In 2021, Business in Focus reported on the economic opportunities that abound in the Dickinson area, a micropolitan region in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This month, we sat down with community leaders within the Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance (DAEDA) to learn about the region’s thriving tourism industry.
Covering 777 square miles and home to 27,000 residents, Dickinson County boasts a remarkable range of popular attractions. “We have numerous things that offer a wide variety for a lot of people,” says Program Director for Downtown Iron Mountain, Mindy Meyers.
One of the area’s greatest attractions is its outdoor recreation in a stunning natural setting. “What makes us special is the accessibility to everything outdoors,” states Norway City Manager, Dan Stoltman.
Perfectly exemplifying this emphasis on outdoor recreation is the Dickinson Trail Network, formerly the Dickinson County Bike Path. A non-profit group run by dedicated volunteers makes it its mission to develop, maintain, and promote a network of non-motorized trails and routes throughout Dickinson County and the surrounding areas, with the goal of providing “an excellent source of outdoor recreation that is easily accessible to local residents and combines exciting terrain with our area’s incredible natural beauty.” The Trail Network also strives to attract tourists and mountain biking enthusiasts to Dickinson County and increase foot traffic and commerce to all businesses in this area.
The region perhaps is best known for its winter sports—with good reason—but is also a haven for warm weather activities. “There’s so much to do in all four seasons,” Meyers says.
Tourists and locals alike enjoy the area’s hunting, whitewater rafting, miles of bike and hiking trails, waterfall tours, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and the largest ski jump in North America, which hosts the FIS Continental Cup ski jumping tournament each year. “We have ski jumpers from all over the world that come and compete,” says Mountain Media House Co-Founder, Elsa Pontbriand. “We see upwards of 10,000 people that come out and watch.”
In 2020, a $2.1 million investment was made to the ski jump. This project replaced the wooden in-run and scaffolding with new steel scaffolding and a new TopSpeed fiberglass in-run. In total, $3.4 million has been put into up fitting the jump so the Kiwanis Ski Club can continue hosting the International Ski Federation (FIS) Continental Cup competitions. There are hopes that, with the recent upgrades, the ski jump might even be a contender for a future World Cup competition.
Pine Mountain ski resort is conveniently located adjacent to the ski jump. “The resort has also seen major investments made over the past couple of years,” Pontbriand explains. “It draws people from all over the world here for downhill skiing.”
Public parks abound throughout the Dickinson area, many with state-of-the-art facilities, including ballparks that pull in big tournaments and championships. The City of Norway’s Marion Park claims three baseball fields, two soccer fields, one multipurpose field, four lit tennis courts, and horseshoe courts. Norway’s Strawberry Lake Park includes a walking trail, a canoe and kayak launch, accessible fishing piers, a ball field, BMX track, and plenty of parking. During the winter, the park opens an ice-skating rink and warming house and the walking trail is repurposed for cross-country skiing.
The Dickinson area has six golf courses including the multiple-award-winning Timberstone Golf Course, Bomber’s Golf Course’s U.S.G.A. 9-hole course set alongside rolling hills and the Menominee River, and Pine Grove Country Club’s eighteen-hole course, which is set amongst stunning natural scenery with virgin stands of pines, oaks, and maples. The city of Norway has Oak Crest golf course, an eighteen-hole course, and a restaurant.
Looking for a more science-minded activity that showcases the area’s commitment to ecologically-friendly power generation? The local hydroelectric facility, which produces 95 percent of the City of Norway’s power, offers a tour that encapsulates the spirit of the area. “The outdoors and our eco-friendly generation of power is kind of what makes Norway Norway,” Stoltman says.
Norway Spring is a well-known and unique local attraction. This bubbling fountain of pure, fresh water flows from deep within the earth to refresh visitors on a hot day. During the summer months the natural spring, conveniently located just off US 2, sees a steady stream of people armed with water bottles and jugs, eager to enjoy the cool, artesian spring water. The well was formed in 1903 when the Oliver Mining Company drilled a 1,094-foot shaft into the earth in search of iron ore. Since then, the site has been covered with carefully arranged rocks to create a lovely waterfall effect where the water bubbles to the surface.
