING — With predictions of a mild winter ahead, some county road commissions anticipate that savings on fuel and road salt will funnel into spring road projects such as pothole repair. According to National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration predictions for December through February, Michigan’s winter has a greater than 50 percent chance of above-average temperatures and a 40 percent chance to be less snowy than average. In the meantime, a delayed start to colder temperatures and snowfall is giving the commissions a chance to “catch their breath” from the workloads of past winters and catch up on road maintenance, said Dirk Heckman, the manager and engineer at the Mackinac County Road Commission. Projects include brush removal, drainage ditch clearing and rebuilding road shoulders, Heckman said. “We had not been able to do this in the previous fall and early winter months,” Heckman said.

Homelessness continues despite some improvements

By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service
LANSING — The coming winter and the dropping temperature are a great concern for people without a place to live. Homelessness has improved across Michigan over the past decades but not enough, according to the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. “There are services available throughout the state. And many communities have seen increases in the types of services that are available, but those are not significant increases that are across the board,” said Eric Hufnagel, the executive director of the coalition. According to a 2014 report by Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness, there were 97,642 homeless people in 2014.

Bill would help counties replace failing snow plows

By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Keweenaw County’s 30 road commission vehicles — which include snow plows and salt trucks — average 27 years old and 130,000 miles. The county’s oldest snow plows are from the 1970s and have over a quarter million miles on them, said Gregg Patrick, Keweenaw County Road Commission engineer. “Most county commissions are running their equipment twice the life they used to, and these can start to fail in the winter season,” Patrick said. Counties have trouble keeping roads safe and convenient for the public when their old equipment is failing and needs maintenance more often, said Ed Noyola, deputy director of the County Road Association of Michigan. “Its reliability factor goes down as the vehicle ages beyond its intended life,” Noyola said, “What used to take us a day is now taking us two and a half days or longer in certain communities.”
Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, is reintroducing a bill to give counties like Keweenaw an opportunity to get affordable snow plows by giving local entities the first bid on equipment that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is auctioning off.

Special events, indoor promotions increase winter tourism

By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Vacationers in the Grand Traverse region this winter can do a lot more than ski. At Shanty Creek Resort, skiers can take a shuttle to downtown Bellaire, home of popular breweries like Short’s Brewing. Black Star Farms winery in Traverse City now offers horse-drawn sleigh rides on the winery’s grounds. As of last year, visitors can snowshoe a trail connecting Brys Estate Vineyard, Bowers Harbor Vineyards and the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery of Old Mission Peninsula. In a bid to expand tourist-related economic activity, businesses like these and across the state increasingly provide indoor tourist experiences to complement the great outdoors.

How cold was it? Petoskey man writes memoir to tell us

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – For Petoskey writer Gary Barfknecht, growing up after World War II on the Mesabi iron range of Northern Minnesota meant bitter-cold winters, the uncertainties of a mining economy, wandering lost in the backcountry, learning to hunt, playing hockey and making the most of short summers. His new memoir, “Rooted in Iron and Ice: Innocent Years on the Mesabi” (North Star Press of St. Cloud, $14.95), describes the region as a “frigid, isolated, inhospitable strip of mineral wealth,” making up a “small, insular foreign country with its own culture, language and one-of-a-kind terrain.”

Barfknecht said his experiences are similar to those of people who grew up during the same era in the Western Upper Peninsula. Both had similar climate, similar economies, similar wildernesses and similar mixes of dozens of ethnic groups drawn by the mines’ huge demand for labor. “Iron mining started in the western U.P. As those mines started to tap out, those miners started to move to Minnesota,” he said.

Local officials increasingly convert paved roads to gravel ones as lawmakers debate how to fund repairs

By DARCIE MORAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan communities might see more local roads turned to gravel in coming months, thanks to winter’s remaining grip. The rough winter has given Michigan’s road funding concerns a violent push into statewide spotlight as discussion swirls at the Capitol. But road commissions across the state are eyeing the immediate impact that deeply rooted frost has on a local level. County road commissions have increasingly taken up the practice of permanently or temporarily turning paved roads into gravel in recent years to deal with issues of low funding and poor road conditions, said Joe Pulver, Clinton County Road Commission managing director. Last year, about half of Michigan counties were forced to convert paved roads to gravel, said Monica Ware, the communications and development manager for the County Road Association of Michigan.

Climate change’s impact on wine grapes under study

By DANIELLE WOODWARD
Capital News Service
LANSING –If you sip your favorite wine and it tastes a bit funny, climate change may be the culprit. More extreme weather, like unpredictable springs and long summer droughts, is to blame for changes in grape production, said Erwin Elsner a small fruit educator at Michigan State University. Scientists say extreme weather is one of the consequences of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels. What that means to wine production is as yet unclear, and it’s still too early to tell for certain, Elsner said. “If we could tell our growers that they could expect consistent warming trends, it would be beneficial, but at this point all we have is a more unpredictable climate.

Mild winter saves money but only for some counties

By WEI YU
Capital News Service
LANSING – If this mild winter continues into April, the Lenawee County Road Commission will definitely be a winner, but the situation isn’t as rosy in St. Joseph County. Lenawee County has spent only about $220,000 of its $900,000 winter maintenance budget since the beginning of 2012, according to Jason Schnaidt, its operations manager. “We are not buying salt, which is a big saving. Fuel usage has decreased because of less use of the big trucks.”
However, staff is about the same as last winter and, employees keep busy doing such things as filling pothole and clearing brush, he said.