Posts Tagged With: clare county

A Cross at the edge of the Woods

White cross on a tree at the edge of the woodsDavid Bruce Popovich died sometime early on Sept. 30, 1995 on Mostetler Road east of Harrison, Michigan. According to the Clare County Cleaver, Popovich was the sole occupant of  a pickup truck that went out of control at a curve on the gravel road and flipped over. Popovich, a self-employed auto mechanic, was 41. He left behind a son, Joshua, who lived in Pontiac, Michigan along with three brothers.

I never knew Mr. Popovich or had even heard of him until a month ago when I was riding my bicycle on Mostetler and spotted a two-foot high cross tied to a tree at a curve in the road at the edge of the woods. The cross was well made but its white paint it had peeled and the writing, what remained, was faded. However, the date of birth and date of death was visible along with the words “in Memory of” in neat lettering.

Something touched me about that faded cross. Maybe it’s the fact that it had been forgotten and I wondered whether Mr. Popovich had too been forgotten nearly 16 years after his passing.  Maybe it’s the fact he had moved up to Harrison from Metro Detroit leaving his family behind, something I too recently have done due to a pending divorce.

After visiting the Cleaver and learning about Mr. Popovich and the details of the crash, I wanted to do something about the condition of the cross so I went to the site, untied it from the tree and took it home. As I sanded it in preparation for repainting I found that someone had put a gold necklace with cross over the upright of the cross. I wondered who had created the cross and placed it on the site and who had put the necklace there and did they still think of David on occasion.

The cross has been repainted and  has is tied to the tree.  I added the wording that I saw on the cross when I first saw it along with the name of the person it honors, although the name may not have been there originally. Maybe others will see the cross, and maybe they will slow down at they approach the curve so no one else will suffer the fate of Mr. Popovich. But if nothing else, I hope it honors a man whose life  ended at the edge of the woods.

June 2018: I have repainted the cross for the 3rd time (last time was probably 2015) and reapplied the words. The wood making up the cross is getting pretty rotten and is soft in places. The cross doesn’t have many more years of life. The necklace is still there.  In addition, the property owners have cut a number of trees in the area but left the cross alone.  

August 2020: I reapplied the words to the cross that have faded over the last two years. Necklace still there. The cross is holding up but not sure how much longer.  Wonder what ever happened to the son…

Categories: Harrison, History, Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

A sign of Frustration–or Surrender

South of Harrison on old US-27 stands a sign that reads: “Thinking of moving here? Don’t. No jobs. No value. No help.”

I’m very curious about that sign–and about the person who posted it. What event made the individual go to the bother of putting it there? What does he or she expect as a result?

The sign also got me thinking about the bigger picture: If Clare County residents want to encourage jobs in this region and improve the local economy, is this the way to do it? What responsibility do we who live and work here have to encourage visitors to visit this area, people to settle, and entrepreneurs to set up their business here? What can we as residents do to improve the county so it is more appealing for businesses and families and encourages our young people to stay once they graduate?

One hopes that whatever caused the sign to be posted will be resolved and the sign removed since venting doesn’t solve problems. I do hope the sign is only a sign of frustration because things in the county, state and nation are not as they  should be and not a sign of of surrender because the person feels things are never going to  improve.

Categories: Clare County, Economy, Home life, Jobs and the economy | Tags: , | 1 Comment

A Ride on the Pere Marquette Trail in Clare County

Along the Pere Marquette Trail.It was a good day to be on the trail. Few people, fewer bugs, just the way I like it. It was 8 a.m. and still cool as I rode my bike on the paved trail west of Clare, Michigan.  My bike had 15-speeds but I hadn’t used more than a couple on the smooth, relatively level asphalt trail. It was quiet save for the birds and frogs.  I had hoped to see a deer but thus far my wildlife viewing had been restricted to a pair of butterflies playing tag in the morning sun and an occasional chipmunk scampered across the trail.

