Local Attractions

By Christina VanGinkel

My husband in on vacation from work for the next six days, and we have not planned any formal type of getaway. We usually do for the spring break he routinely takes from work, but with our youngest son on vacation in Texas, visiting his Aunt and Uncle, we just never took the time to plan any of our normal activities. Still, we would like to do something, so we have decided to stop by our local tourist information center today, and see what local attractions we may be overlooking, and possibly plan a few side trips right here in our own backyard.

With the soaring gas prices arriving once again to meet summer travelers, more people may want to entertain the same idea. When you live in an area for so long, you often take what is right in your own neighborhoods for granted. Just off hand, I can count at least half a dozen attractions that are in the area we live, with several that I personally have never taken the time to visit.

A few places of interest that are all within an hours drive of where we live that instantly come to mind include:

Iron Mountain Iron Mine and Museum

The Iron Mountain Iron Mine, about fifteen minutes from my home in the small town of Vulcan Michigan, (It is not in the neighboring town of Iron Mountain as many outside of the area visitors might assume) presents a modern day look at the boom of iron ore mining. The mine offers a tour that takes visitors 400 feet below the surface, through 2600 feet of underground tunnels. Visitors are guided by experienced tour operators who explain both how the mine was developed and how 22 million tons of iron ore was taken from the area over a periods ranging from 1870 until 1945. I actually grew up a mere five-minute pedal bike ride from the mine, and would ride by the giant wooden structure, dubbed ‘Big John’, the world’s largest miner that was created in the image of a miner to greet visitors to the mine, yet I never visited it myself. My children have all attended it for one occasion or another, from a birthday outing with a group of friends, to a school sponsored trip while studying the effects of mining iron ore to the local area. After taking a tour of the mine, they also offer an onsite museum and gift shop that everyone has said is almost as interesting as the mine itself.

Cornish Pump and Mining Museum

Located in Iron Mountain Michigan, about a half an hour from my home is the Cornish Pump and Mining Museum. It is located next to the Chapin Pit, which was tops for Iron Ore production during its day. The Cornish Pump is actually the largest steam driven pumping engine ever constructed in the United States. Weighing in at 725 tons, it first went into operation in 1893. Located in a building built up around the pump to house it and protect it for future generations is a museum that is touted as one of the best of its kind. It has a WWII glider exhibit, and large amounts of mining equipment, the largest in Michigan overall. It also is home to many local artifacts donated by the public. I was in the museum years back, but the building has undergone a complete renovation since that time, in part because a pit located next to the location of the pump itself caved in some years back. The area had to be cordoned off, and it was a major local attraction of its own for some time. This just goes to exemplify the area’s ties to mining. Information on the cave in itself is also up for view in the museum.

These are just two tourist attractions that are located near where I live. What local attractions are you missing right in your own backyard? Stop by your local tourist information center or chamber of commerce for a list of area attractions that you can visit. If your area is too small to have either of these, check the local gas stations or stores for pamphlets, as they often will have a display just for tourist information. All with the added benefit of gas saved, and no lodging costs!

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