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September 11, 2014

Return of the Empire Hill Climb

Filed under: calendar,empire,Leelanau,michigan,news,sports,travel — Andrew McFarlane @ 3:47 pm

Empire Hill Climb

By Jacob Wheeler of the Glen Arbor Sun ~ photos courtesy of Empire Historical Museum

Empire Hill Climb Returns on Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jacob-Wheeler-Glen-Arbor-SunIn the early days of the Empire Hill Climb, remembers local historian Dave Taghon, the family-run automobile garage and gas station would sell more air than beer. “The cars would keep going after they reached the top of Empire Bluff, hook a left on M-22 and come back into town,” says Taghon. “They’d stop and check the air pressure in their tires before racing up the hill again. We sold a lot of air!” Later on, the cars would wait at the top of the hill for their competitors, before returning to Empire in a parade of sleek racecars.

The Empire Hill Climb, which ran from 1964 until 1980 — once in the spring and once in the fall — returns to action on Sept. 20. Approximately 20 drivers have signed up, and they’ll take turns racing the curvy, half-mile route up Wilco Rd. (toward the Empire Bluffs trail parking lot) between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. A racecar expose from 9-9:45 a.m. on Front Street will precede the main event. Spectators are welcome to come check out the sleek automobiles and meet their drivers. (For drivers, registration starts at 7 a.m. and costs $175.)

HillClimb4The original running featured some of the sweetest rides of the era, including muscle cars, Corvettes, Jaguars, Austin-Healeys, Porsches, AMC Javelins and Ferraris. And it attracted colorful characters in the drivers seat, too. “One year a doctor from Chicago took a Jaguar into the bank and shortened the car by four inches (but walked away),” remembers Mike Taghon. “Another year our local priest ran a Pontiac up the hill. His time was slow, but it was entertaining to watch.”

Mike and his brother Pat raced in several Hill Climbs. Dave Taghon joked that he had to work for a living, but occasionally played hooky to watch the popular community event. One year a carnival-style cotton candy and hot dog stand sold goodies at Empire Bluff, “like a small country fair,” remembers Mike.

Contemporary Empire is less populated, and older, but the celebration of speed returns thanks to popular demand. This year’s race will feature hot rides like an Ur-Quattro, at least three cars that have competed in the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado, and drivers ranging in age from 22 to 63.

“My dad has told me stories about the race since I was wee,” says race organizer Mike Kelty (the elder Kelty was stationed at the Empire Air Force Station in the mid 1960s and participated in the Hill Climb). “At some point we asked each other why the race was no longer happening.” So Mike Kelty opened a Facebook page in June 2013 to hype the event. “My friends told me to stop talking about it and just do it,” laughs the self-proclaimed motor head. “I like to watch cars and give them a legal place to show their stuff.”

HillClimb3Back in the day, nearly anyone could participate, says Kelty. “If you had an address in town, you didn’t have to pay.” The Twin Bays Sports Car Club in Traverse City sponsored the race, and the Empire Lions Club provided tractors to ferry spectators up the hill. The challenging, curvy course up Wilco Rd. “was made to wreck cars,” Kelty was told. But the race never claimed a life.

This time only drivers outfitted for racing — with safety cages, helmets and flame retardant apparel — can join. The NASA Rally Sport will cover the insurance and security safety along the route. EMTs will be present, just in case. Spectators will be confined to a safe area above the road that nevertheless offers a broad view of the course. The Empire Chamber of Commerce, the Village, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Leelanau County Sheriff are all on board to bring back this popular bygone event, says Chamber president Paul Skinner.

“We’re reviving something that was incredibly popular,” says Skinner, who predicts that the Empire Hill Climb could one day draw as many visitors as the village’s annual Asparagus Festival in mid-May. “This event kept Empire’s name out there and at the forefront of people’s minds. There’s nothing else like it in Northwest Michigan.”