Every Friday night throughout the summer months, stock car racing at the Norway Speedway always draws a crowd as well as racers from Michigan and Wisconsin. The fair comes to the Dickinson County Fairgrounds in Norway each year, and there are multiple festivals in Dowtown Iron Mountain. Italian Fest is a celebration of the Italian heritage and history of the area, while Oktoberfest transforms Iron Mountain into an authentic Bavarian celebration complete with polka dancing, sing-alongs, German cuisine and, of course, beer. BrewFest also features beer from regional microbrews, as well as malt beverages, hard seltzer, cocktails and wine. Last year’s event included ten breweries and two distilleries, as well as a variety of food trucks and live entertainment.
The area’s small town charm is another tourist magnet. “I think one thing that makes the area really special is downtown Iron Mountain,” Meyers says.
From gift shops and clothing boutiques to coffee shops, visitors will enjoy a variety of locally-owned, unique establishments with plenty of charm. “There’s a little bit of something for everybody when they come through the town,” she states.
“We have one restaurant, Spiro’s, where people come just because of the aesthetic of sitting outside in the summertime amongst the flowers,” she says. “We have bistro lights hung up across two of our streets’ downtown and into alleyways. So we’ve really created this cozy, Hallmark downtown.”
Community leaders work with shop owners to keep Iron Mountain’s downtown looking its best, from seasonal decorations to matching banners promoting current festivals. “Our downtown development authority has worked closely with business owners in our downtown to coordinate decorating storefront windows in a cohesive manner so you know something special is happening,” she says. “So when you drive through at Halloween time you get the spooky, fall, cozy vibe or at Christmastime, everybody’s got their windows decorated. I think that makes a big difference.”
Iron Mountain has a beautification committee dedicated to planting flowers throughout the downtown, creating lovely scenes brimming with hanging baskets and pocket gardens. “It’s all done by volunteers,” she affirms. “They have that community pride and they want people to notice that things are nice here. They take pride in their home.”
Norway residents are equally committed to their downtown. “When you’re small and tight-knit and everyone knows everyone, it seems to bring a lot of community pride out where people want to take ownership in their downtown in their community,” Stoltman says. “We have a really active downtown development authority that meets every month. They’re interested in improving the downtown, and we support them so they can continue to improve and work with businesses to make sure the storefronts are looking as inviting as possible.”
This community-wide effort has led to cohesive branding throughout the town of Norway. “Our city emblem is a Viking,” he says. “We have three Viking ships on each entry into the city limits and we have a Viking pocket park downtown with a giant Viking statue.” The figure is located just off US 2, at the intersection with Main Street. Drivers passing by the community cannot miss it. “The intention is really to grab people’s attention, and I think it has,” he says.
Art lovers enjoy the public art on display throughout the area. A few years ago, the Iron Mountain Downtown Development Authority worked closely with Mia Tavonatti and her team of artists to create the Power of Words project. “We have murals throughout our downtown with words that our communities submitted like, hope, inspire and believe,” Meyers says. Iron Mountain’s streets are lined with “these big, beautiful, colorful murals that draw people to our downtown.”
The location is particularly popular for graduation photo shoots. “We have a lot of senior photos that happen downtown,” she notes. A local running club hosts a mural run every spring, with the race winding past these vivid downtown art displays. Two more public art installations will be added this year. “Our community anticipates the installation of these works that will be displayed in a frequented alleyway and above one of our busiest nightlife streets downtown,” she adds.
Tourists eager to enjoy all that the Dickinson area has to offer will find the destination surprisingly convenient. With Green Bay, Wisconsin only a ninety-minute drive away, the community offers small town charm close to urban centers. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Chicago are just five hours away via major highways.
“We’re fairly central in the Upper Peninsula and we sit right on the border of Wisconsin,” says Pontbriand. “It’s easily accessible. We have an airport that flies daily to Minneapolis, Minnesota and Detroit, Michigan.” This makes the Dickinson area an ideal location on which to center a vacation and explore the Upper Peninsula. “We’re a good home base,” she points out. “We have much to offer.”
The location, natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and small-town charm keep tourists coming back to the Dickinson area year after year. “It’s like a little pocket of magic we have here that doesn’t exist in a lot of other places,” she summarizes.