While exploring Yankee Springs Recreation Area, Nick looks back at his MI Best Adventure travels throughout the year.
While exploring Yankee Springs Recreation Area, Nick looks back at his MI Best Adventure travels throughout the year.
Why this independent sporting goods store cares about more than selling gear
Skip Lee, the owner of Portage-based Lee’s Adventure Sports, has a business plan that flies in the face of many retailers.
“We don’t exist just to sell you an item,” said Lee, the second-generation owner of the outdoor sporting goods store at 311 W. Kilgore Road in Portage. “We’re here to give you access to the gear you need to have an experience, to get outside and enjoy yourself.
“We’re going to make sure that you have the equipment that fits what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. You can see, feel and touch what you’re buying. You’re not guessing if it will fit or if it’s what you really need.
“You can’t get that many places these days.”
Lee’s is an all-season shop that outfits adventure seekers of all pursuits, from downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding in the winter to kayaking, paddleboarding and backpacking in the spring, summer and fall.
Lee’s is the rare remaining independent sporting goods store in a world that has become dominated by massive big boxes and the pages of internet giants. The shop carries the same name-brand items of Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Kavu and more that can outfit shoppers from head-to-toe in technical and casual wear.
What many don’t know, Lee says, is that the pricing is no different than what customers will find elsewhere. And it comes with an added benefit the others can’t offer.
“People want to come in and talk about what they are going to buy, and we can be that valuable resource and knowledge to recommend items that fit their lifestyle,” Lee said. “Our staff is passionate about being outdoors and doing exactly what our customers are going out to do.
“And if you’re someone who is just starting out on something, we can be the voice of experience.”
Lee’s has been dishing out that information since 1954, when his parents, Bill and Evelyn Lee, started their business as a general toy and hobby shop. It evolved over the years to focus on outdoor sports and adventure as the family identified it as a market in need and it fit with their desire to be in nature.
Lee said he and his staff thrive on interacting with first-time customers and visiting with returning shoppers. Several years ago, Lee recalls, a father and son came in while Christmas shopping, and when they came back, they cited the service they received as the reason behind another trip.
“They valued that in-depth conversation about what finding what they were looking for,” Lee said, noting that the lag time between shopping stops is because the clothes and gear Lee’s sells stand the test of time.
“You’re buying equipment, jackets and other products that have value and will last for years. It’s a different and better buying experience than what you’ll find somewhere else.”
Lee’s turns over its inventory seasonally, but can assist in any sport’s off-season. The shop is also at the forefront of emerging technology and new gears.
“Things are always getting better and because we’re out there and working with the best brands, we’ll have that new and improved piece of equipment,” Lee said. “We’re here to help you get what you need.”
Brunch in a beverage? You can get that at Rockwell Republic on the weekend.
Or guests can roll in for mid-day and end-of-the-night happy hours, an expansive food menu available late into the night and an around-the-clock imaginative lineup of local beer and craft cocktails.
It’s that sort of creativity and desire to cater to customers that has built a dedicated following for the side-by-side bar and restaurant in the Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids. The appreciation for the dining and drinking spots, which expanded and then became a centerpiece of the city’s downtown growth for a decade, is obvious.
“The food is Asian American deliciousness,” online reviewer Montana Krukowski wrote.
“If you have friends who can’t agree on what type of cuisine to eat, this is the place to go. Their menu has so much to choose from,” Namchi Do said.
Katie Barcelona wrote: “Great happy hour deals, food and drinks are great and so is the atmosphere. This is one of my go-to places.”
Those responses to guests’ experience are what Jesse Tackett, Rockwell Republic’s general manager for three years, and his staff want to hear.
“We want to be the place that you’re interested in going to every time you go out because you can always do or try something new,” Tackett said. “Our variety is unmatched, from sushi to tacos to a perfectly cooked filet, you’ll find it here.”
Rockwell Republic’s setting is often discussed because of the distinct atmospheres each offers at 45 S. Division Ave. Rockwell’s feel is a lively Chicago-like gastropub, a spot to grab an after-work beer from the 30 tap handles, a handcrafted cocktail or a taste of one of the more than 200 bourbons that are available.
On the building’s other side, Republic’s scene is a wine bar/dinner house vibe where people can relax with a significant other, family and friends or business partners looking to unwind. The extensive wine list adds a something-for-everyone option.
The restaurants share exposed-brick walls, high ceilings, dark mahogany wood and eclectic lighting that fit either a casual night out or a hit-the-town outing. Rockwell Republic also benefit from the shared second story bar, and a roof-top deck to soak in the urban setting during the warmer months.
Tackett describes Rockwell Republic menu as Pacific Rim inspired with sushi, seafood and share plate choices, but the restaurants achieve a balance with a mouthwatering array of appetizers, sandwiches and entrees. Daily features turnover weekly, and the fare changes seasonally as the chef creates new dishes.
