ESCANABA - There are two anomalies about this summer in need of resolution:
1. We are just over a week away from that fateful cry heard every year as summer begins and school ends - "Mom, there's nothing to do!"
2. With all the uncertainty in the economy, who can afford to travel across the country for vacation this year?
The answer to both is to rediscover your own back yard.
There are so many things to see and do on the Upper Peninsula and most of the newer generation of Yoopers haven't a clue.
When we were kids, we made a couple of long cross-country trips. Most of what I remember about them were the long and dreary days stuck in the back seat of our station wagon. (I think they're called hatchbacks today). The only pleasure in the interim was tormenting my youngest brother Jeff.
Otherwise, I can recall only bits and pieces of what we did except for a few trips when we genuinely enjoyed the outdoors.
I can vividly remember traveling to an area near Cheboygan, just below the Mackinac Bridge, where we stayed in cabins along the Black River. We were there for what seemed an endless time everyday, cooking out, fishing, swimming, and playing ball. In fact we did so much that with all the memories, I thought we went there many times when in reality, it was only twice.
I also recall our group of aunts, uncles and their families getting together for picnics in varying locations throughout the central U.P.
We saw the village in Fayette and watched the Bishop and the Blessing of the Fleet. These were the recreational watercraft and commercial fishing boats that gathered in the harbor of the state park for the annual event.
I recall helping pull the heavy rope looped through anchored eyebolts on a special raft that floated over the huge pond called Big Spring, Kitick-iti-kipi, near Indian Lake in Schoolcraft County. Through the special mid-ship opening, we would gaze at the bubbling water as it rose from the bottom through sunken logs at a rate of 16,000 gallons a minute, and the huge brown trout that swam near the bottom at depths of 40-60 feet in temperatures averaging 45 degrees year round.
At least once when we were kids, we got to ride deep into the earth at the Iron Mountain iron mine. They had real raincoats for us to wear and a neat train that had sideways seats to ride to the depths where icons like Big John the Miner dug ore. Upon completion of the tour, you could go outside and take actual chunks of iron ore as a souvenir. Boy it was great.
Some Sundays, after church, we'd go down to the park in Escanaba and go fishing with my dad. I don't recall catching a lot but I do know it was special because he worked so hard and took special time to be with us.
As the years went on, our families acquired a camp (or cottage as it had running water, septic and electricity). There were years of enjoyment with special events and get-togethers that included every season.
On holidays like the Fourth of July, we ate genuine-roasted corn on the cob cooked on a wire rack and covered with wet burlap over a wood fire, a system designed by my uncles. We even had a couple of real pig roasts using a homemade cooker.
Later, when our immediate family wanted to branch out, my wife Mary Kay and I took our kids to places that featured wildlife for viewing.
We'd travel to the John Henes Park in Menominee. There they had live deer, a bear, fox and other wildlife including various waterfowl that roamed freely.
In Iron Mountain City Park, they had captive deer that included some of the biggest bucks I've ever seen. They were so majestic that Buck LeVasseur himself used some of them for viewing shots on his television show "Discovering."
Presque Isle Park in Marquette had deer, including an albino that was born in the woods near the Whitefish River in the Hiawatha National Forest.
As my parents evolved to grandparents, our entire ensemble of kids and grandkids got into camping with the elder folks. It was, for me, a repeat of some of the times I had as a kid and to this day holds some of my finest memories shared among family. We had undeniable fun.
I also found out years later that most of what I thought were the greatest of times, were in fact a period when things were tight financially. Oh, they improved but those that were most simple, as my mother informed me, were not far removed from what we're seeing today with the economy and high costs of entertainment.
My whole point is this: You can always find something of interest to do with your family a relatively short distance from home. Go back to the basics of imagination and exploration and rediscover your own back yard using that good old Yooper ingenuity to defray costs. Involve yourself with your kids as much as you can and build the bond that makes a family. The biggest challenge is to have fun.
The return on investment can only be counted on how much they cherish the memories and work to carry them forward for their children, too.
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 on Saturday mornings.