HillClimbWhile the 2014 Hill Climb Revival may attract a modest attendance, Skinner hopes that the event goes off without a hitch and becomes an annual, or biannual, event again. “The priority for me is that we run a safe event, and that everyone goes home safely at the end of the day.” He adds that, in future years, the Traverse City-based vintage car company Hagerty Insurance could perhaps be courted to bring classic automobiles, as well.

“I have this sort of event in my blood,” says Skinner, who together with wife Heidi owns the Misers’ Hoard art gallery and antiques shop in Empire. “From 1976 until ’97 back in the UK I held a competition license to race. It’s been 17 years since I competed, but I haven’t been able to shake the interest. When Mike Kelty approached me to revive this, he pressed the right buttons immediately.”

Why did Skinner stop racing? “When Heidi and I got married, I promised I’d give it up! My last race was the summer of ’97; I came (to Michigan) that fall, and got married on Christmas Day.” He has no plans to take part in this year’s Empire Hill Climb. “I’ll help other people race instead.”

Empire’s showcase of speed comes less than a month after a terrible car accident caused by teenagers driving with reckless abandon, which killed two and has consumed the emotions of Leelanau County. So, to some, the timing of this race may seem dubious.

“It’s healthy to have some apprehension,” admits Skinner. “But this is an opportunity for young people to come and see that you have to be safe and prepared, and that this sort of driving doesn’t translate to doing that on normal roads.”

September 9, 2014

The Northport Renaissance

Filed under: Business,Leelanau,michigan,northport,travel — Andrew McFarlane @ 6:37 am

Here's a nice feature on Northport by Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism...

Northport and Lake Michigan

Perched at the very tip of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, the village of Northport isn’t on the way to anywhere else. You have to want to go there. Fortunately, there are a great many reasons why you should.

A picturesque resort town at the mouth of Grand Traverse Bay, Northport was founded in 1849. With its clapboard houses and busy harbor, nestled in a hilly landscape of orchards and small vineyards, it has the look and feel of a New England fishing village.

Just a few years ago, Northport seemed to be on the ropes, its population dwindling and many businesses closing their doors. Out-of-towners might drive through while exploring the local wine country or visiting the nearby Grand Traverse Lighthouse, but there was little (except, perhaps the cinnamon rolls at Barb’s Bakery) to persuade them to stop. But that’s all over now.

Today, the little village is undergoing a boom of sorts. Over the past year, new restaurants and shops have been springing up all over town – some moving into vacant storefronts, others building brand-new digs. Northport now has its own wine-tasting room, its first microbrewery and a nine-hole, solar-powered golf course.

“There’s a lot of good stuff going on here,” said Lisa Drummond, president of the local chamber of commerce. “We want to preserve our small-town feel, our uniqueness, because that’s crucial to us. But it’s exciting to see all this activity.”

Drummond believes the village’s remoteness has preserved it from inappropriate development over the years. But it wasn’t until the village replaced its aging sewage system in 2009 (a move that generated considerable controversy at the time) that business owners began investing in the downtown area again.

“It doesn’t hurt that this is an astonishingly beautiful, relatively undiscovered place, and that the people who live and work here care about it very passionately,” she added.

(It also doesn’t hurt that Northport has some very prominent admirers, including celebrity chef Mario Batali, who has a summer home nearby and is frequently heard singing the region’s praises.)

Northport Marina

Among the new and recent businesses are...