An hour into my ride, a large white structure appeared, looming high in the distance and reflecting the morning sun in the cloudless blue sky. The rectangular structure appeared out-of-place, an alien intruder in what up to now had been primarily a natural setting of trees, ponds and fields. As I got closer, I recognized it as the century-old concrete coal restocking chute in Lake that had once been used to refill the coal cars of the steam-powered locomotives that ran over the same route on which I now rode my bike. It was not the first railroad artifact I had encountered. And they were expected. After all, I was riding the Pere Marquette rail trail, on the bed of a former railroad track. Now it was an 12-foot wide multi-use trail for bikers, hikers and equestrians in the summer and used by snowmobilers in the winter.

Clare Train depot during railroad eraOnce the railroad depot in Clare, 10 miles to the east, saw up to 40 trains a day rumbling past, engines chugging, whistles blowing and their black smoke filling the sky as they hauled logs such as pine and hemlock along this route from the forests of Clare and surrounding counties downstate to help rebuild Chicago after its 1871 fire and to meet demand of growing Michigan cities like Midland, pond along the Pere Marquette rail trailSaginaw, Flint and Detroit.

However, before the turn of the 20th century the old-growth forests that had brought lumberjacks, shopkeepers and entrepreneurs to the towns and cities of this area had petered out. And as the people left in search of greater opportunities the railroad lines that connected small towns in the area like Lake George and Leota were slowly abandoned. With the coming of the automobile and accompanying roads the abandonment accelerated. Eventually, this Pere Marquette line out of Midland was handling only freight for a few of the industrial customers; eventually it too became unprofitable and was finally abandoned around 1988.

There are signs of the railroad as one rides. A concrete mile marker lies west of Concret Mile marker from the railroad days.Farwell and if one stops along a curve of the  trail, it’s possible to pick up pieces of coal dropped as the the trains.

I  started  my ride that morning (Saturday, July 9, ) at a gravel parking lot just east of Farwell and headed west. A 30-mile stretch of the Pere Marquette rail trail, from Midland to Clare’s eastern border, had been completed in 1993 and the state (thanks to federal money) has been working on the trail west of Clare in spurts. This summer, a 10-mile section from west of Lake to Evart was finished. All that now remains to complete the 55-mile long trail from Midland to Reed City is a 6,000 foot section through Clare.

The trail I rode that day crossed forests of pine and oak, ran alongside ponds where turtles sunned themselves on logs and near an occasional field.  I rode slowly enjoying the sights and even stopped a time or two to pick raspberries.

Although riders must be vigilant since the trail crosses a number of roads, the sights of the modern world are not normally seen along much of this section of trail. That is in contrast to the section east of Clare that parallels U.S. 10 for much of the way.

I rode as far as the new section of trail that had been just laid down west of Lake, about two miles past the concrete coal chute. The section to Evart and beyond will have to wait for another time. As I rode back toward my car, the sun was warm on my face. I greeted a couple of bikers and a woman who was running with her dog.  Everyone was smiling. Yep, it was a good day to be on the trail.

Categories: Clare County, ecology, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Alien invaders in Clare County, Michigan

Autumn olive growing along Clare County roadsideIt’s amazing how something can be invisible in plain sight. Take autumn olive, for example. In Clare County, in the middle of Michigan’s lower peninsula this invasive shrub is rapidly multiplying taking over fallow fields, roadsides and ecologically important natural areas. The above photo shows a stand of autumn olive growing along Springwood Drive, east of Harrison. Currently, the shrubs are about 6-feet tall and one can still see the lake on the other side of them. But sadly, not for long.

Autumn olive can grow as tall as 20 feet. Its cream to pale yellow flowers bloom in early spring.  The plant leaves are elliptical-shaped with a slightly wavy margin. The stalks have thorns, which make it difficult hard to walk or hunt through a stand of them. In the fall, the shrub has an abundance of pink to red berries that birds and other wildlife (including deer) find tasty.There are even recipes on the web for using the berries to make jams and pies.

I never really noticed the autumn olive in the county until a friend pointed it out on my property. Then I began to notice it everywhere, down nearly every road i drove, especially on windy days when its silvery underside makes  the plant to stand out from the surrounding vegetation.

So, why should we care if this shrub is invading Clare County?

