A taste of Pure Michigan is exploring Benzie County over the 4th of July. We savored a few of the unique and sweet things to do in this quiet community and strongly recommend you should too!
Things to do in Benzie County
Kara, a friend of ours and a Benzie County native, saw we were traveling to her hometown of Beulah, Michigan over the 4th of July. She was quick to share ideas for things to do. Thank you, Kara. We would have missed the Alpacas, Gwen Frostic Prints and the Cherry Hut!
If you are not familiar with where Benzie County is located, hold up your left hand. (Yeah, I know it is a Michigan thing.) It is about where the tip of the pinky finger ends. It is just below Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties.
Michigan Legacy Art Park
The primary reason for our trip to Benzie County was to see Nina and the Buffalo Riders at the Michigan Legacy Art Park. I’d travel just about anywhere to see them play; I’m that much of a groupie. Combining the Michigan Legacy Art Park and Nina and the Buffalo Riders are pure magic and thankfully Chuck captured it perfectly. Check out his post, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The Michigan Legacy Art Park is a non-profit arts organization nestled into the woods at Crystal Mountain near Thompsonville. The park features a network of trails with nearly fifty permanent works of art sprinkled among the trees.
Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm Boutique
I never thought I would go out of my way to visit an Alpaca Farm. After Kara suggested it, I liked their Facebook page and snooped around their website. Their super cute Facebook posts and the online store had me looking forward to visiting the Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm in Frankfort, Michigan.
We were surprised to find a parking lot full of cars. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one looking forward to visiting an alpaca farm. In addition to their alpacas, they have sassy donkeys and friendly goats! For a small fee, you could feed them. Yes, please.
After giving all my carrots to the donkeys and goats and an alpaca licked my bowl clean, I noticed a familiar face. But I couldn’t tag a name with the face. Angie is the ice breaker in our crowd. She is never afraid to introduce herself. Before I know it, she is chatting up the family I thought looked familiar. Turns out the face belonged to Russ Collins, the Executive Director for the Michigan Theater.
Now it was my turn to be bold, I joined the conversation and offered we planned to see Toy Story 4 at the Cherry Bowl Drive-In. In the voice, which we all recognize from Cinema Chat on WEMU 89.1 with David Fair, Russ said something like “I hear Tory Story 4 is getting positive reviews.” You can listen to Cinema Chat on-line and hear Russ and David discuss Toy Story 4.
The Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre
Before our visit, we prepared for the Cherry Bowl Drive-In by watching the film “The Outsiders” with Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, and Patrick Swayze. The drive-in theater scene is iconic and it got us primed for the Cherry Bowl Drive-In. We got there early to snag the best seats. Pro-Tip: If you plan to sit in chairs in front of your car, you may want to bring a transistor radio to listen to the movie.
We brought our own snacks to munch on during the movie. The diner at the back of the theatre had lots of snack options including popcorn, chilly dilly pickles, hot dogs, slushies, and cotton candy. Even though we had a car full of snacks, Chuck had to get a giant tub of popcorn.
The Cherry Bowl Drive-In opened in 1953 and has been in operation every summer since. Everyone in our car had a drive-in theatre memory to share. Do you remember wearing PJs and swinging your heart out on playground equipment?
Gwen Frostic Print Shop
In 1978 Michigan Governor William Milliken proclaimed May 23rd as Gwen Frostic Day in Michigan. She gave 13 million dollars to Western Michigan University, one of the largest single gifts in the school’s history. And in 1986 she was inducted into the Michigan Woman’s Hall of Fame. I am embarrassed to say I’d never heard of Gwen Frostic until Kara suggested we visit her print shop. I just briefly perused the print shop’s website before our visit.
Gwen died in 2001, just a day before her 95th birthday. On the Gwen Frostic website I found the following:
Long before her death, she wrote her epitaph: “Here lies one doubly blessed. She was happy and she knew it.'”
