ESCANABA - A sure sign summer has arrived is schools are empty of students until they return in the fall. Another sign will appear in about a week from now when many parents will hear the first of many complaints of children that, "There's nothing to do!"
That seems to be more of an issue these days because the opportunity for kids to use their imagination in play is somewhat diminished.
When we were kids, there were the structured sports such as baseball leagues. Except for a few other organized activities, the rest was pretty much up to us and we had to rely on our imagination to keep occupied. There were no ground rules either except for one, set by our parents: "Don't get in trouble!"
That pretty much helped us develop our common sense skills. We learned if you thought it might be wrong, it probably was.
Otherwise we had to wait for an event in order to harbor a special memory for the year. Whether it was the 4th of July and the daytime corn roasts with all our relatives and fireworks that followed that evening, or one of the many church festivals in the rural communities, all the way to Labor Day in Rock, there was always a trip or two to make summer whole.
We did make trips to special tourist attractions. What then seemed to be major efforts to travel, today seem to be a short skip in comparison. I'm talking about the many features the Upper Peninsula has to offer, all relatively inexpensive and within a couple hours drive for most.
The IXL Museum in Hermansville has a great view into the past during the lumbering era. There is also a veterans memorial in the small village that pays tribute to those who served in the military, especially during the Vietnam era.
Just to the north along U-S 2 in Vulcan, you can see "Big John", a statuesque portrait of the legendary miner who stands guard outside of the Iron Mountain Iron Mine. The facility is open for the season and features guided trips that travel 400 feet below ground through 2600 feet of drifts and tunnels to get a taste of the reality of iron mining.
A little further north is a park within the city limits of Iron Mountain. This public facility has a unique attraction with whitetail deer in an enclosure, some of the bucks are record size. Last year one of the does had a pair of fawns and one of those was an albino. There is a picnic area and playground for little children. Other wildlife that can be seen in the area include ducks, geese and an occasional free roaming rabbit.
To the north along Lake Superior, Marquette's Presque Isle Park is open to the public. Area exhibits such as the Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, Iron Industry Museum, Maritime Museum and Children's Museum all provide a good time with interactive features. The Cliff's Shaft and Mineral Museum features a tour of 1200 feet of tunnels in the heart of Ishpeming and a 170 ton iron ore truck with 12-foot high tires.
Staying along Lake Superior to the east is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, featuring sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes, forest, and shoreline, all sculpted by mother nature to a wonderment of colors and shapes. While there you can bring your camera and join others on a breathtaking two and a half to three hour boat cruise based in Munising.
Working your way to the southeast into Schoolcraft County, one of my favorite places to visit is Big Springs "Kitch iti kipi" at Palms Brook State Park.
Kitchitikipi is Michigan's largest spring, with over 10,000 gallons a minute gushing from its fissures in the underlying limestone. There is a large self-operated and tethered observation raft in which your whole family can ride and view the amazing crystal clear underwater structure that includes brown trout.
Back in Delta County, a visit to the historic smelting village of Fayette State Park is truly a trip back in time to the days when charcoal pig iron was manufactured.
Located near the southern tip of the Garden Peninsula, the preserved village from the mid to late 1800's teaches the history and heritage of our ancestors, many of whom settled here from Canada, the British Isles and Europe to make pig iron.
You can also visit one of the many other historical locations including the Lighthouse and Museum located on Sand Point in Escanaba. The miraculous Ludington Park also features a vast array of picnic sites along Little Bay De Noc's western shore.
There's certainly plenty of inexpensive family fun available throughout the summer and all over the region, most of which many have never seen even though they exist in your own back yard.
Do yourself a favor, take the time to visit one of the areas and lock in the time together as a fun and learning experience about why we live in the great U.P.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet Saturday mornings.