Easy, because it’s a threat to the ecology of the area. The Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources rates it as a medium-to-high threat in northern Michigan counties. According to the Nature Conservancy:

Autumn olive is an invasive specie that out-competes and displaces native plants by creating a dense shade that hinders the growth of plants that need lots of sun. It can produce up to 200,000 seeds each year, and can spread over a variety of habitats as its nitrogen-fixing root nodules allows the plant to grow in even the most unfavorable soils. Not to mention that it reproduces quickly and with little effort at all. Birds are quite attracted to the seeds  and will scatter them throughout pastures, along roadsides and near fences.

map of US having problems with autumn oliveAutumn Olive does have some good qualities and that is why if was originally brought to the U.S.  It is a native to China, Japan and Korea and was imported to the United States around 1830. In the 1950’s it was widely promoted as a great way to provide wildlife habitat and erosion control in environmentally disturbed areas. However, the shrub soon became a major problem as it began to rapidly spread and thrive where it was not wanted moving into grasslands and ecologically diverse areas where it began to crowd out native vegetation. Michigan is not the only state having problems with autumn olive. In fact, autumn olive is quickly becoming one of the most troublesome shrubs in the central and eastern United States.  (Click on map for enlarged view.)

What People Should Do About It
Hand pulling autumn olive seedlings is an effective way to rid yourself of the plant. In fact, control efforts before fruiting will prevent the spread of seeds. If the plant is too big to pull, herbicides will be necessary to eradicate the plant from the general area of invasion. Cut the plant and apply herbicide to the trunk repeatedly, from summer through winter otherwise the shrub will regrow with renewed vigor.

People in Clare County don’t know much about this alien invader yet, but they will. The shrub, like the truth,  is out there. But unlike the truth, it’s becoming more common–and it’s growing.

Categories: Clare County, ecology, Harrison | Tags: | Leave a comment

Cops, Doughnuts, a Small Town, a Growing Tourist Draw

Cops and Doughnuts storefrontPeanut butter and jelly, ying and yang, orange juice and breakfast. They go together like, well like Cops and Doughnuts. No, not the stereotype connection of police officers snacking on the fried snack, but the real thing: The Cops and Doughnuts bakery in Clare, Michigan. The particular bakery has good coffee, a wide assortment of tasty baked goods, clever bakery related merchandise, a strong connection to the community and a great story to tell that all began a couple of years ago on the back of a pizza box.

In 2009, the only bakery in Clare, established in 1896, was in danger of closing. That’s when the nine full-time members of the city’s Police Department banded together to save it. They drafted a business plan of sorts on the back of a pizza box, pooled their resources and purchased the bakery housed in an historic building on the city’s main street. They then set to hiring additional staff and broadened the offerings. The place took off—and not because the bakery’s owners were its own best customers. Locals were glad to still have the bakery. Plus, it was a clever concept and the police officers added to it by installing displays of police related items like badges and photos. The bakery’s opening received press coverage all over the state, which helped contribute to its early success.

The bakery itself was small, with barely room for the counter and a few tables, so when a store next door became available, the bakery expanded into the building, adding even more tables, free Wi-Fi, merchandise including t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and even Cops and Doughnuts branded coffees produced by Paramount Coffee of Lansing, MI. Their coffee is sold in stores in five states. The merchandise sports clever statements like “Don’t glaze me, bro,” “Fighting Crime One Doughnuts at a Time and D.W.I. Doughnuts Were Involved. The merchandise is also being sold online at copsdoughnuts.com. While some of the merchandise sports a photo of the nine owners in uniform, all of it mentions the bakery’s location n Clare.

And Clare, Michigan can use the promotion. A town of slightly more than 3,000, it was once a vibrant lumbering town in the late-1800s as trains and wagons brought men and machinery to harvest the giant white pine that grew in the surrounding county.  The money those pines represented then brought retailers, bar owners and other to the area. However, once the trees were gone, the lumbermen moved onto greener pastures, Clare became a sleepy town relying on agriculture and tourism. The city is home to a number of nice shops and boutiques but many are struggling because they lack the number of shoppers needed to survive, much less prosper.