  • Tucker’s of Northport, a $1.5 million bar/restaurant and “boutique bowling alley” serving lunch and dinner, which opened in May on the site of Woody’s Settling Inn -- a village icon whose 2004 closing was a major blow to Northport.
  • The Northport Inn, a nine-room boutique hotel in a renovated downtown commercial building, scheduled for a mid-September opening.
  • Motovino Cellars, a wine-tasting room featuring its own label of wines produced from nearby vineyards as well as specialty foods, chocolates and cheeses.
  • Café Lelu, a full-service restaurant/bar/coffee bar serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night food, already becoming known as the place to go for local music.
  • The Northport Brewing Co., a craft “nanobrewery” (brewing less than 200 barrels a year) that opened in August.
  • Set in Stone Historic Depot, an upscale gift shop featuring wine, cigars, chocolate, beer and other local products, that opened this summer in the fieldstone train depot beside the village marina.
  • Tribune Ice Cream and Eatery, a breakfast and lunch café, scheduled to open this fall in the building that once housed the village newspaper.
  • The Northport Creek Golf Course, a nine-hole, par 35 course set on 63 acres at the edge of the village. Designed by famed architect Jerry Matthews, it’s billed as the nation’s first and only solar-powered golf course – the irrigation system and all the golf carts run on solar energy.
  • Red Mullein, an art gallery and vintage store that opened in 2013, and has already moved to larger quarters.
  • The Soggy Dollar, a full-service upscale restaurant and bar that opened Memorial Day in the former home of Stubb’s a favorite village hangout that closed in 2012.

Tuckers of Northport

June 11, 2014

Ken Scott's Ice Caves of Leelanau Book

Filed under: beach,lake michigan,Leelanau,michigan,news,photo,video,winter — Andrew McFarlane @ 8:48 am

Lake Michigan ... ice cave sunset
Lake Michigan ... ice cave sunset, photo by Ken Scott

Last winter some incredible ice formations piled up off Gills Pier. Leelanau photographer Ken Scott spent a lot of time photographing them and has published a book, Ice Caves of Leelanau. It features some of his best shots and essays by local author Jerry Dennis. Right now his books are mostly sold out (reprint coming in July) but you might be able to sweet talk one out of Ken - email him here.

You can also catch Ken's talk on the ice caves tomorrow from 4-6 PM at the Leland Township Library.

View the photo bigger on Flickr, see more in his Lake Michigan Ice & Caves slideshow and head over to kenscottphotography.com for some videos including the one below!

June 6, 2014

2014 Leland Wine & Food Festival

Filed under: calendar,fishtown,Food & Dining,fun,Leelanau,leland,summer,wine — Leelanau.com @ 1:05 pm

The annual Leland Wine & Food Festival takes place (as always) on the second Saturday in June. That's June 14, 2014.

Come enjoy a day in the Leland Harbor and Leland's historic Fishtown tasting wines from local wineries and tasting the specialties from local restaurants and vendors. There's also live music from Soul Patch in the park all day and of course plenty of beautiful views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.

Admission is $15 and includes an etched wine glass and two tokens for wine tasting. Additional tokens are available and age 10-21, or non-drinkers are $10, and under 10 is free. Tickets are available at gate, Two Fish Gallery and The Riverside Inn in Leland or online. Advance tickets get you in "the fast line" so you might want to purchase now.

Food vendors accept cash only - a list of this year's participating wineries and food vendors is below.

There's also a new "Artscape" art & wine event Friday night from 5-8 pm at the Old Art Building in Leland. Local artists will be displaying 30 amazing paintings for you to vote on to represent the 2015 Leland Wine & Food Festival on the 2014 poster. Guests of the party/exhibit will have the opportunity to cast their ballot until Saturday, June 8 at 4:00 pm. The painting with the most votes will be announced from the band stand at 6:00 pm, at the Leland Wine & Food Festival.

Admission is $20 per person and you can get a weekend ticket that includes both events for just $30.

2014 Poster by Kris Love

2014 Poster by Kris Love


Bel Lago
Black Star Farms
Boathouse Vineyards
Bowers Harbor Vineyards
Chateau de Leelanau
Chateau Fontaine
Chateau Grand Traverse
Ciccone Vineyard & Winery
Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery
Good Harbor Vineyards
Hawthorne Vineyards
Laurentide Winery
Raftshol Vineyards
Silver Leaf Winery
Verterra Winery

Food Vendors

9 Bean Rows
Bella Fortuna North
The Bluebird
The Cove
Leelanau Cheese Co.
The Leland Lodge
Martha's Leelanau Table
Pleva's Meats
The Red Heads
Village Cheese Shanty


May 30, 2014

Blossoms & Bees – Cherry blossoms STILL out on the Leelanau Peninsula!

