ESCANABA - A warm winter and lack of snow has taken its toll on U.P. businesses that rely on tourism.
According to Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association, the poor snow conditions may be a major factor in the lack of visitors coming to the U.P. from Illinois and Wisconsin.
"It's marginal cover and there's been as much snow or better south of us. ... There's not a reason for people to come to the U.P. if they have snow in their backyards," Nemacheck said.
One of UPTRA's main goals is to encourage overnight hotel stays, which encourage tourists to spend money in restaurants and other local businesses. Without the snow and safe lake ice, it is difficult to convince tourists to invest time in multiple day visits.
"We survive on tourism, but we're on the understanding we're a layover. We're not a destination," said Michael Pouliot, owner of Terrace Bay Inn & Suites in Gladstone. "We'd love to be a destination, but until we get something that can hold people here, we're a layover."
According to Pouliot, 8 to 10 years ago, ice fisherman would fill 20 to 40 percent of rooms at the Terrace Bay Inn in January and February. Recently, rooms have been filled between 2 and 10 percent between November and the beginning of June.
What happened to winter?
According to U.P. tourism experts, winter has not been dependable in the region for two to three years.
March 2012 saw temperatures in the mid-70s.
Experts are saying, however, all hope is not lost. A cool down and heavy snowfall in February and March could boost tourism.
"It's just because of the uncertainty of the weather," said Pouliot.
The weather may be uncertain for local businesses and hotels, but not for tourists.
"With the Internet today, ice fishermen and snowmobilers know conditions instantly where they're going to go," said Nemacheck.
Locally, ice conditions are a major part of winter tourism, but snow is important for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing, which help drive the winter economy across the U.P.
"Good conditions for winter are good temperatures and lots of snow and we aren't seeing that," said Nemacheck. "There isn't another component."
Unlike other winter sports, downhill skiing locations may be able to survive the warm temperatures in the short term by artificially producing their own snow. However, long stretches of warm weather can cause closures and lost revenue.
These weather-related closures are already being seen locally. The Gladstone Sports Park and ski hill was closed Friday due to the weather conditions. The park is scheduled to reopen Thursday, weather permitting.
"The winter has not been dependable for a long time. It's been two or three years since we've has a few good winters in a row," said Nemacheck, who noted temperatures were in the mid-seventies last March.
All hope is not lost for local businesses. A cool down and heavy snowfall could boost tourism in February and March.
"The good news is, there's still time," said Nemacheck.