The bakery is helping to grow tourism. While not quite yet “world famous” as some of the bakery’s ads state, people are coming to Clare to visit the bakery.  In fact, the bakery was recently recognized as one of 2011’s “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch” by the Edward Lowe Foundation and presented the Michigan Celebrates Small Business. McEwen, Clare’s main street, was recently one of five main streets in Michigan chosen to receive branding services from the Michigan Main Street Center at Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Among the services were be help in developing a brand to help distinguish main street along with a new logo and a new website.

Cops and Doughnuts is a great example of a community coming together to save a community asset and then taking advantage of branding opportunities to market and grow a business. Whether the police officers knew what they were doing when they developed their initial plan or not, they have done a great job of promoting their business and getting others to help them do so.

The Cops and Doughnuts doughnut logo

The other day I was sitting in the bakery using its free Wi-Fi and overheard one of the owners talking about the fact the bakery’s sign out front sports pink glaze on the doughnut.

According to the conversation, a young girl came into the bakery along with her parents not long after the place reopened. When asked what kind of doughnut she wanted, the girl responded that she had hoped for one with “pink frosting and sprinkles,” but didn’t see a doughnut like that among all the other doughnuts in the display case.

The woman behind the counter told the girl conspiratorially, “We knew you were coming and didn’t want anyone else to buy it so I kept the doughnut with the pink frosting in the back. Wait here.” She then headed into the back.

The owner, who was telling the story, said he followed the woman to see what she was up to because he knew the bakery didn’t have pink frosting. He watched the woman take the red and white frosting they did have, mix them together, smear the resulting frosting on a doughnut, add some sprinkles and head back to the front where she presented the doughnut to the little girl who was amazed to have gotten the doughnut with  pink frosting she was craving.

“I tell that story to all our new employees as an example of the customer service we give here at our bakery,” the owner said, adding that when the bakery’s logo designer asked what color frosting the bakery owners wanted on its sign on the bakery  everyone was in agreement color should be pink, as a reminder of the little girl and the bakery’s commitment to service.

It’s a great story in a bakery with a great doughnuts and a great future. And, as its website states, with cops as owners the bakery is easily one of the safest places around.

Categories: Economy, General, History, Michigan, Travel and tourism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Railroad runs Through it

Last month, my wife and I went looking for narrow-gauge railroads in Clare County.  Well, narrow-gauge railroad beds, to be honest since the tracks and trains are long gone and have been for more than a century.

Clare county is a quiet county of some 32,000 residents in central Michigan.  But it wasn’t always so.  At one time, the ground shook with the fall of giant pines and the woods echoed with shouts of lumberjacks and the sound of trains hauling trees out of the woods to sawmills and then on to growing cities like Detroit and Chicago.

Preparing logs for transport

Narrow-gauge railroads were the transportation method of choice for hauling trees in many Michigan counties during that logging era.  Those trains could run wherever workers laid track and  carry heavy loads year around (something horses and carts couldn’t do).

Steam locomotive

And Clare county was perfect for narrow-gauge railroads as it is relatively flat, which made it relatively easy to lay track.   As a result, at one time Clare county had more miles of railroad track than any other in Michigan, wrote Roy Dodge in his book “Michigan Ghost Towns.”

Narrow-gauge railroads had another advantage:   The tracks could be pulled up and reused once the the valuable timber in an area was exhausted–something that eventually happened.   Then the workers, trains and track moved on leaving a barren landscape behind that slowly healed and the forests regrew.

Finding those former railroad beds now is a challenge since many of them lie deep in the woods with dense foliage around and on top of them.  What makes them noticeable is the fact that beds are often raised up above the surface of the surrounding land since workers had to make sure the ground on which the train tracks would be laid was somewhat flat.  In addition, hunters and hikers often have used them over the years to access the back country establishing trails or two-track roads.

It’s cool to find them and walk them.  Sometimes one even finds coal.  I’m hoping to someday find a rail spike, although that’s unlikely.  Most were taken to be reused and any that are left are buried under more than a century of soil and plants. Still, it’s a dream, kinda like the one in which I find some arrowheads and dinosaur bones (but not at the same time).

Take a trip to Clare County sometime and join in the search.  Late winter and spring are great times since the foliage hasn’t grown up and the mosquitoes aren’t yet looking to dine on man and beast.  But the country is pretty anytime of year.

See you on the trails, er railroad beds.

Categories: ecology, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.