“The idea is to keep the mainstays, but at the same time evolve with something new,” Tackett said. “We keep it fresh.”
Now, back to that brunch in a beverage. Rockwell Republic’s “Massive Mary” has reached its legendary status as the best in Grand Rapids by stacking a quartered bacon cheeseburger beside a beer cheese dip filled pretzel bun and a stack of beer-battered onion petals. Positioned in a 32-ounce mason jar with a perfectly prepared Bloody Mary, the drink is the definition of a Saturday or Sunday started right.
“If you haven’t tried it, you need to,” Tackett said. “And once you have had it, you’re going to come back for it.”
Weekends also feature a Bloody Mary bar that guests can create the drink they desire, and the offering is one of the daily specials that draws people to Rockwell Republic.
Other specials include:
Visit Rockwell Republic online to plan your first or next visit to the best of Grand Rapids has to offer.
Seattle – the land of Starbucks – may have met its match in Marquette.
The Upper Peninsula city is home to more independently owned coffee shops per capita than the Pacific Northwest area that is synonymous with java culture. The local roasters and craft coffee brewers are ideal for a morning wake-me-up, a mid-day break or an afternoon warm-up following a day outdoors.
And that’s important as winter snow and cold loom, a change of seasons that offers more opportunity to relax as the crowds get smaller while the fun never stops. This Lake Superior shoreline city is known for its summer outdoor adventure and its innovative food and beer scene, but it can be overlooked for winter getaways.
The region has an extensive network of trails that lend themselves to hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and fatbiking. Marquette is also recognized as the birthplace of North American organized skiing, and the hills remain incredible.
Before learning more about winter outdoor recreation, it’s smart to game-plan for what you’ll do to enjoy the culinary and craft cocktail scene.
Here are five must-stop coffee shops to think about visiting.
There are dozens of places to grab a great meal and a cold beer – craft brews know no season and visitors can even continue the outdoor theme in a heated igloo at Blackrocks.
Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing
The Noquemanon Trail Network offers unmatched outdoor experiences with 50K of maintained trails that can be used recreationally for point to point or looped outings. Trail experts recommend snowshoe users start on the singletrack at the Forestville Trailhead, and they ask that people steer clear of the trails groomed from classic and skate skiing. Rentals are available at Forestville, and as a bonus to dog owners, your furry friend is welcome to get outside with you.
The outdoor outfitter Down Wind Sports say the difficulty of snowshoeing is often overestimated.
“If you can walk you can snowshoe,” they remind users. “(It’s) one of the easiest ways to get outside in the winter and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has no shortage of places to explore.
Down Wind recommends hitting the Eben Ice Caves, Yellow Dog Falls and Hogsback Mountain as other potential outings.
If you’re still more comfortable in your own two boots, the trails up Sugarloaf Mountain and Blueberry Ridge remain popular in the down season. The majestic views of snow-covered terrain from atop Sugarloaf are just as mesmerizing as the other three seasons. The half-mile trail is well marked, and while it will be slower-going with snow, the terrain is manageable for people of all fitness and skill levels. The city’s 12-mile multi-use trail is another great option to get those steps in.
In a two-week window last winter, three separate snowstorms each dumped between 12 and 24 inches around Marquette. Add in an icestorm of “legendary proportions” and the dreaded below zero temperatures of the polar vortex, and it would have led most people to hunker down and stay inside.
Marquette threw a party and held a fatbike race.
Todd Poquette, who runs the Polar Roll winter adventure race with 30-mile and 15-mile bike routes and a 10K snowshoe event, chuckles when recalling heading into the woods to clear choked off trails that were battered by fallen and hanging trees and a base buried by ice and powder.
“Miraculously, the show went on,” said Poquette. “I think it’s part of the culture. We don’t slow down just because the summer ends. We still have a lot of cool events that happen throughout the year, and people really enjoy getting out and getting together.
“Everyone understands that the conditions are part of the experience.”
For the Polar Roll, Poquette says there are roughly 450 race participants – they’ve had riders from nearly every state, including California and Arizona since its 2015 inception – and hundreds more who come for the festivities. The atmosphere is built around the collective experience.
On the course, there are areas with people grilling food, handing out drinks and the “Hugs and Bacon” aid station that has developed into a favorite. There’s a post-race party with live music.
“We make it a good time for everyone,” Poquette said.
Marquette also activates for these key winter events, but the area’s full scope of entertainment options can found here.
Staged on the Noquemanon Trail Network, the “Noque” is a point-to-point cross country ski race that offers varying lengths of competition, including 50K individual, 50K relay, 24K and 10K events. There are also snowshoe and snowbike options that traverse rolling hills, frozen lakes and majestic woods. The 22nd annual event in 2020 will be held Jan. 24-26 and has become a fixture in the outdoor landscape of Michigan and its Midwestern neighbors. The scenic terrain promises a lifetime of warm memories. The race’s non-profit status is dedicated to furthering non-motorized trail development, preserving all-season outdoor recreation for future generations.