After the visit, I had an overwhelming urge to know more. The print shop’s website and Wikipedia have a few basic facts. I suppose now that I know more about Gwen I understand why. A well-done article by Sheryl James published in the DetroitFree’s Women’s History section on March 1, 1999, provides many of the facts I wanted. She says the following:
Gwen doesn’t relish being written about like this, partly because she isn’t writing or supervising this work. She also believes that to analyze anything too closely is to destroy it. She does not think she’s done anything extraordinary. Besides, she never looks back, why should we? Sentimental, she is not.
If you’d like a taste of Gwen’s personality you need to watch this video published by Western Michigan University.
Who was Gwen Frostic?
I’ve read she was an artist, poet, author, entrepreneur, philosopher, businesswoman, Michigan Icon. The Free Press article by James adds the following:
But Gwen Frostic is more than history, more than a successful businesswoman. Her life challenges the definition of “handicapped,” a word those who know her never utter in her presence.
A mysterious illness during infancy left Gwen with physical after-effects resembling cerebral palsy. As a result, much to her irritation, most people perceive or believe she is handicapped while she does not — and therein lies the story of her life.
“People have said to me, ‘What is her handicap?’ ” says Gwen’s sister, Helen Warren, 90, of Dearborn, whose blunt manner is a Frostic trademark. “And I say: ‘You tell me.’ “
Her source of creativity?
In the WMU video interview, Gwen doesn’t mince word on the topic.
“You’ll never get an idea about something you know nothing about. Creativity starts with knowledge. Ideas only come from knowledge. Think clearly. Do your own thinking and deep thinking. Read something and let it seep in and become you. Dream of doing something each day. I don’t mean, dream of becoming a great artist or writer. Let each day be a stepping stone for the next dream. In that way, you’ll progress. Work. I don’t believe in inspiration, I believe it is perspiration.”
Gwen created 20,000 carved linoleum blocks and wrote 20 plus books. Yes, she knew a thing or two about creativity.
The Print Shop
In an interview with her nephew Bill Frostic said, “She thought if she had unique, special product and place, people would come.”
The twenty-three thousand square foot shop is a work of art. Even if you are not inspired by Gwen or her art, you’ve got to see the print shop. When we were parking, both Chuck and I commented on the similarity between the print shop’s design and the Mushroom Houses in Charlevoix.
“I basically knew I wanted an area where people could watch the work being done. One thing people love doing on vacation is to watch someone work,” Gwen said in the WMU interview.
She had no actual plans and never thought about an architect. She set out four stakes on the property. A neighbor dropped by and said to make it bigger. They did. The stones were hauled to the building site. Gwen told Rogers’ crew she did not want the rocks piled up in any certain way. “I want them to look like they fell there,” she said.
When the crews hit a natural flowing well, Gwen said to turn it into a fountain inside the shop.
If you are looking for a taste of Michigan, stop by the Gwen Frostic Print Shop in Benzie County and then head over to the Cherry Hut.
The Cherry Hut
“Home to GREAT FOOD and FRIENDLY SERVICE, A Northern Michigan Tradition since 1992.”
The Cherry Hut was on Kara’s list of “must-dos” so we slotted it into the itinerary, Beulah’s Bountiful Breakfast Buffet (that is a whole lot of b words!) served from 8-11 on Sunday. I’ve done a few “breakfast buffets” in my day and I can honestly tell you, they know how to serve a breakfast buffet. The selection was standard (eggs, bacon, hash browns, fruit, waffles) and it was made from scratch and seasoned to perfection.
If you forgot to buy cherry souvenirs, their gift shop is well stocked!
You can order gift packages delivered straight to family and friend’s door. They even deliver cherry pies straight from Benzie County!
Point Betsie Lighthouse
We can’t drive past the sign on M-22 for the Point Betsie Lighthouse in Benzie County. It seems like every time, we stop in for a visit it is closed. This is the first time the lighthouse visitor center was open. Score! They have limited hours, so if you want a tour, which you do, check their website for hours of operation.
I love a good lighthouse and recommend touring the Little Sable Point Lighthouse and the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. If you love haunted stories about lighthouses, you’ve got to read “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” by Dianna Higgs Stampfler.
While we waited for the lighthouse to open, we looked for the elusive Petoskey stone. A few were beachcombers were finding them, we did not. Oh well, there is always next time.
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