Filed under: backgrounds,farms,Leelanau,michigan,photo,spring — Andrew McFarlane @ 9:48 am

Via today's Michigan in Pictures - Leelanau's cherry orchards are still in bloom!

Bees and Blossoms by 45th parallel exposure

Blossoms & Bees, photo by Lee Lynn Awe

View Lee Lynn's photo background bigtacular and see more in her slideshow.

May 21, 2014

Sleeping Bear Lakeshore Weekend: Astronomy, Meteors & Glen Haven Days

Filed under: calendar,glen haven,history,Leelanau,michigan,news,outdoors,sleepingbeardunes,summer — Andrew McFarlane @ 7:33 am

See-the-Stars-from-SLBE-PosterAstronomer Tyler Nordgren at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Kick-off your Memorial Day Weekend on Friday, May 23, 2014 at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. At 7:00 p.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire you can join astronomer, author, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren for an educational and entertaining program on the wonders of dark skies.

Dr. Nordgren is a Full Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Redlands in California and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Dark-Sky Association. Since 2005, he has worked with the National Park Service to promote astronomy education in U.S. national parks where the public still has a chance to see a natural nocturnal landscape. In addition, Dr. Nordgren has also developed a popular poster campaign in conjunction with the National Park Service to “See the Milky Way” in America’s parks where “Half the Park is After Dark.” Immediately following the auditorium presentation, he will be available to sign the Sleeping Bear Dunes night sky posters.

Star Party at the Dune Climb

At 10:00 p.m., visitors are invited to join the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society at the Dune Climb parking lot area for night sky viewing.

As an added bonus, In addition to regular night sky viewing, the evening could hold additional surprises in the form of the Camelopardalid meteor shower (click that link for an article from Michigan in Pictures). The Earth is expected to pass through the heart of the swarm at about 3:10 a.m., with the first meteors beginning to show up about 1:40 a.m.

All programs are free, and participants need only purchase the Park Entrance Pass or have an Annual Pass displayed in their vehicle to join in the fun. NOTE: The Star Party will be cancelled if the sky is not visible due to weather conditions. The decision to cancel is usually made three hours in advance. Please call 231-326-4700, ext. 5005, for a voicemail message with the decision.

Sleeping Bear Dunes ... star party!
Sleeping Bear Dunes ... star party! by Ken Scott

Glen Haven Days

GLEN HAVENOn Saturday, it's the first annual Glen Haven Days from 10 AM - 4 PM. Join park rangers and volunteers in the restored Glen Haven Village and the U.S. Life-saving station for activities designed to bring history during the very early 1900s to life by providing visitors with first-hand experiences relating to Michigan’s maritime heritage. Watch a blacksmith at the forge, discover the unique history of one of the area’s founders, visit a general store, learn how different tools used in logging shaped this area, participate in a shipwreck rescue, and much more. All programs are free. Participants need only purchase the Park Entrance Pass or have an Annual Pass displayed in their vehicle to join in the fun.

Glen Haven is considered one of the best surviving examples of an early Great Lakes steamship village in the region. A large dock, fuel, food, and other services were provided to ships traveling the Great Lakes between Chicago and New York. Today, the National Park Service preserves and interprets the Blacksmith Shop, General Store, Cannery Boat Museum, and the Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Station.

May 19, 2014

Pick your pleasure: Cherry Blossoms & Morels are out in Leelanau!

Filed under: cherries,farms,food,Leelanau,michigan,news,outdoors,photo,spring — Andrew McFarlane @ 6:52 am

Here's your spring report via the eatdrinkTC Instagram...

Blossom Time on the Leelanau Peninsula

Morels have been out for a week or so, and over the weekend they were joined by cherry blossoms. Both will be in full force all week and next weekend so if you've been considering a spring jaunt on the Leelanau Peninsula, now is the time!