This sled dog race, in its 30th year running from Marquette to Grand Marais and back, marks its territory as the third-longest event in the continental United States and provides a glimpse at what happens in the renowned Iditarod race. Mushers powered by 12-dog teams welcome crowd support from the start in downtown Marquette, along the way at checkpoints during the race and a raucous environment as they return to the finish line along Lower Harbor Park. The trail actually clocks in at 230 miles long despite the race name, and it’s a testament to the endurance and drive of the team. Head to Marquette to experience it for the first time from Feb. 13-17, 2020.
Visit Travel Marquette to learn more about the region and plan your visit.
Members of the West Michigan Quilters’ Guild showed up at the Santa Claus Girls workshop on the last Monday in October. A few days later, on Halloween, it was women from Delta Kappa Gamma. Groups on tap for November include
disabled adults from HOPE Network, parishioners from St. Anthony’s church and employees of the Henry A. Fox Sales beer distributorship.
The list is diverse. But during the Christmas season, the groups all have something in common: they volunteer to wrap presents.
Year in and year out, a community of volunteers exemplifies the Christmas spirit by carrying on a century-old West Michigan tradition of wrapping gifts for children in Kent County who are at risk of not getting anything at all for the holidays.
Of course, the Santa Claus Girls not only wrap gifts. They also buy them. Sort them. And deliver them. Altogether, upwards of 700 volunteers pitch in each year to brighten the season for children and families in need.
In fact, there’s not a single paid person in the entire operation! The Santa Claus Girls is 100-percent volunteer run. Even The Press-sponsored charity’s Knoll, Inc. workspace on 36th Street SE is donated.
That’s why you can feel good about giving money to the Santa Claus Girls: more than 98 percent of the money donated to the non-profit organization goes directly into gifts for kids. That’s 98 cents of every dollar you contribute!
“Our phone banks are totally staffed by volunteers. Our wrappers. Our sorters. Even cleaning off the tables in the lunchroom is done by volunteers,” said Maggie Moerdyke, a volunteer from Lowell. “It totally blows me away. It’s very much a community effort.”
There are many places to give this holiday season, but not all giving opportunities are equally charitable. Not only is Santa Claus Girls extremely efficient with the money donated by the community because it’s run by all volunteers, but it also has a long and proven track record.
For over a century, going all the way back to 1908, community volunteers and donors have helped the Santa Claus Girls make miracles for children – ensuring that no child goes without a gift at Christmas.
Last year, the Santa Claus Girls wrapped and delivered presents to 13,105 children from 5,142 families across Kent County. The charity aims to do it all over again this year and needs to raise $200,000.
That money, along with in-kind contributions of donated items, will provide gifts to each registered child including an age-appropriate toy, a book, clothing such as a sweatshirt or pajamas, warms hats, gloves or mittens and candy.
Volunteer buyers purchase items to supplement what has been donated. Then volunteer sorters divvy up the presents by age and gender before volunteer wrappers put a bow on the process. Other volunteers design the delivery routes and on Dec. 14, this year’s delivery day, even more volunteers arrive to bring the gifts to children who registered to be on the Santa Claus Girls gift list.
Jean McArthur has volunteered with the Santa Claus Girls for the past three years, ever since she moved to Rockford from the east side of Michigan and sought a place to donate items that she sews. Each Christmas season she drops off boxes of matching bibs, burp cloths and receiving blankets that the Santa Claus Girls include in gifts for families with infants.
Not only that, but McArthur also volunteers to wrap presents at the workshop.
“When I came in to drop off my stuff, they gave me a tour and I was just so impressed with what they do and how they do it that I wanted to do more,” McArthur said. “It sold itself: Christmas and kids, you don’t need anything else. It was an easy sell.
“And it’s very rewarding. I get more out of this than I give.”
McArthur has enjoyed helping the Santa Claus Girls so much that she presented the charity as a potential beneficiary of the Women Who Care of Kent County group that she’s part of. Every three months the group meets and picks a charity to receive a sizeable donation. This year the group gave $18,100 to the Santa Claus Girls!
Whether you give $18,000 or just $18, you, too, can help the Santa Claus Girls by donating money with confidence that it will accomplish the charity’s mission as cost-effectively as possible. Hundreds of volunteers from across the community are working hard right now to ensure that the Santa Claus Girls make more miracles for children in Kent County this Christmas.
Please help sustain West Michigan’s 110-year-old Christmas tradition by making a generous contribution to the Santa Claus Girls here, or by calling The Grand Rapids Press at 616-254-2099.
To register a family to receive gifts, please call 616-957-7335 or visit www.santaclausgirls.org/submit.
To volunteer to drive, please email email@example.com.