Morel Heart

May 16, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Wildflower Rescue Plant Sale (May 23 & 24, 2014)

Filed under: gardening,Leelanau,leland,news,nonprofit,spring — Andrew McFarlane @ 8:47 am

Conservancy-Leland-Village-Green-Plant-SaleThe Annual Plant Sale at the Village Green in Leland is on tap for Memorial Day Weekend! Now is your chance to purchase native ferns, trillium, and more along with a selection of native trees and shrubs provided by locally owned Four Season Nursery, who will be on hand to answer questions about going native.

Sale runs Friday, May 23rd and Saturday May 24th; hours 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. All proceeds help maintain the Village Green and assist with other Conservancy projects. The Wildflower Rescue Committee continually seeks new sites on which to dig. If you are building a home, driveway, addition, or know of someone who is, please contact the WRC so they may have a chance to remove these precious wildflowers before the excavators arrive!

Learn more about Wildflower Rescue and the Plant Sale at LeelanauConservancy.org or call 231-256-9665.

May 15, 2014

Empire Asparagus Festival – Third Weekend in May

Filed under: calendar,empire,food,Leelanau,michigan,music,news,nonprofit,spring,wine — Andrew McFarlane @ 7:50 am

empire asparagus festival 2010The Annual Empire Asparagus Festival will be held this weekend (May 16-18, 2014) and features a slew of asparagus-themed events including a Street Dance & Pig Roast from 7-10 PM Friday, a fun run (or walk), Asparagus Eats/Wine and Beer Tasting,  Asparagus recipe contest, the Asparagus Parade, chalk art, music & dance and kids games on Saturday and a 7 PM Finale Fun Food with Live Music on Saturday night.

You can get all the details on the tasty eats and drinks below!

A feature by Susan Bayer Ward titled The Empire Strikes Back... With Asparagus explains:

There's a reason Empire touts itself as the apex of asparagus-a vegetable whose short growing season begins in early May and flows into June. The area's sandy soil, plentitude of water and temperate microclimate-fostered by Lake Michigan, make this the perfect place to nurture wild and farmed asparagus. In fact, Michigan ranks third behind California and Washington as a producer of this commercial crop which garners the state a surprising $29 million annually.

Truth be told, only one local farmer, Harry Norconk, runs a 240-acre asparagus-growing business south of town. But what the heck, this slender green harbinger of spring grows wild all over the place. And while surrounding towns, for years, positioned themselves as prime purveyors of cherries, morel mushrooms and wines, Empire decided to become the Valhalla of that savory veggie-the asparagus.


April 22, 2014

Federal Government files $5 million suit against Sugar Loaf owner Remo Polselli

Filed under: government,Leelanau,michigan,news,skiing,sugar loaf — Andrew McFarlane @ 6:01 am

Lift 3 at Sugar LoafIn Feds Sue Sugar Loaf's Polselli for $5.1M in Taxes, the TC Ticker reports:

The federal government is pursuing more than $5.1 million in alleged unpaid taxes from hotelier and purported Sugar Loaf Resort owner Remo Polselli, according to a civil lawsuit filed this month in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

According to the April 3 complaint submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division, Polselli neglected to pay required taxes on withheld employee wages under 26 separate corporate holdings or entities in multiple locations across the U.S., including Dallas, Palm Beach, South Bend and Tempe. The lawsuit covers time periods ranging from the tax year ending in 1992 up through the tax year ending in 2001.

In the complaint, the government requests the court "enter judgment...against Polselli in the total amount of $5,156,184.91 plus statutory additions from and after that date, including interest." The lawsuit also alleges in that many of the described instances of unpaid taxes, Polselli was notified of owed assessments and ordered to make payments, but that he "failed, neglected or refused to pay in full the amount of liabilities."

Read on for more including what Leelanau County officials are waiting for from Polselli.

Discuss over at Friends of Sugar Loaf on Facebook and look for an in-depth article in this week's Leelanau Enterprise.

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